Phnom Chisor is sometimes spelt Phnom Chiso. It is pronounced more like "djee-saw" than "tchissor", with a long first syllable. Chisor is a Khmer word for the strong mind or spirit of a holy man or eremite.
Phnom Chisor is an ancient Khmer temple located 70 km south of Cambodia's capital, down National Road 2, in Takeo province. It is often visited on private or organized day excursions from Phnom Penh.
Phnom Chisor is one of the few Angkorian monuments situated on top of a hill. Its location on a 100 m high solitary hill is amazing because of the views to the green plains.
The original name of Phnom Chisor is Sri Suryaparvata (or Suyagiri), „mountain of the Sun“, though it was dedicated to Shiva and partly to Vishnu. Surya is the name of the sun god in Hinduism, but also simply a Sanskrit name for sun. Two important king's in Angkor's history called themselves "sun-shild" or "sun-protected": Suryavarman. Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century was the builder of the Angkor Wat. In the first half of the 11th century, Suryavarman I, an usurper from the northern provinces in present-day Thailand, erected almost no monuments in Angkor, though most probably he initiated the constuction of the largest Khmer monument at all, the reservoir West Baray. Suryavarman I contributed to temple buildings in the provinces, in all four directions, especially sanctuaries on hilltops were founded or extended by him. Most structures of the most famous Khmer mountain-temple, Preah Vihear, are from his era. He also erected Wat Ek (Phnom Ek) 8 km north of Battambang. Phnom Chisor is part of Suryavarman I's legacy, too. Phnom Chisor’s central Prasat housed a Lingam called „Suryavameshvara“, combining the name of the king with Ishvara, "lord of the world", a name of Shiva.
The original access way, a procession avenue, is from the east. Two Gopurams in the plains had to be crossed before climbing a steep stairway to the temple proper on the hilltop. Those two Gopurams are not really gateways crossing enclosure walls, they are just like temples on their own. They are called Sen Rveang and Sen Thmul. Further east was a rectangular reservoir, that Baray completed the huge-scale and very prestigious ensemble.
The modern access ways are from the north and south. There is a long stairway of more than 400 steps starting at the main car park in the south, close to the school of Trapeang Srong village. On the way, there are some small shrines for local spirits and Hindu deities venerated by pilgrims before entering the Buddhist sanctuary on top of the mound.
The ancient Hindu temple of Phnom Chisor is now integrated in a Buddhist monastery and surrounded by modern buildings, such as a pagoda. A golden statue of Buddha sheltered by the seven-headed serpent Muchalinda is venerated here today.
The most amazing part of the ancient temple is the laterite gallery at the eastern edge of the plateau. Remarkably, the carved sandstone lintels are placed on the inner side of three doorways, this means, facing the temple's courtyard. Reliefs depicting Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are still visible, carved on some of the sandstone lintels and pediments throughout the temple complex. Sandstone doorframes carry ancient inscriptions. There are six Prasat towers, a Mandapa hall, and two Vahnigriha fire shrines in the courtyard, one of the edifices still contains a Lingam, but another one a man with a beard, of unknown symbolism. The main shrine consists of two Prasat towers. It is restored using cement and has a new roof.
In the beginning of the civil war period, before the Khmer Rouge seized power in the whole country, Phnom Chisor was a strategically important point for Khmer Rouge guerillas when they encircled the capital Phnom Penh. This is why the surrounding of Phnom Chosir was devastated by US bombings in 1973. Government troops of the US-backed Lon Nol regime attacked Phnom Chisor with helicopters. The pagoda and other parts of the monastery were destroyed by those attackers and later on by the Khmer Rouge's systematic vandalism. But they are restored now.