What used to be…

Many of us go by familiar sites in Phnom Penh without ever knowing their history and significance.

Look at Photo 4 above. It’s a picture of the old Catholic cathedral in Phnom Penh that was torn down by the Khmer Rouge. You have been by its site a million times but probably weren’t aware of its history. In the #4 photograph, the photographer is standing on Daun Penh Avenue, facing west. His back is to Wat Phnom, on his left is the present U.S. Embassy, and on his right is the Sunway Hotel. He is taking a picture of the cathedral located on Monivong Blvd.

Photo #1 is a close-up picture of the cathedral as it looked in 1962. Photo #2 is a picture of the present Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications which was built on the site of the cathedral. In 2000, there was a large government radio tower where the cathedral had been located, but then the tower was moved and the Ministry of Posts was built in its place.

Photo #3 is what is today called the Municipality or City Hall. In 1962 it was the headquarters of the M.E.P. mission group. That is the French mission society to which Bishop Olivier belongs. M.E.P. had responsibility for the Catholic Church in all of French Indochina (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia), and they built their headquarters right next to the cathedral. In Photo #3, the orangish building to the left of City Hall is the Ministry of Posts which replaced the cathedral.

After all the wars, the government took over the M.E.P. headquarters and kept it for themselves. Today you can ride by the City Hall building on Monivong to get a glimpse of Phnom Penh’s past and of church history in Cambodia. The former M.E.P. headquarters building (now City Hall) is on the west side of Monivong Blvd, across from the Raffles Hotel. It is easy to spot the former M.E.P. building because the fence along Monivong has crosses built into it.