Once known as the "Pearl of Asia," it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
The establishment of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh in 1866 is a comparatively recent event in the history of the Khmer and Cambodia. The seat of Khmer power in the region rested at or near Angkor north of the Great Tonle Sap Lake from 802 AD until the early 15th century. After the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th century after destroyed by Siam at Siam Reap.
King Norodom (1860–1904) the eldest son of King Ang Duong, who ruled the country on behalf of Siam, signed the Treaty of Protection with France in 1863, the capital of Cambodia resided at Oudong, about 45 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. Earlier in 1863 a temporary wooden Palace was constructed a bit north of the current Palace site in Phnom Penh.
The first Royal Palace to be built at the present location was designed by architect Neak Okhna Tepnimith Mak and constructed by the French Protectorate in 1866. On the year of 1865, year of the cow, at nine o'clock in the morning, King Norodom moved the Royal court from Oudong to the new Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and the city became the official capital of Cambodia the following year.
Over the next decade several buildings and houses were added, many of which have since been demolished and replaced, including an early Chanchhaya Pavilion and Throne Hall (1870). The Royal court was installed permanently at the new Royal Palace in 1871 and the walls surrounding the grounds were raised in 1873.
Many of the buildings of the Royal Palace, particularly of this period, were constructed using combination of traditional Khmer architectural and Thai architecture but also incorporating significant European features and design as well. One of the most unique surviving structures from this period is the Napoleon iron Pavilion which was a gift from France in 1876, (it is now closed to the public because of its poor state of conservation).