Sosoro Museum Introduces Cambodia’s Monetary History Through Oldest Coin
Nestled in the heart of the city, near the night market and the heritage block, is the SOSORO Museum. A historic building which housed the former town hall residence in 1908 and the Phnom Penh municipality in 1920, and has been the museum of Economy and Money PREAH SREY IÇANAVARMAN since 2012.
“The Museum is unlike any other in Cambodia,” Blaise Kilian stated. As the Co-Director of the Sosoro Museum, Kilian is excited to finally see the venue open and it has already been attracting attention from many local students and families. Although the museum was officially open in April 2019, the venue hasn’t been fully available until November 2021 due to restrictions placed from the pandemic. “We receive a lot of young Cambodians, mostly students and young professionals who walk in spontaneously,” Kilian stated. “We have also started to organize school trips – although not all schools are ready yet after the long months of Covid induced restrictions – and corporate tours whereby companies bring their employees to visit. We are also looking forward to welcoming international tourists as Cambodia reopens to international travel and we have already started to work with international tours in this regard.”
Kilian explained how there was a huge effort to contextualise the exhibited artifacts so that the visitors can rely on a narrative throughout the 12 modules of the exhibition that span over two floors. ”The Museum offers an overview of 2,000 years of Cambodia’s history through the economic and monetary angle”, Kilian stated. “It is therefore a useful addition to existing museums that are usually focused on archaeology or on specific aspects of Cambodia’s history (mostly Angkor and the Khmer Rouge period). It also plays a major role in raising awareness about the close interaction between society, politics and economics throughout history. Everyone who is interested in Cambodia will enjoy visiting the Museum as it allows one to travel through the various periods of its history. The Museum is very modern and interactive with state-of-the-art museography.”
Some of the museum’s most alluring attractions are the oldest medal coin issued by a Khmer King in the 7th century and a giant digital screen where visitors can inspect and discover the detailed markings of security displayed on modern banknotes. An interesting fact that Kilian discovered through the exhibitions, is the evidence of no monetary system used during the Angkor empire.
The oldest evidence of currency used in Cambodia, is the silver coin with an etching of a rising sun. Although the coin originated from ancient Myanmar, this coin was widely circulated in the 5th-8th centuries in parts of Southeast-Asia, including in the pre-angkorian kingdom of Funan that was a popular pitstop on trade routes between China and India. The “Rising Sun Coin” is also the inspiration for the museum’s logo of SOSORO.
Part of the museum’s namesake came from King Içanavarman, who ruled in the early 7th century over Chenla, the sovereignty that succeeded Funan. Although credited for creating the first gold coin, it was most likely that the coin was used as tokens of honor, rather than currency. The illustrations etched on the coin had Hindu religious references and the names of the King and of his capital city, Içanapura, the city of modern day Sambor Prei Kuk, which became part of UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.
The museum is divided into twelve different modules in which visitors can discover the country’s economic and monetary development focusing on the strong interaction between money, credit, growth, and inflation, over the 2,000 years of Cambodia’s monetary history.
What makes the museum unique is the role it plays for Cambodia’s future, Kilian noted. “The Museum was established by the National Bank of Cambodia and is directly attached to the Cabinet of the National Bank. There is a vision from the National Bank to promote awareness and education about the role of the economy and money ー generally to share aspects of the country’s history that are often overlooked with the general public. Many exhibited artifacts come from the archaeological excavations, while others have been acquired or donated. Most of the contents have been put together by economist and National Bank Advisor Jean-Daniel Gardère who has worked closely with historians and numerous national and international experts.”
The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and closed only on Mondays and public holidays. There is a new library, a mini souvenir shop, a lovely garden, and a little cafe decorated with artwork of currency.
Ticket prices are 4,000 riels for Cambodian nationals, 20,000 riels for foreigners and 2,000 riels for kids and students of any nationality. Visitors can walk in or book for groups with options for guides. Audio guides can be rented for an additional 12,000 riels.
Written by Sotheavy Nou