The city was practically emptied out by the Khmer Rouge and left to rot. There's a mad scramble to tart up the place, but pot-holed or unpaved streets are still quite common. The tree-lined avenues and Tonle riverside make Phnom Penh quite a pleasant place to stroll around in, and there are plenty of shops, stalls and a few attractions to hold your attention.
Legend has it that Phnom Penh was founded in 1372. It first served as Cambodia's capital in 1432, when King Ponhea Yat abandoned Angkor in the face of the invading Siamese. By 1505 the capital had been moved to Lovek, and Phnom Penh returned to the simple existence as a fishing village at the junction of the Tonle and Mekong Rivers. Its position helped it to become an important trading port by the seventeenth century, although this also made it a prime target for both Vietnamese and Thai invaders in the eighteenth century.
In 1863, King Norodom (great-great-grandfather of the current king), agreed to have Cambodia become a French protectorate to keep it safe from the Vietnamese. It was the French who suggested that the capital be moved back to Phnom Penh (from Oudong). Cambodia regained independence from the French in 1953, but the turmoil arising from the war in neighboring Vietnam eventually boiled into a civil war in the early 1970s. The Khmer Rouge eventually proved victorious in the war, and entered Phnom Penh in April 1975. Although initially welcomed into the capital, they ordered all of the residents of the city to leave. The city was abandoned, looted and left to rot for nearly four years. It wasn't really until the early 1990s that the city truly began the process of rebuilding and recovering its past glory.