The twelve towers known as the 'Prasat Suor Prat' are located just to the east of the Royal Terraces in the vicinity of the Royal Palace. Although the modern name means 'Towers of the Rope Dancers"—referring to the legend that they were used for royal entertainments involving tightrope walkers—there is no definitive evidence for this. In fact, the function of the towers remains a mystery. Intriguingly, Zhou Daguan, the 13th century Chinese diplomat who visited Angkor, recorded that they were used to settle disputes. He wrote:
"If two families have a dispute to resolve and cannot agree on right and wrong, there are twelve small stone towers on a bank opposite the place, and the two people concerned are sent to sit in two of them. Outside, members of each family keep guard against the other. They may site in the towers for a day or two, or for three or four days. Then for sure the one who is in the wrong becomes visibly ill, and leaves." [Trans. by Harris, Peter. A Record of Cambodia, Chapter 14].
This account is greeted with suspicion by modern scholars, partly because the towers appear to be shrines of some sort. If so, their design is quite unusual, as each has three windows on the ground floor facing north, east, and south. At no other location do we find Khmer shrines with windows in the main sanctuary. For this reason, some scholars believe the towers may have been used as reception halls for foreign visitors (perhaps accounting for why Zhou Daguan was able to access them). All but two of the towers face the parade ground, and each is elevated on a terrace, which would make them useful for viewing the many large ceremonies conducted to the east of the royal palace. A problem with this theory is that the king's own palace was made of wood (and has long since vanished), making it unlikely that the Khmers would have used high quality stone for guests while leaving their own monarch in a wooden palace.
In any case, the towers are relatively good condition with the majority retaining much of the original appearance. Each is spaced about 25 meters from one another and faces west, apart from the two central towers which face one another across the path leading to the Gate of Victory. The interior of each tower measures 4 x 6 meters, with three large windows providing ample light and air. They were probably built in the early 13th century by Indravarman II or his successor.