Fabled Ruins of the Ancient Khmer Capital at Angkor - One of Sam's Exotic Travels
Angkor, relics of the Khmer empire ruling glory, is unique in all the world and is Cambodia's greatest tourist attraction. When I first heard of Angkor, I thought it consisted of one major temple: Angkor Wat. I was surprised to find that it contained dozens of temples scattered over a large area - some of which are remains of large cities, some smaller - but each rich in history, in architectural styles and in carvings. Having first seen Bagan in Myanmar, I was amazed by how much more complex and large the Khmer temples were. They are truly a sight to behold.
For information on each of the nine temples visited, click on the links below:
Angkor Wat – the Khmer Empire’s Greatest Temple - Angkor Wat was the grandest and most sublime of all the Khmer temples, and a city in its own rights. Built during the reign of Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, it is a true Khmer architectural masterpiece, among the best preserved monument in Angkor and the most photographed subject in all of Cambodia.
Angkor Thom – Angkor’s Great City - Built in the late 12th Century by King Jayavarman VII, Angkor Thom is the largest complex of temples of all the Angkor remains and an estimated home to one million people, rivaling London and Paris in size during it period of greatness. All the residences were built of wood and none have survived - the stone buildings were reserved for temples and walls surrounding the 12 square kilometer site.
Ta Prohm - Temples Among the Trees - Built in the mid 12th to the early 13th Century by Javavarman VI, Ta Prohm was a temple monastery built to honor the the king’s mother. It featured a set of concentric galleries with corner enclosures. It is best known today in that trees had become interlaced among the ruins when discovered in the 19th century. While restoration work is being painstakingly undertaken today, as the trees had become an integral part of many of the structures, they have been left undisturbed
Ta Keo - the Temple of Doom - Ta Keo is a pyramid of five levels reaching a total height of 22m - the first two form the base of two enclosing courtyards, one surrounded by a simple wall and the other by a gallery, while the last three, through proportional reduction are a massive artificial plinth for the quincunx of sanctuaries. The reason for this temple remaining unfinished is unknown for it was abandoned soon after the start of its ornamentation. By these remaining fragments, this temple dates to the end of 10th century and the early years of the 11th. Inscriptions engraved on the door jambs of the eastern gopuras, relating to donations made to the temple (but not to its foundation) date from 1007.
The Nobleman's Temple of Presat Kravan - Unique and different in style from the other temples at Angkor, Prasat Kravan is a brick structure reknowned for the remarkable brick sculptures on its interior walls depicting Vishnu and Lakshimi. Unlike most other temples in Angkor, Prasat Kravan was constructed by a nobleman rather than by a king; archaeologists in the early part of the 20th Century had it reconstructed.
The Brick Temple of Pre Rup - King Rajendravarman, who engineered the return of the capital from Koh Ker to Angkor, founded Pre Rup in 961 AD. It is constructed in brick and laterite. This monument of admirable proportions has suffered due to the ravages of time. However, the restored sections of Pre Rup are excellent models of restoration techniques in brick.
A Journey Off the Beaten Path to Banteay Samre and Bantaey Srei - Both of these temples are isolated from the main temples and both take their name after the Samre people, but worth a half day's journey to see. Banteay Srei is so small that in comparison with Angkor Wat it is a miniature model of a temple and yet, in the richness of its profusely carved red sandstone, it is an architectural jewel. Banteay Samre is noted for its well-preserved exceptional ornamentation
Phnom Bakheng - the Temple on the Hill - As the State temple of the first city of Angkor, Phnom Bakheng has a special importance, even though may of its buildings are in poor condition. It was here that Yasovarman I moved his capital from Roduos, 13 k southeast of Siem Reap. The city, called Yasodharapura, was a 4 km square (larger than the later Angkor Thom) and enclosed by an earthen bank. It was centered on the isolated hill of Phnom Bakheng. With some important differences, Bakheng imitates the teimple of Bakong at Roluos, built some two decades earlier – a pyramid of ascending square terraces surrounded by subsidiary sanctuary towers. Work began at the end of the the 9th century, the linga of the central shrine was dedicated in about 907, but building continued after that. The name of the divinity and of the temple was Yasodharesvara – “the Lord of (the one) Who Bears Glory”. It was abandoned after 928, but briefly rehabilitated in about 968 by Jayavarman V.
The following description, included in the AZU's compact 'Dreams of' series on Angkor, tells the story of Angkor much better than I could ever, and is included here in its entirety:
‘Suddenly, and as if by enchantment, the traveler seems to be transported from barbarism to civilization, from profound darkness to light.’
Perhaps we cannot capture the same rapt wonder that Henri Mouhot experienced when he ‘rediscovered’ Angkor in the mid-19th century, yet the fabled ruins of the ancient Khmer capital remain such as to hold every traveler spellbound.
Portuguese and Spanish adventurers, long before Mouhot, had thought Angkor so grand that it must have been built by Alexander the Great or the Romans, while local legend held that it was the work of the gods themselves. Today, the myths and mysteries of Angkor’s origins have been mostly explained by painstakingly gathered historical facts. Yet the romance persists, and Angkor’s sheer size, awesome beauty and stark isolation conspire to conjure a sense of pure amazement.
‘Just the approach to Angkor Wat is on a grander scale than anything in the living world,’ commented English writer Sacheverell Sitwell in the 1960’s.
Angkor literally means ‘city’ and here, close to the shores of Cambodia’s Great Lake, the Khmer kings built their successive capitals and ruled over the greatest empire Southeast Asia has ever known. For more than 600 years, from the early 9th century to when it was finally abandoned in 1431 in the face of Thai onslaughts, Angkor was the heart of a rich and sophisticated civilization. In art and architecture its achievements equaled those of ancient Egypt and Greece.
Central to the civilization was the core belief in the god-king, originally an Indian concept that was adopted by Jayavarman II when he became Angkor’s first king. As in India, a king was a god on earth, a divine representative of Indra, and a god’s capital took the form of the universe in miniature. At its centre was the cosmic Mount Meru.
This cosmology was brilliantly expressed in Angkor’s city planning, which centred on the temple-mountain, which on the death of a king became his funerary monument.
Largest and most perfectly constructed of these architectural wonders is Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. A monument of unsurpassed beauty, grace and symmetry, its huge rectangular stone base encompasses three interior levels that rise to a central core topped by five distinctive towers, the tallest reaching 65 metres.
The proportions alone are dramatic, while epic legends, war and courtly life unfold on the long gallery walls, and celestial dancers and other carved motifs enliven labyrinthine chambers and courtyards.
Angkor Wat is but the most famous of more than 70 major archaeological monuments preserved today, all with an emotive power that is as enchanting as it is awe-inspiring.
Source: Angkor - ASU’s Dreams of Cambodia, by John Hoskin, published by AZU Editions Ltd, 2004
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