Angkor literally means 'Capital City' or 'Holy City' and Khmer refers to the dominant ethnic group in both ancient and modern Cambodia. So generally, Angkor refers to the capital city of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 14th centuries, which at its peak extended from the tip of southern Vietnam on the east to the Bay of Bengal in the west, and north to Yunnan in China. Today, an area encompassing hundreds of square kilometers around the Cambodian town of Siem Riep is filled with thousand-year old temple ruins of the long-vanished empire. The Angkor Archeological Park has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
I really didn't know what to expect; I have to admit that, skeptic that I am, I was pretty impressed.
I've arranged these photos chronologically, according to construction era, so you can get an idea of the historical progression (see 'Angkorian Monarchs' table near bottom of page to get an overall sense of the 'Angkorian Period.')
The 'King's Temple.' Constructed in the late 10th Century, it is the tallest scaleable temple in the area. According to legend, it was crowned by a golden tower and inhabited by a serpent, which would transform into a woman. The kings of Angkor were required to make love with the serpent every night, lest disaster befall him or the kingdom.
Huge temple-mountain in Angkor Thom, constructed in the mid-11th Century. Largely collapsed, and presently undergoing extensive restoration; not open to the public. Walking around gave me a good idea of what's involved in restoring one of these temples; BIG job.
At nearly a mile square, Angkor Wat is claimed to be the largest religious structure in the world. It was begun in 1113 at the start of Suryavarman II's reign, and not finished until after his death in 1150. "At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive temple-mountain dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu." The core of the temple is a huge three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters above the ground. These towers are believed to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, the Home of Gods and Center of the Hindu Universe. Angkor Wat features the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which runs along the outer gallery walls, narrating stories from Hindu Mythology. With the decline of the Ancient Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat was turned into a Buddhist Temple and continuously maintained, which helped its preservation. When the temle was "discovered" by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, it was a "prosperous monastery...tended by more than 1000 hereditary slaves."
Even crowded with tourists, Angkor Wat is stunning.
The monks sure seem to like it.
...my favorites were the bas-relief carvings.
These are from the Hindu epic "Ramayana." I believe the first is Vishnu.
Angkor's greatest king (or most megalomaniacal, depending on how you view history) was Jayavarman VII, who embarked on a dizzying list of construction projects. He created the fortified city of Angkor Thom, 3 km across and surrounded by walls and a moat. The city may have had a regional population of one million, and contained most of the following temples.
Victory Gate on the east side of the city.
Occupying the very center of the city, the Bayon was built as Jayavarman's state temple. It has 37 standing towers.
The Bayon's giant stone faces have become one of the most recognizable images of classic Khmer art and architecture. Archeologists continue to debate who they represent: they may be Lokvara (a Hindu god) or Bodhisattva (Buddha), or even a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII.
The Bayon has incredible carved bas-reliefs around the outer walls. These include battle-scenes from a historical sea-battle between the Khmer (Cambodians) and the Cham (historic enemies who lived in present-day Vietnam); and also scenes of everyday life in Angkor.
Terrace of the Elephants
A seven-foot tall wall covered with carved elephants and giant garudas.
Terrace of the Leper King
The terrace was named for the statue sitting on top, but nobody is quite sure why it has this name. It may be a statue of the 'leper king' of Khmer legend, or perhaps the statue's lichen-covered appearance gave it the appearance of leprosy.
Like the others built under Jayavarman VII, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple. It was dedicated to his mother. It is my Angkor favorite temple, because it's been left to be swallowed by the jungle. It supposedly looks very much the way most of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon it.
...cows and all.
Preah Khan means 'sacred sword' and was dedicated to Jayavarman VII's father.
Constructed in the late 12th / early 13th century, it is another massive Buddhist temple. It was constructed quickly, and is in a ruinous state (and presently being swallowed by the jungle.)
This was the last place I visited. The name means Pool of Ablutions, and was used only by the king. It measures 800m by 400m, and there is the ruin of a small temple at the center (just visible in the photo.) I walked all around the pool looking for a reputed Khmer Rouge Killing Field, but couldn't find it. This little waif named Keo followed me the whole way, telling me stories about ghosts inhabiting the area. She was very happy I couldn't find the killing field.
While walking amidst the ruins, the tourist is continously confronted by beggars, peddlers and musicians trying to eke out a few Riels. The band on the right, made up of landmine amputees, were also peddling their own CD.
My first day of touring, first thing I did, upon arriving at the temple complex, was to get separated from the Irishmen I was going to see the temples with. But this was partially compensated by encountering a Cambodian film crew making a religious-action movie (apparently a popular genre.) See, the monk was in love with one of the prince's concubines, but the prince wasn't too happy about that, so next thing you know, Mr. Barefoot Saffron Robe gets a messa' knife holes through his perty little robe....
And finally....here are some apsaras (celestial nymphs), available to the god-king for recreational purposes upon his ascent into the afterlife.
|King||Dates of Reign||Temples built|
|Indravarman I||877-889||Preah Ko, Roluos Bakong|
|Yasovarman I||889-910||Phnom Bakeng, Lolei|
|Rajendravarman II||944-968||Phimeanakas, E. Mebon, Pre Rup|
|Jayavarman V||968-1001||Ta Keo, Banteay Srei|
|Udayadityavarman II||1049-1065||Baphuon, West Mabon|
|Suryavarman II||1112-1152||Angkor Wat, Banteay Samre|
|Jayavarman VII||1181-1219||Angkor Thom, Ta Nei, Preah Khan, Preah Paillay, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei|
Chris Pforr, May 27, 2004
While wandering around the temples I discovered a previously-unknown branch of my family tree; clearly an ancestor!
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