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The main entrance to the temple proper, seen from the eastern end of the Naga causeway.
A source of great national pride, Angkor Wat has been depicted in Cambodian national flags since 1863

Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat) (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត) is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation—first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "City Temple"; Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara meaning capital or city. wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of its founder, Suryavarman II.[1]

Contents

History

Angkor Wat is the southernmost temple of Angkor's main group of sites.
An 1866 photograph of Angkor Wat by Emile Gsell

Angkor Wat lies 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred on the Baphuon. It is in an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures. It is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites.

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as Vrah Vishnulok after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished.[2] In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.

In the late 13th century, King Jayavarman VIII, who was Hindu, was deposed by his son in law, Srindravarman. Srindravarman had spent the previous 10 years in Sri Lanka becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk. Hence, the new King decided to convert the official religion of the empire from Hindu to Buddhist. Since Buddha was born and died a Hindu and since divisions between both the faiths appeared seamless, citizens were quick to follow a faith founded on tranquility without a need for material gain and power. This made the conversion relatively easy.[3] Hence, Angkor Wat was converted from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.[4]

One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of".[5] However, the temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes. The French explorer wrote of it:

"One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged."[6]

Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, was unable to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.

There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement including cooking utensils weapons or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of the monuments themselves.[7]

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation.[8] Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.[9]

The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863.[10] In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumour circulated that a Thai soap opera actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.[11]

Architecture

Site and plan

A plan of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, located at 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E / 13.4125°N 103.866667°E / 13.4125; 103.866667Coordinates: 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E / 13.4125°N 103.866667°E / 13.4125; 103.866667, is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire's state temples, the later plan of concentric galleries, and influences from Orissa and the Chola of Tamil Nadu, India. The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.[12] Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.[13]

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many (including Glaize and George Coedès) to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple.[14] Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services.[8] The archaeologist Charles Higham also describes a container which may have been a funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower.[15] It has been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the disposal of a corpse. [16] Freeman and Jacques, however, note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.[12]

A further interpretation of Angkor Wat has been proposed by Eleanor Mannikka. Drawing on the temple's alignment and dimensions, and on the content and arrangement of the bas-reliefs, she argues that these indicate a claimed new era of peace under king Suryavarman II: "as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king's power and to honor and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above."[17][18] Mannikka's suggestions have been received with a mixture of interest and scepticism in academic circles.[15] She distances herself from the speculations of others, such as Graham Hancock, that Angkor Wat is part of a representation of the constellation Draco.[19]

The north-west tower of the inner gallery at sunset

Style

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested.[20]

Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece or Rome. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style."[21]

Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half-galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras), bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes. The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work.[22] Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors.[23]

The Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in which quality was often sacrificed to quantity.[24] Other temples in the style are Banteay Samré, Thommanon, Chao Say Tevoda and the early temples of Preah Pithu at Angkor; outside Angkor, Beng Mealea and parts of Phanom Rung and Phimai.

Features

Aerial view of Angkor Wat

Outer enclosure

The outer wall, 1024 by 802 m and 4.5 m high, is surrounded by a 30 m apron of open ground and a moat 190 m wide. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge.[25] There are gopuras at each of the cardinal points; the western is by far the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that this gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper.[26] Under the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which may originally have occupied the temple's central shrine.[25] Galleries run between the towers and as far as two further entrances on either side of the gopura often referred to as "elephant gates", as they are large enough to admit those animals. These galleries have square pillars on the outer (west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the west face of the wall with dancing figures; and the east face of the wall with balustered windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas, including (south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be showing her teeth.

The Temple viewed from the northwest

The outer wall encloses a space of 820,000 square metres (203 acres), which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets.[27] Most of the area is now covered by forest. A 350 m causeway connects the western gopura to the temple proper, with naga balustrades and six sets of steps leading down to the city on either side. Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to the central structure.[28]

Central structure

This model of Angkor Wat shows intact the half-galleries of the lower level and towers at the corners of the second-level galleries.

The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. Mannikka interprets these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu.[2] Each gallery has a gopura at each of the points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx with the central tower. Because the temple faces west, the features are all set back towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side; for the same reason the west-facing steps are shallower than those on the other sides.

The outer gallery measures 187 by 215 m, with pavilions rather than towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (the "Hall of a Thousand Buddhas"). Buddha images were left in the cloister by pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed. This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. The four small courtyards marked out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water.[29] North and south of the cloister are libraries.

Detailed plan.

Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas abound on the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. The second-level enclosure is 100 by 115 m, and may originally have been flooded to represent the ocean around Mount Meru.[30] Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery. The very steep stairways represent the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods.[31] This inner gallery, called the Bakan, is a 60 m square with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. The tower above the central shrine rises 43 m to a height of 65 m above the ground; unlike those of previous temple mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four.[32] The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas. In 1934, the conservator George Trouvé excavated the pit beneath the central shrine: filled with sand and water it had already been robbed of its treasure, but he did find a sacred foundation deposit of gold leaf two metres above ground level.[33]

Decoration

The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right, and apsaras and Indra above.

Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Higham has called these, "the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving".[34] From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology.

Devatas are characteristic of the Angkor Wat style.

Glaize writes of;

"... those unfortunate souls who are to be thrown down to hell to suffer a refined cruelty which, at times, seems to be a little disproportionate to the severity of the crimes committed. So it is that people who have damaged others' property have their bones broken, that the glutton is cleaved in two, that rice thieves are afflicted with enormous bellies of hot iron, that those who picked the flowers in the garden of Shiva have their heads pierced with nails, and thieves are exposed to cold discomfort."[35]

On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, showing 92[36] asuras and 88 devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the sea under Vishnu's direction (Mannikka counts only 91 asuras, and explains the asymmetrical numbers as representing the number of days from the winter solstice to the spring equinox, and from the equinox to the summer solstice).[37] It is followed by Vishnu defeating asuras (a 16th-century addition). The northern gallery shows Krishna's victory over Bana (where according to Glaize, "The workmanship is at its worst"[38]) and a battle between the Hindu gods and asuras. The north-west and south-west corner pavilions both feature much smaller-scale scenes, some unidentified but most from the Ramayana or the life of Krishna.

Construction techniques

The stones, as smooth as polished marble, were laid without mortar with very tight joints that were sometimes hard to find. The blocks were held together by mortise and tenon joints in some cases, while in others they used dovetails and gravity. The blocks were presumably put in place by a combination of elephants, coir ropes, pulleys and bamboo scaffolding. Henri Mouhot noted that most of the blocks had holes 2.5 cm in diameter and 3 cm deep, with more holes on the larger blocks. Some scholars have suggested that these were used to join them together with iron rods, but others claim they were used to hold temporary pegs to help manoeuver them into place. The Khmer architects never made the curved arches used by the Romans. They did create a corbelled arch, but this often proved unstable and collapsed.

The monument was made out of enormous amounts of sandstone, as much as Khafre's pyramid in Egypt (over 5 million tons). This sandstone had to be transported from Mount Kulen, a quarry approximately 25 miles (40 km) to the northeast. The stone was presumably transported by raft along the Siem Reap river. This would have to have been done with care to avoid overturning the rafts with such a large amount of weight. One modern engineer estimated it would take 300 years to complete Angkor Wat today.[39] Yet the monument was begun soon after Suryavarman came to the throne and was finished shortly after his death, no more than 40 years.

Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels even roofs are carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Indian literature including unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles. The gallery wall alone is decorated with almost 1,000 square meters of bas reliefs. Holes on some of the Angkor walls indicate that they may have been decorated with bronze sheets. These were highly prized in ancient times and were a prime target for robbers. While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stone mason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture under 4 feet (1.2 m), this took about 60 days to carve. [40] Roger Hopkins and Mark Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12 quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone. [41] The labour force to quarry, transport, carve and install this much sandstone must have run into the thousands including many highly skilled artisans. The skill required to carve these sculptures was developed hundreds of years earlier, as demonstrated by some artifacts found that were dated to the seventh century before the Khmer came into power. [42] [43]...

Angkor Wat today

This model of Angkor Wat is designed to give tourists an overview of the site. In the foreground is depicted the cruciform terrace which lies in front of the central structure.

The Archaeological Survey of India carried out restoration work on the temple between 1986 and 1992. [1] Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site.[44] The German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) is working to protect the devatas and other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple from damage. The organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier restoration efforts.[45] Other work involves the repair of collapsed sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse: the west facade of the upper level, for example, has been buttressed by scaffolding since 2002,[46] while a Japanese team completed restoration of the north library of the outer enclosure in 2005.[47] World Monuments Fund began work on the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery in 2008.

Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. In 2004 and 2005, government figures suggest that, respectively, 561,000 and 677,000 foreign visitors arrived in Siem Reap province, approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia for both years.[48] The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little damage, other than some graffiti; ropes and wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and floors, respectively. Tourism has also provided some additional funds for maintenance—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by foreign government-sponsored teams rather than by the Cambodian authorities.[49]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Angkor Vat". APSARA Authority. 2004. http://www.autoriteapsara.org/en/angkor/temples_sites/temples/angkor_vat.html. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  2. ^ a b "Angkor Wat, 1113-1150". The Huntington Archive of Buddhist and Related Art. College of the Arts, The Ohio State University. http://huntingtonarchive.osu.edu/seasia/angkor.html. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  3. ^ "Angkor Wat History". http://www.ourworldwonders.com/AngkorWat/History.htm. 
  4. ^ Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group p. 59.
  5. ^ Higham, The Civilization of Angkor pp. 1-2.
  6. ^ Quoted in Brief Presentation by Venerable Vodano Sophan Seng
  7. ^ Time Life Lost Civilizations series: Southeast Asia: A Past Regained (1995)p. 67-99
  8. ^ a b Glaize p. 59.
  9. ^ APSARA authority, The Modern Period: The war
  10. ^ Flags of the World, Cambodian Flag History
  11. ^ The Nation January 31, 2003, Editor Didn't Check Rumour
  12. ^ a b Freeman and Jacques p. 48.
  13. ^ Glaize p. 62.
  14. ^ The diplomatic envoy Zhou Da Guan sent by Emperor Temur Khan to Angkor in 1295 reported that the head of state was buried in tower after death, and he referred to Angkor Wat as a mausoleum
  15. ^ a b Higham, The Civilization of Angkor p. 118.
  16. ^ Scarre, Chris editor "The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World", p. 81-85 (1999) Thames & Hudson, London
  17. ^ Mannikka, Angkor Wat, 1113-1150
  18. ^ Stencel, Robert, Fred Gifford, and Eleanor Moron. "Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat." Science 193 (1976): 281-287.(Mannikka, nee Moron)
  19. ^ Transcript of Atlantis Reborn, broadcast BBC2 November 4, 1999.
  20. ^ German Apsara Conservation Project Building Techniques, p. 5.
  21. ^ Glaize p. 25.
  22. ^ APSARA authority, Angkor Vat Style
  23. ^ Freeman and Jacques p. 29.
  24. ^ Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor p. 31.
  25. ^ a b Freeman and Jacques p. 49.
  26. ^ Glaize p. 61.
  27. ^ Freeman and Jacques p. 50.
  28. ^ Freeman and Jacques p. 50.
  29. ^ Glaize p. 63.
  30. ^ Ray, Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia p. 195.
  31. ^ Ray p. 199.
  32. ^ Briggs p. 199.
  33. ^ Glaize p. 65.
  34. ^ Higham, Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia p. 318.
  35. ^ Glaize p. 68.
  36. ^ Glaize
  37. ^ Described in Michael Buckley, The Churning of the Ocean of Milk
  38. ^ Glaize p. 69.
  39. ^ Time Life Lost Civilizations series: Southeast Asia: A Past Regained (1995)p. 67-99,116,117,132,133
  40. ^ "Lost Worlds of the Kama Sutra" History channel
  41. ^ Lehner, Mark The Complete Pyramids, London: Thames and Hudson (1997)p.202-225 ISBN 0-500-05084-8.
  42. ^ Time Life Lost Civilizations series: Southeast Asia: A Past Regained (1995)p. 67-99,116,117,132,133
  43. ^ Scarre, Chris editor "The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World", p. 81-85 (1999) Thames & Hudson, London
  44. ^ Hing Thoraxy, Achievement of "APSARA"
  45. ^ German Apsara Conservation Project, Conservation, Risk Map, p. 2.
  46. ^ "Infrastructures in Angkor Park". Yashodhara no. 6: January - June 2002. APSARA Authority. http://www.autoriteapsara.org/en/apsara/about_apsara/publication/yashodhara/yashodhara_6.html. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  47. ^ "The Completion of the Restoration Work of the Northern Library of Angkor Wat". APSARA Authority. June 3, 2005. http://www.autoriteapsara.org/en/apsara/about_apsara/news/angkorvat_ceremony.html. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  48. ^ "Executive Summary from Jan-Dec 2005". Tourism of Cambodia. Statistics & Tourism Information Department, Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia. http://www.tourismcambodia.com/Statistics/index.asp?Year=2005. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  49. ^ Tales of Asia, Preserving Angkor: Interview with Ang Choulean (October 13, 2000)

References

  • BBC Horizon (4 November 1999). Atlantis Reborn (script). Broadcast BBC2 November 4, 1999, retrieved 25 July 2005.
  • Briggs, Lawrence Robert (1951, reprinted 1999). The Ancient Khmer Empire. White Lotus. ISBN 974-8434-93-1.
  • Buckley, Michael (1998). Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Handbook. Avalon Travel Publications. Online excerpt The Churning of the Ocean of Milk retrieved 25 July 2005.
  • Freeman, Michael and Jacques, Claude (1999). Ancient Angkor. River Books. ISBN 0-8348-0426-3.
  • Glaize, Maurice (2003 edition of an English translation of the 1993 French fourth edition). The Monuments of the Angkor Group. Retrieved 14 July 2005.
  • Higham, Charles (2001). The Civilization of Angkor. Phoenix. ISBN 1-84212-584-2.
  • Higham, Charles (2003). Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia. Art Media Resources. ISBN 1-58886-028-0.
  • Hing Thoraxy. Achievement of "APSARA": Problems and Resolutions in the Management of the Angkor Area Retrieved 26 July 2005.
  • Ray, Nick (2002). Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia (4th edition). ISBN 1-74059-111-9.
  • University of Applied Sciences Cologne. German Apsara Conservation Project Retrieved 21 June 2005.

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Angkor Archaeological Park article)

From Wikitravel

Asia : Southeast Asia : Cambodia : Angkor Archaeological Park
Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple
Pre Rup, one of the many temple ruins within the Angkor Archaeological Park
Pre Rup, one of the many temple ruins within the Angkor Archaeological Park

Angkor Archaeological Park, located in northern Cambodia, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.

Understand

Stretching over some 400 square kilometers, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.

Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. At the same time, it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to looting, a declining water table, and unsustainable tourism. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.

Angkor itself has no accommodations and few facilities; the nearby town of Siem Reap is the tourist hub for the area.

Symbolism

The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and topped by precisely five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The linga (phallus), representing the god Shiva, was also critical and while the lingas themselves have largely gone, linga stands (carved, table-like blocks of stone) can be found in many if not most rooms in the temples. There was also a political element to it all: most kings wanted to build their own state temples to symbolize their kingdom and their rule.

While early Angkor temples were built as Hindu temples, Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism c. 1200 and embarked on a prodigious building spree, building the new capital city of Angkor Thom including Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and many more as Buddhist structures. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and embarked on an equally massive spree of destruction, systematically defacing Buddhist images and even crudely altering some to be Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost out to Buddhism again, but the (few) Buddha images in the temples today are later Theraveda additions.

One element that continues to mystify archeaologists is the baray, or water reservoir, built in a grand scale around Angkor: for example, the West Baray is a mind-boggling 8 km by 2.3 km in size. While it has long been assumed that they were used for irrigation, some historians argue that their primary function was political or religious. Today, the moat around Angkor and the West Baray still contains water, but the rest have dried up.

Motifs

As you tour the temples, you will see certain mythical figures and other motifs cropping up repeatedly.

Fierce battles in the reign of Jayavarman VII, Bayon
Fierce battles in the reign of Jayavarman VII, Bayon

Angkor is hot and sticky throughout the year, but the peak season is November to February, when the weather is dry and temperatures are coolest (25-30°C). The flip side is that the temples are packed, especially around Christmas/New Year's, and hotel rates are at their highest. March to May is brutally hot, with temperatures reaching 40°C. June to October is the rainy season, and outlying temples and the roads leading to them can turn into quagmires of mud. However, this is also when the temples are at their quietest, and it's still often possible to do a good half-day round of sightseeing before the rains start in the afternoon.

Central tower, Angkor Wat Temple
Central tower, Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor is located about 20 minutes to the north, by car or motorbike, from central Siem Reap. See the Siem Reap article for details on getting there.

Get around

Tour buses feature guided, air-conditioned comfort but also are subject to large crowds and lack of options. Be sure you know which temples are being visited as some of the larger buses only go to the 2 or 3 main tourist attractions, and leave out important "secondary" sights. The cost is ~US$25-$70/day including driver and guide.

Cars with drivers can be hired for single or multiple days. While all drivers are familiar with the area and happy to suggest good routes, most speak little English and are not actual tour guides. The charge varies from US$25 per day to US$50 for a driver and English speaking guide. It is customary for the drivers to ask for US$5-US$10 extra for trips to further temples such as the those of the Big Circuit, Banteay Srey and more for remote sites like Beng Mealea .

Motorbikes (with drivers) can be arranged through any guesthouse for about US$6-$8/day. Again, drivers might ask for more to visit remote ruins. Some drivers can speak a bit of English, and can give you information about Angkor and Cambodian life. Drivers are required to be licensed and must wear their gray numbered vest while traveling within the confines of the Angkor park. The rental of motorbikes without a driver to foreigners in Siem Reap is prohibited; however foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (e.g., Phnom Penh).

Tuk tuks can be arranged through guesthouses, offering space for one or two travelers. Figure on US$12 for the main Angkor temples, and more for outlying temples. Like the motorbike drivers, they must be licensed, may speak some English, and must wear gray numbered vests while traveling within the park.

Bicycles are another option, though you will spend more time getting from place to place and will have a limited range. They are probably best for visitors planning on returning for several days. Bring sun screen, a good hat, lot of water and a scarf to keep the sun off your neck. The rental is around US$2-$3 per day, and quality does vary. As of 2006, there is also an electrical bicycle renting agency near the road to the Angkor. The battery can be exchanged free of charge at several places inside the Angkor. [2008-11-08 update: the electrical bike rental service doesn't seem to be operating anymore]

Horse carriages and even elephants are also available within the park, but only from specific points. For example, elephants travel the route between Bayon and the nearest gate of Angkor Thom.

Electric cars will take you to certain areas for a round-trip price of only $2. They can be found in front of Angkor Wat and the Terrace of the Elephants.

Helicopter flights are another way of seeing Angkor Archaeological Park. You can also visit outlying temples like Banteay Chhmar, Boeng Mealea, Koh Ker, Rolous Group, Phnom Bok & Tonle Sap floating village. Sokha Helicopters [1] have prices starting from US$110 per person for the basic Angkor Wat, Prasart Kravan, Bat Chum, Sras Srang, Pre Rup, Eastern Mebon & Ta Som 12 minutes tour. Flights depart daily next to the Sokha Yellow Balloon on the road from Siem Reap International Airport to Angkor Wat main entrance. Bookings essential and can be made through hotels or travel/tour agents or direct on +855 12 449 555.

Location of Angkor Archaeological Park and main sites
Location of Angkor Archaeological Park and main sites

Passes are required to enter the Angkor area. They are on sale at the front gate for 1-day ($20), 3-day ($40), or 7-day ($60) intervals. The 3-day pass is valid for any 3 days within a week, while the 7-day pass is valid for any 7 days within a month. Cambodians can enter for free — you shouldn't need to buy a pass for your guide or your driver. If you buy a pass in the evening, you can enter the park after 5:00PM to view the sunset without it counting as use of a day on your pass. The passes are non-transferable. You will have a photograph taken and printed on your pass to make sure they are non-transferable. Regular checks for the pass are performed at almost all sites within the park, so carry your pass with you at all times, and be certain to buy the passes only from the official Apsara Authority counters, not from other vendors, and definitely not second-hand.

Guides can be hired for about US$20 a day and are available for most major languages. Hiring a guide for at least the first day can help you get orientated to the temples and are particularly useful for finding and explaining the bas-reliefs, which can otherwise be rather overwhelming and/or difficult to understand.

Be sure and get to the temples early. You can enter the park beginning at 5:00AM; the temples open at sunrise. There are fewer visitors early in the morning, and the sun isn't at full force. Arriving at the temples at 8:00AM instead of 9:00AM can make all the difference in staying one step ahead of the crowds.

The temples can broadly be categorized into four groups:

  • Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the grandest temple of all and the ancient capital next to it
  • Little Circuit (Le Petit Circuit), taking in major sites to the east of Angkor Thom
  • Big Circuit (Le Grand Circuit), taking in major sites north and further out east
  • Roluos group, 15 km east from Siem Reap along National Highway 6
  • Outlying temples, located over 20 km for Angkor Wat

You can, of course, mix and match freely, but as distances are fairly long, it makes sense to plan ahead and pick sites connected by road. Most car, tuk-tuk or moto drivers will have an itinerary ready if you don't have one in mind, and their expertise may come in handy for arriving at sites a step ahead of the big tour groups.

Central courtyard, Angkor Wat
Central courtyard, Angkor Wat
Plan of Angkor Wat
Plan of Angkor Wat

History

Located six kilometers north of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is one of the largest of Khmer monuments. Built around the first half of 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple's balance, composition and beauty make it one of the finest monuments in the world.

Though 'Wat' is the Khmer (Cambodian) word for temple, the westward orientation of the structure is atypical of temples. Scholars believe that the architecture and sculptures are that of a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped but it was also built as a mausoleum for the king after his death.

How to explore

The size of the monuments makes it look overwhelming when one encounters it for the first time. The following is one of the suggested plan to explore Angkor Wat. Enter through the west entrance. When you reach the entry tower, walk to the right to get a glimpse of all the five towering gopuras.

Passing the tower and the libraries on both sides of the walkway, climb down the steps towards the left side and get to the water basin. You can catch a glimpse of the temple and its reflection in the water. Go past the basin and reach the left end of the temple.

You would by now have reached the starting point of the famous bas reliefs depicting scenes from various mythological stories and historic events. Walking from left to right you will come across scenes from battle of Ramayana, battle of Mahabharata, army of Suryavarman II, scenes from judgement by Yama (the supreme judge), churning of ocean by demons and gods to get Amrita — the nectar of immortality, Vishnu's victory over demons, victory of Krishna over Bana and other scenes of battle between gods and demons.

Climb the steps to reach the second tier. One can reach the third tier and the central courtyard within by climbing the steps oriented towards any of the four cardinal points. However, it is suggested that the steps on the south (right) be taken, as these have now been fitted with a handrail — particularly useful when descending.

When to visit

The sight of the grand monument towering over the landscape is breath-taking at any time of day. However, to maximise the effect it is suggested that the first trip to Angkor Wat be made in optimal lighting conditions, usually around 1~2 PM. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a also great sight to witness. Hence most of the tourists tend to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, then explore other ruins in the morning and then return to Angkor Wat later in the afternoon. The sun rises behind Angkor Wat and the best colors are seen just before the sun climbs into view. As the position of the sun as it rises varies according to the time of year, do position yourself accordingly. For example, in November-December time when you are facing Angkor Wat, the sun rises on your right hand side. Hence grab a place to the extreme left of the entry tower to see the sunrise. Sunset at Angkor Wat is best viewed either on the top tier or outside the main temple structure.

One of the 216 stone faces that adorn the towers of Bayon
One of the 216 stone faces that adorn the towers of Bayon
Plan of the Bayon
Plan of the Bayon

History

Built in the latter part of the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, Bayon is one of the most widely recognised temples in Siem Reap because of the giant stone faces that adorn the towers of Bayon. There are 54 towers of four faces each, totaling 216 faces. There is still a debate as to who is being depicted in the faces. It could be Avalokiteshvara, Mahayana Buddhism's compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.

How to explore

Bayon's plan can be divided into three levels — the first two are bas-reliefs and the uppermost consists of the central sanctuary. The outer gallery depicts scenes from everyday life and historical events, while the second inner gallery depicts mythical figures and stories. In total, there are more than 1km of bas-reliefs to be viewed in the Bayon.

Enter Bayon from the east. The outer gallery comes into view first. The second gallery is on the next higher level. The third level is where you will encounter many of the famous faces (and tourists). The fact that these stones are exposed to direct light makes it easy to shoot pictures throughout the day, though mid-day sun eliminates shadows. You will find fewer tourists too during this time of day. Elephants are also available to take you from the gate into Bayon for $10 per person (seats are limited and often already pre-booked by the tour groups, but still worth checking out!)

When to visit

The surrounding and the tall towers makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for study and photography near sunrise and sunset. Hence, it is best to visit Bayon when there is plenty of light. 10 AM in the morning to around 4 PM in the evening is the stretch most people prefer.

Baphuon

Located to the northwest of the Bayon, the Baphuon is supposed to represent Mount Meru (sacred to Hinduism), and was one of the largest and grandest structures in Angkor. Built into the western face of the Baphuon is a giant reclining Buddha, added in the 15th century after the region converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.

Archaeologists had dismantled the Baphuon to perform renovation when they were interrupted by the civil war; the records for piecing the temple back together were subsequently lost or destroyed. Today it is undergoing painstaking reconstruction work, so visitors can only walk across the long terrace leading up to the main structure and around the outside base. Completion is estimated for 2010.

Other Angkor Thom sights

The Bayon and Baphuon temples form only part of what was formerly the giant city of Angkor Thom, once thought to hold a population of one million.

In addition to the Bayon and Baphuon temples, the ancient city of Angkor Thom holds a number of other sites of interest:

  • The Elephant Terrace.
  • The Terrace of the Leper King.
  • Five entrance gates, one at each ordinal compass point and the Victory Gate in the east wall. The western and the northern gate are free from tourists, and climatic. Each of the gates is topped by the face of Avalokitesvara. There is a path on top of the walls, and one along the outside wall, that can be followed to walk from gate to gate. The total walk is around 13km, about 3.5 hours long.
The Elephant Terrace
The Elephant Terrace
  • Phnom Bakheng. The first temple-mountain constructed in Angkor, with a commanding hilltop location. Extremely popular (and crowded) spot for sunsets: allow half an hour for the sweaty hike to the top, and leave early or bring a flashlight for the way back. The final climb to the top of the temple is steep and dangerous at dark. Elephants will carry you to the hilltop for $20 per person (as of 2008-11-08), but you still have to climb the temple stairs on your own. Note that the sun does not set over Angkor if seen from here, and any visible temples are in fact quite far away. An elephant ride back down the hill will cost $15.

Little Circuit

In clockwise order, exiting Angkor Thom by the Victory Gate:

  • Ta Keo. An incomplete, largely undecorated temple built by Jayavarman V. The stairs at the east side of the monument are least steep and the easiest way to reach the top level.
The famous empty doorway of Ta Prohm — there's usually a queue of people lining up to be photographed here!
The famous empty doorway of Ta Prohm — there's usually a queue of people lining up to be photographed here!
  • Ta Prohm. Built during the time of king Jayavarman VII and is best known as the temple where trees have been left intertwined with the stonework, much as it was uncovered from the jungle. It might be considered in a state of disrepair but there is a strange beauty in the marvelous strangler fig trees which provide a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork. This is one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat and the Bayon because of the beautiful combinations of wood and stone. Black and white film photographers especially love this site because of this and most of the stunning postcard shots of Angkor's trees come from here; pop culture fans, on the other hand, may recognize a few scenes from Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider. While the temple is very popular, most visitors follow a central route and the sides of the complex can be surprisingly quiet. Note that large sections of the temple are unstable rubble and have been cordoned off, as they are in real danger of collapse.
  • Banteay Kdei. Sprawling monastic complex in the style of Ta Prohm. In poor shape, but slowly being restored.
  • Sras Srang. Terrace leading to a pond. Located right across the road from Banteay Kdei.
  • Prasat Kravan. A little temple to end the little circuit.
Crushed by the weight of history, Preah Khan
Crushed by the weight of history, Preah Khan

In clockwise order, exiting Angkor Thom by the North Gate:

  • Preah Khan. Jayavarman VII's first capital, before the completion of Angkor Wat. Large and atmospheric, yet somewhat overshadowed by Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, this temple is partly in disrepair with strangler figs crawling up the walls, but has some excellent carvings and less visitors, and is well worth a visit. The temple is some 3 kilometers north of Angkor Thom.
  • Neak Pean.
  • Ta Som.
  • East Mebon. Located on what was an island in the now dry East Baray, this is a large, three-story temple-mountain crowned by five towers, like a miniature Angkor Wat. Originally built by Rajendravarman II in the 10th century, many structures are in poor shape, but the temple is best known for its massive (restored) elephant statues.
  • Pre Rup. A temple-mountain close to and quite similar in style to East Mebon, and constructed only a decade later. A favorite spot for viewing the sun set into the jungles and rice paddies of the Cambodian countryside.

Roluos group

The ruins here are from the ancient capital of Hariharalaya, dating from the late 9th century and thus predating Angkor itself.

  • Bakong. A five-terraced pyramid in the mountain-temple style.
  • Lolei. An island temple constructed in a baray, now dry.
  • Preah Ko. The first temple to be built here, dating from the 9th century.
  • Banteay Srey, 37 km north of Angkor Wat. This red colored temple is well known for its intricate carvings, and is worth a half day trip on its own, since it is a bit further from Siem Reap than the main Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat areas. Car and motorcycle drivers will charge a bit extra ($10 USD) to take you to the temple.
  • Kbal Spean. After the man-made monuments of the temples, it can be nice to get back to nature for a while at Kbal Spean. Although it is the site of numerous carvings made into the live rock of the river bed and surrounding areas, this lies at the end of a 1.5km walk through some Cambodian rainforest. There is a small but attractive waterfall that drops to a picturesque pool, all surrounded by precariously perched boulders and creeping vines. Best combined with a trip out to Banteay Srey, as this is a further 5km or so along a rough road. Expect to pay a few extra dollars to drivers who take you this far.
  • Beng Mealea , 80 km east of Siem Reap. Along with Ta Phrom and others, this is a temple which has been left to nature, but unlike Ta Phrom it has not been cleared at all. The result is the visitor clambering over ruined walls (exactly the sort of thing you are asked not to do at other ruins!) and through windows to get access to areas where nature is running riot. Lots of trees growing out of walls, and creepers hanging over ruined buildings, and consequently great for some atmospheric photos. Much of the standard walk is along wooden decking for those who don't want to clamber. This can be taken in as part of a trip to the Roluos Group, or a long day trip with Banteay Srey and Kbal Spean, though this will entail about 5 hours travelling in total on some very rough roads. There is a $5 entry fee to Beng Mealea. Be wary of custodians bearing Äspara Authority" armbands and local kids following you in an attempt to extract guide fees.
  • Phnom Krom, 12 km southwest of Siem Reap. This hilltop temple was built at the end of the 9th century, during the reign of King Yasovarman. The gloomy atmosphere of the temple and the view over the Tonle Sap lake make the climb to the hill worth while. A visit to the site can be conveniently combined with a boat trip to the lake. Obviously, the Angkor passport is needed to enter the temple so do not forget to bring your passport along when heading to Tonle Sap.

Buy

Souvenirs are also sold in front of all temples. Bargain, but not too hard: many souvenir sellers live within the park and, being banned from farming on their own land, have to resort to this to make a living. Please do not encourage children who pester tourists in the temples themselves to give money or buy postcards.

There are several decent souvenir shops around the old market.The one of the shops called 'Black Garuda' has some original key holders and mobile straps and they donate some of your purchase to land mine victims.

Eat

Despite a ban on development or commercial zoning, dozens of small noodle and snack shops have sprung up near the major attractions of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. If you're in the mood, some shopkeepers may be willing to bargain - during summer low season, you can bring the price of a good lunch down to as low as $1 for a dish and $0.50 for a drink. (Their flocks of five year old emissaries aren't likely to hold price-cutting authority, though.) You'll also find some local people selling fresh pineapples and mangoes (beautifully cut) for about $1 a piece.

  • The modern Angkor Cafe lies just outside Angkor Wat's main entrance, and also doubles as a crafts shop, with fine works from the Artisans d'Angkor shop, where they train locals in the arts. Their prices are on the high side for Cambodia but very reasonable for Western pockets (mainly $3-5) with excellent food, nice decor and air conditioning.

Drink

Soft drinks are hawked by stalls in front of practically every temple. As you might expect, prices are inflated: $1 for a can of soft drink or a cold 1L plastic bottle of water is more or less standard, although this can easily be bargained down to half or less.

Sleep

The area has seen a large increase of hotels and guest houses in 2003, with many new 3 to 4 star places opening up on the road between the airport and Siem Reap. See Siem Reap for hotels and hostels. Camping is not allowed.

Respect

Some of Angkor's sites were originally built as Hindu temples, while some were built as Buddhist temples, and yet others were converted over the years. Today, most of Angkor's major temples house at least a few Buddha statues (nearly all added later) and draw a steady stream of monks and worshippers. You may be approached for donations, but you are under no obligation to pay unless you actually choose to accept incense sticks or other offerings.

Because these are still holy spaces for the Khmers (Cambodian people), it is best to follow the dress code of "long pants/skirt and covered shoulders." This is the dress code that the Khmers follow when visiting any temple or holy space. Most Khmers are non-confrontational so this rule is not strictly enforced, but wearing inappropriate clothing sends a message of disrespect. A good rule of thumb is "Would I wear this to my own house of worship?" If not, it may be poor etiquette to wear it to someone else's holy site. As an added benefit, long pants and covered shoulders provide better protection from the sun, insects, and brambles when walking around and between the sites.

Stay healthy

Touring the temples is a hot and sweaty job, so bring sunblock and keep yourself well hydrated. Some of the temples, notably the uppermost level of Angkor Wat, require climbs up very steep staircases and are best avoided if you suffer from vertigo or are not fully confident of being able to keep your footing.

Malaria is endemic in the areas around the temples, and has resistance to some medications. As always, seek medical advice before you travel.

Don't feed or approach the monkeys who lurk around some sites: many are ill-tempered and will bite at the slightest provocation.

Stay safe

By local regulation, motorcycle and tuk-tuk drivers must at all times wear a numbered vest when on the job, which goes a long way towards preventing hassles and scams. However, a disturbing number of rapes continue to happen, especially after dark and in the more secluded temples, so it's unadvisable for women to travel alone.

Whilst visiting the temples, beware of off-duty police officers, who are in uniform, that start walking beside you and start showing you around the temples. At this point either say that you would like to see the temples yourself, or agree on a price at the start. Several people have been requested for a fee of over $10 at the end of the temple tour and you are not going to argue with a member of the police force! The official wage for a police officer is very low, so they can easily double their salary by being tourist guides.

Whilst at the temple beware of anyone offering you incense. They will hand you the incense and then "teach" you a blessing. They will then ask for a donation (generally about $10) for the monks and the upkeep of the temple. None of the funds will make it to either of these causes, so it's best just to say a quick "No thank you" when they try to give you the incense in the first place.

This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information about the park including attractions, activities, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and arrival/departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!

Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Temple entrance

English

Proper noun

Angkor Wat

  1. A complex of temples in Cambodia.


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