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Visiting the Angor Wat Temple

April 7th, 2009 by

Take a detour through Angkor, Cambodia and you’ll stumble upon an incredible site. The Angor Wat Temple complex, built in the 12th century for King Suryavarman II, is a stunning example of early Khmer architecture. Today it is one of the most visited attractions in all of Cambodia.

The History Behind Angkor Wat

Angor Wat Temple
Image credit: kopretinka

It is believed that Suryavarman II ruled Cambodia between 1113 and 1150. The temple complex was built to serve not only as the king’s temple but as the capital city. While the temple was dedicated to the god Vishnu, there is no documentation depicting the original name of the temple. Some archaeologists believe it may have been referred to as Vrah Vishnulok, after the deity it was designed to honor.

Sadly, the temple was not 100% complete by the time Suryavarman II passed away. It was at that point that the building project ended and some of the decorations were never finished.

Angor Wat Temple
Image credit: ctsnow

Kings during the Khmer era had a habit of taking on monstrous building projects that required thousands of builders to complete. As a result, the citizens of these communities lived in a state that could only be described as slave labor. This lifestyle lasted for years, until the city was invaded by the Cham 30 years after Suryavarman passed away. After the invasion the new king, Jayavarman VII, abandoned Angor Wat and moved to a new temple north the original.

Later on, during the 14th and 15th centuries, Angkor Wat was transformed into a Buddhist temple and is still used as one today. Despite the fact that very little attention was paid to the upkeep of the temple throughout history, the fact that it was surrounded by jungle protected it and contributed to its preservation.

Angor Wat
Image credit: ctsnow

The temple was discovered by Western explorers in the late 1500’s. One of the first was a Portuguese monk known as Antonio da Magdalena. Its existence didn’t become well known until the middle of the 19th century when a French explorer known as Henri Mouhot allowed his travel notes to be published.

Even then, members of Western civilization had a difficult time believing that something so ornate and beautiful could have possibly been built by the Khmers. Early on it was incorrectly believed to have been built around the same time Rome was constructed, but later studies revealed this was not the case.

Angor Wat
Image credit: andystoll

Extensive work was done to restore the temple during the early 20th century. Civil wars throughout the region caused setbacks but the temple is now one of the most prided sites in Cambodia. Angor Wat is so special to the Cambodian people it is now shown on their national flag.

Exploring Khmer Architecture

The architectural style used by the Khmer people was truly unique. By the time Angkor Wat was built the architects of the time period had seriously refined their skills. They were opting to avoid brick and laterite materials, instead replacing them with sandstone. Almost every part of the temple that is visible today is made of sandstone, though parts of the walls were made of laterite.

Angor Wat Temple Elephants
Image credit: ctsnow

The design of Angkor Wat is especially well known because of its intricacy and harmony. This architectural sophistication is, in fact, one of the reasons why early explorers believed the temple was built during a much later period of time.

Inside the temple complex you’ll find a number of unique characteristics. The redented towers were designed to depict lotus buds; half-galleries were used to create broader passageways; and smaller axial galleries were used to connect separate parts of the enclosure.

Angor Wat
Image credit: ctsnow

The entire temple itself measures 4.5 meters high and the grounds, measuring a total of 203 acres, are surrounded by a moat that measures over 190 meters wide. There is one access point at the east side of the temple where visitors can simply walk on flat ground. On the west side of the temple visitors must cross a sandstone bridge which is believed to have replaced an older wooden bridge at some point in time.

The main temple itself sits on a raised terrace, giving it a position of power from which it could look over the entire city. The building itself consists of three galleries which are believed to have been dedicated to Vishnu, the moon, and the king. The series of galleries, rooms, and ornate decorations throughout the complex represent a culture that was dedicated to quality work as opposed to merely quantity.

Present Day Angkor Wat

Today Angkor Wat is a major tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. The Archaeological Survey of India, the German Apsarsa Coservation Project, and the World Monuments Fund have all made major contributions to the preservation and upkeep of the area.

Angor Wat Temple
Image credit: ianwhitfield1978

While tourism brings income that can be used for maintenance, most of the work is done not by the Cambodian government but by these foreign organizations. It is estimated that almost 700,000 people visit this incredible site each year. Will you be one of them?

One Response to “Visiting the Angor Wat Temple”

  1. Borobudur, Indonesia's Monument To Buddhism Says:

    […] historical collection of architectural wonders that rivals its European counterparts in many ways. Angkor Wat in Cambodia is one such edifice, a religious complex as monumental as the monuments of Imperial […]

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