Angkor wat archaeological complex is indeed one of greatest achievement in human history, I have tried to imagine it for years but I was not even close to the experience of visit the ruins for real.
Angkor is a name conventionally applied to the region of Cambodia seat of the Khmer empire, the Angkorian period may be defined as the period from A.D. 802 with King Jayavarman II, until 1431 when Thai invaders sacked the Khmer capital.
In 889 Yasovarman I ascended to the throne, he was a great king and an accomplished builder. Yasovarman constructed a new city called Yasodharapura and following the tradition of his predecessors, he constructed in Angkor also a massive reservoir called a baray. Maybe a means of irrigating rice fields, maybe a religiously charged symbols of the great mythological oceans surrounding Mount Meru.
Over the next 300 years, between 900 and 1200, the Khmer empire produced in Angkor some of the world’s most magnificent architectural masterpieces.
The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland, the number of visitors approach two million annually. The whole settlement around the temples are is estimated to be approximately 3,000 square kilometers and includes 72 major temples and other buildings.
Angkor Wat, the main temple, was built between 1113 and 1150 by King Suryavarman II as his personal temple and mausoleum. He dedicated the temple to Vishnu and to the Hindu cosmology. The central towers represents Mount Meru the home of the gods, the outer walls represents the mountains enclosing the world and the moat represents the oceans beyond.
Suryavarman II had the walls of the temple decorated with bas reliefs depicting not only scenes from mythology, but also from the life of his own imperial
court. In one of the scenes, the king himself is portrayed as larger in size than his subjects, sitting cross legged on an elevated throne.
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.
It is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone 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.
In the 14th or 15th century the temple was converted 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 but was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from the jungle.
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said:
“The construction is of such extraordinary beauty 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”.
Henri Mouhot’s, the French explorer that made Angkor famous in Europe, was unable to believe in 1860 that the Khmers could have built the temple and I wrote on his travel notes:
“One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo might take an honorable 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.”
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country, but relatively little damage was done during this period.
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 every Cambodian national flag since the introduction of the first version in 1863.
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