This book has been compiled from photographs captured during two major trips to Cambodia in November, 2007 for the Angkor Photography Festival, and in February, 2013 on a visit with my wife. During these visits I visited many of the temple complexes in the Angkor area and some of the more remote temples further afield. It is only when you put all the images and information together about these incredible temples and monuments you realise just how extensive and sophisticated that the Khmer civilisation was back in the 9th to 15th centuries.
Many thanks to my trusty remork-moto taxi driver, No. 5224, who drove me around all the temple sites in November 2007 and thanks to our guide and driver Chan Phoeung from Siem Reap Taxi Driver Tours who took us on a wonderful car tour in February 2013 from Siem Reap to the remote temple complexes to the north of Siem Reap including Kbal Spean, Preah Vihear, Koh Ker and Beng Mealea.
Lost Cities of the Angkor Empire
Siem Reap in Cambodia is the gateway to the millennium old temple ruins of the Khmer city of Angkor. The Angkor Archaeological Park comprises dozens of temple ruins including Bayon, Banteay Srei, Preah Rup, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and the legendary Angkor Wat. Further away from these main temple complexes are many other unique and fascinating temples which were all important during the height of the Khmer Kingdom. These temples include Beng Mealea, Koh Ker and Preah Vihear in the far north on the border between Cambodia and Thailand.
The artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact of these temples place them in a class with other wonders of the world such as the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal.
From the 9th century to the 15th century the Khmer Kingdom was at its height and dominated large parts of South East Asia and a number of cities within this kingdom became the capital over the centuries. The first city of Angkor was Yasodharapura in the late 9th century. At the beginning of the 10th century the kingdom split and Jayavaraman IV established a new capital at Koh Ker. Extensive temple building took place thereafter in the Angkor area and in the 12th century the largest temple of Angkor, Angkor Wat, was built. At its heart the capital city of Angkor was, in its time, the most extensive urban complex of the world and had as many as three quarters of a million people living there. In today’s perspective the city covered around 400 square miles, an area equivalent to the five boroughs of New York City.
The city of Angkor rose to success through the ingenious manipulation of the seasonal rains resulting from the construction of a complex water system comprising reservoirs, dams and irrigation channels. Though plenty of water was available during the rainy season, the large reservoirs or barays that were constructed allowed control over precious water resources during the dry season and during periods of drought.
This technology provided a continuous and predictable supply of water and plentiful food which resulted in the successful growth and development of the city. This vast complex of waterways however required a high level of maintenance and this, combined with possible unusual weather conditions, may have caused the ultimate demise of this once great civilisation.
Like other high technology civilisations such as the Incas, Aztecs and Egyptians the City of Angkor declined in a dramatic disappearing act.
Henry Mouhot, a French naturalist and explorer, and who made numerous expeditions to Siam, Cambodia and Laos, was instrumental in the “re-discovery” of the Angkor temples in 1858. Other western explorers had however visited this area years before Mouhot and there are records of Portuguese monks and traders visiting in the late 16th century.
The great city and temples remained largely cloaked by dense jungle until the late 19th century when French archaeologists began a long restoration process. From 1907 to 1970 work was under the direction of the Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient, which cleared away the forest, repaired foundations, and installed drains to protect the buildings from water damage. Work resumed after the end of the Cambodian civil war and, since 1993, has been jointly co-ordinated by the French and Japanese and UNESCO through the International Co-ordinating Committee on the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), while Cambodian work has been carried out by the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA).
In the Angkor region we are left today with an incredibly rich legacy of temple complexes, some restored but many still hidden and overgrown by trees and creepers. These mystical tumbledown temples of Angkor can only hint at the level of sophistication and complexity of the Khmer Kingdom and the wondrous Lost Cities of the Angkor Empire.
List of Temples
Angkor Thom South Gate
Angkor Thom West Gate
Prasat Suor Prat
Terrace of The Elephants
Terrace of The Leper King
Prasat Neang Khmau
Angkor Wat is probably the most famous and well visited of all the temples in Cambodia and the temple complex which stretches over some 400 km2 is the largest religious monument in the world. At dawn and dusk every day thousands of visitors throng there to witness the wonderful play of light on the temple as the sun rises or sets. The powerful and deeply atmospheric feeling you get when you arrive at this site in the pre-dawn is indescribable and worth the effort of the early morning rise and journey to the temple.
The architecture of this Khmer temple is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology. Within a moat and an outer 3.6km long wall 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.
Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. It was originally built as a Hindu temple, dedicated to the god Vishnu, but gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
The modern name, Angkor Wat, in use by the 16th century, means “City Temple”: Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (capital), while wat is the Khmer word for temple. The original name of the temple was Vrah Visnuloka (Sanskrit) or Brah Bisnulok (Local variant) which means the sacred dwelling of Vishnu.
Prasat Bei is an early 10th century Hindu temple built by King Yasovarman I. The sanctuary towers are located about 300 m West of the Angkor Thom South Gate, between the Phnom Bakheng temple and the moat surrounding Angkor Thom. Prasat Bei means “three temples” and it is a temple designed with three brick towers standing as a row on a single sandstone platform. These three towers symbolise the three main Hindu gods, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The central tower houses a linga set on a pedestal and the flanking towers reach no higher than the doorways on the central tower. The two side towers are badly ruined and the northern tower was never completed.
The lintels on the central and southern towers have very beautiful carvings and there are depictions of Indra riding on a three headed elephant Aravata.
Prasat Bei was designed with the typical Khmer architectural style of the 6th century to the 10th century. This temple structure was not completely finished because the king was killed two years after he was crowned as king, by Harshavarman I who was his brother.
The temple was cleared by Henri Marchal in the 1910’s and restored by the EFEO in 1960.
Although Prasat Bei is a small temple, it is interesting and easy to visit because its location is so close to the Angkor Thom moat.
Angkor Thom (In Khmer, literally: “Great City”), was the last capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km2, within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme.
Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.
Angkor Thom was probably not the first Khmer capital on this site. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name. The name of Angkor Thom (“Great City”) was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, “as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato”. It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000-150,000 people.
Angkor Thom South Gate
When you travel from Angkor Wat north to the Angkor Thom complex you will pass through the Angkor Thom South Gate at the edge of the moat which surrounds the Angkor Thom complex. The south gate is one of five main gates into Angkor Thom, is the most popular one for tourists and it is the best preserved gate. It was built by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century serving as one of the 5 holy Buddhist gateways to Angkor Thom.
As you cross the bridge over the moat towards the South Gate you are met with an impressive row of carved statues These 54 stone figures depict the performance of a famous Hindu story: the myth of the Churning of the Ocean. On the left side of the moat, 54 ‘devas’ (guardian gods) pull the head of the snake ‘Shesha’ while on the right side 54 ‘asuras’ (demon gods) pull the snake’s tail in the opposite direction. In this myth, the body of the snake is wrapped around the central mountain, Mt. Meru, perhaps corresponding here to the Bayon temple at the centre of the site. In any case, the myth relates that as the Devas pulled the snake in one direction and the gods pushed in the other, the ocean began to churn and precipitate the elements. By alternating back and forth, the ocean was ‘milked’, forming the earth and the cosmos anew.
The central tower of the stone gate is capped by three face-towers that face the four directions (the central tower faces both out and in). Below them at the base of the gate are two sets of elephant statues that flank the entrance on both sides. Sitting on each elephant is a figure of the god Indra carrying his usual weapon—the ‘vadra’ (a lightning bolt). The gate itself is shaped like an upside-down ‘U’ and is corbeled at the top (instead of arches, the builders of Angkor preferred to use corbeling to span distances). It is still possible to see where wooden doors once fitted to the gate through openings in the stone.
Prasat Chrung is one of four identical sandstone Buddhist temples that are located at each corner of the Angkor Thom temple complex and sit on the top of the earth embankment walls that rise from the Angkor Thom moat. Prasat Chrung in modern Khmer means “Shrine of The Angle” and is a Buddhist shrine dedicated to Bodhisatta Lokesvara, as was the Bayon and the city. These small temples are cross-shaped in plan view and face east.
To see this temple requires a 1.5 km walk from the Angkor Thom South Gate heading west along the small path which runs on top of the Angkor Thom moat walls. From this path you can get wonderful views over the impressive Angkor Thom moat that surrounds this massive temple complex.
These small corner towers were not built for defence, but rather each commemorated the deeds of Jayavarman VII and each housed a stele extolling his accomplishments. Each stele had four different authors and today these are housed in the Conservation office.
Some of the originally Buddhist pediments were defaced in the late 13th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VIII and the figure of the Buddha was transformed into a linga.
Angkor Thom West Gate
The West Gate of Angkor Thom is probably the least used gate of the Angkor Thom complex in Cambodia but well worth the visit.
One of the best ways to approach the West Gate is to start at the Angkor Thom South Gate then walk the 3km along the path on top of the wall, passing Prasat Chrung at the south west corner of the Angkor Thom moat, and then north along the west side of the moat wall. This is a wonderful walk along a secluded wooded path and from this path you can get beautiful views over the Angkor Thom moat. When you arrive at the West Gate from the path on top of the moat walls the large carved stone heads of the gate eventually come into view through the trees. The soft, diffused light filtering through the trees and reflecting off the stone edifices creates an almost “Tolkien-like” mythical, fantasy world into which you have arrived.
The West Gate only has a dirt road passing through it and the structure is a little dilapidated but this adds to the atmosphere of this more remote location and you can usually enjoy the spot without too many other visitors.
The Bayon is a very well-known and highly decorative Khmer temple at Angkor which was built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. The Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom. After the death of King Jayavarman’s VII it was modified and altered by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences.
The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.
Bayon Temple is surrounded by two long walls bearing an extraordinary collection of bas-relief scenes of legendary and historical events. In all, there are are total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2km of wall. They were probably originally painted and gilded, but this has long since faded.
The temple is oriented towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis. Because the temple sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom, the roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city’s cardinal points.
In the first part of the 20th century, the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient took the lead in the conservation of the temple, restoring it in accordance with the technique of anastylosis. Since 1995 the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has been the main conservatory body, and has held annual symposia.
The Baphuon is a temple complex, northwest of the Bayon within the Angkor Thom complex. Built in the mid 11th century, it is a three-tiered temple built as the state temple of Udayadityavarman II and dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva. It is the archetype of the Baphuon style with intricate carvings covering every available surface. The temple adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace and measures 120 m east-west by 100 m north-south at its base and stands 34 m tall without its tower, which would have made it approximately 50 meters tall.
In the late 15th century, the Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple. A 9 m tall by 70 m long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the west side’s second level, which probably required the demolition of the 8 meter tower above, thus explaining its current absence. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size the site was unstable throughout its history. Large portions had probably already collapsed by the time the Buddha was added. Surrounded by a wall 125 m by 425 m the central tower was probably made of gilded wood and which has not survived.
By the 20th century, much of the temple had largely collapsed, and restoration efforts took on an epic quality. A large-scale project to dismantle the temple, so that its core could be re-enforced before the whole was re-constructed again, (a process known as anastylosis), was abandoned after civil war broke out in 1970. The workers and archaeologists were forced to leave 300,000 carefully labelled and numbered blocks organised across 10 hectares surrounding the temple. However, the plans identifying the pieces were lost during the decade of the Khmer Rouge conflict that followed.
A second project to restore the temple was launched in 1996 under the guidance of architect Pascal Royere from the EFEO. It took the team another 16 years to complete what had become known as the “largest 3D jigsaw puzzle in the world”. In April 2011, after 51 years of work, the restoration was completed and the temple formally re-opened.
Prasat Suor Prat
Prasat Suor Prat are a series of twelve towers, 6 on either side of the road leading from the Royal Palace to the Victory Gate. These towers are made from rugged laterite and sandstone.
The towers are located directly in front of Terrace of The Elephants and Terrace of The Leper King, flanking the start of the road leading east to the Victory Gate, on either side of which they are symmetrically arranged. Their function remains unknown. Their design and unusual North – South orientation, instead of the usual orientation either towards East or West, suggests that the towers were not built as sanctuaries.
The current tower’s name in Khmer means “The towers of the tight-rope dancers”, a romantic name derived from local belief assuming that they were used to support a high wire stretched between them for acrobatics purpose during royal festivals. This belief however, is irrelevant. Zhou Daguan describes in his records that the towers are used to settle disputes among Angkorian people. In case a conflict between two men could not be resolved, both men were locked up in one of the towers guarded by their relatives. When after four days the men would be let out of the towers, the guilty party would have developed some kind of disease, while the other would be healthy.
Among the twelve towers, the structures identified as N1 tower and N2 antechamber were in danger of collapse and were reconstructed in 2001-2005 by JSA (Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor) and APSARA.
Phimeanakas, (or Vimeanakas), is a Hindu temple in the Khleang style, built at the end of the 10th century, during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968) It was then completed by Suryavarman I in the shape of a three tier pyramid as a Hindu temple. On top of the pyramid there was a tower, while on the edge of top platform there are galleries. Phimeanakas is located inside the walled enclosure of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom north of Baphuon. The name Phimeanakas translates to “Celestial Palace”
The temple was the focal point of Suryavarman I’s capital. The buildings there from his reign are enclosed by a wall 600 m by 250 m, with five gopuram, and include the Southern and Northern Khleangs. Next to the temple are two pools, that may have been used for bathing or aquatic sports events. The temple located in the centre of the Royal Palace enclosure was used by King Jayavarman VII as his private temple.
The Phimeanakas pyramidal structure consists of 3 tiers of diminishing size. At the base the structure measures 35 m long by 28 m wide, the upper platform measures 30 m long by 23 m wide. A very steep stairway leads to the top on all of its four sides guarded by lion statues. Most accessible is the one on the Western side, which is equipped with a handrail. At the corners of each of the tiers are guardian elephant statues.
On top of the pyramid is a platform surrounded by small galleries. These were the first vaulted galleries to be build in Angkor, which have been copied on a grander scale in the later monuments. These galleries probably replaced older galleries made out of perishable materials. At the centre of the platform are the ruins of a small cruciform sanctuary with four vestibules opening to each of the cardinal points. The structure was likely a later addition to replace the original wooden structure, the “Golden Tower” that Zhou Daguan describes in his accounts of Angkor.
Terrace of The Elephants
The Terrace of the Elephants is part of the walled city of Angkor Thom. The Terrace of the Elephants was built by King Jayavarman VII at the end of the 12th century. The terrace stretches out over a length of more than 300 m from the Baphuon in the South to the Leper King terrace to the North. The terrace is named for the sculptures in high relief of elephants and their mahouts. At several sections large elephant heads protrude out from the wall, their very long trunks forming pillars extending to the ground, similar to those of the gates of Angkor Thom.
The terrace was used as an audience hall and for public ceremonies. According to the accounts of Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan the King appeared daily on the Elephants terrace to listen to the complaints and problems of the citizens of his Kingdom. The parade grounds in front of the terrace were used as the scene for several festivals, games, processions and parades of the Khmer army watched by the King from the Elephants terrace.
It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, of which only a few ruins remain. Most of the original structure was made of organic material and has long since disappeared. Most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. The terrace is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face.
Terrace of The Leper King
The Terrace of the Leper King is located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom directly north of the Terrace of the Elephants. It was built in the Bayon style under Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century, though its modern name derives from a 15th century sculpture discovered at the site. The statue depicts the Hindu god Yama, the god of death.
The Leper King terrace is believed to be built as a representation of Mount Meru, the centre of the universe in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. The 25 m long terrace is completely covered with sculptures in high relief. Long rows of seated finely carved figures, mainly of multi headed Naga snakes , armed guardians, Garudas and female celestial beings decorate the walls.
The statue was called the “Leper King” because discolouration and moss growing on it was reminiscent of a person with leprosy, and also because it fits in with a Cambodian legend of the Angkorian king Yasovarman I who had leprosy. The name that the Cambodians know him by, however, is Dharmaraja, as this is what was etched at the bottom of the original statue.
The U-shaped structure is thought by some to have been used as a royal cremation site.
Preah Khan is a temple at Angkor, built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII to honour his father. It is located northeast of Angkor Thom and just west of the Jayatataka Baray, with which it was associated. It was the centre of a substantial organisation, with almost 100,000 officials and servants.
The temple is flat in design, with a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples and numerous later additions. Like the nearby Ta Prohm, Preah Khan has been left largely unrestored, with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins.
Preah Khan was built on the site of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the invading Chams in 1191. Preah Khan is one of the few monuments to have kept its original name. The name Preah Khan means “sacred sword” and is derived from the meaning of the original — Nagara Jayasri (holy city of victory). The site may previously have been occupied by the royal palaces of Yasovarman II and Tribhuvanadityavarman.
The outer wall of Preah Khan is of laterite, and bears 72 garudas holding nagas, at 50 m intervals. Surrounded by a moat, it measures 800 m by 700 m and encloses an area of 56 hectares (140 acres). To the east of Preah Khan is a landing stage on the edge of the Jayatataka baray, which measures 3.5 km by 0.9 km. This also allowed access to the temple of in the centre of the baray. Once dried up, the Jayatataka baray is now filled with water again, as at the end of each rainy season, all excess water in the area is diverted into it.
The temple is still largely unrestored: the initial clearing was from 1927 to 1932, and partial anastylosis was carried out in 1939. Since then free-standing statues have been removed for safe-keeping, and there has been further consolidation and restoration work.
Ta Prohm is the modern name of a temple at Angkor, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara (in Khmer). Located approximately one km east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors. It has also gained much popularity by visitors as it was featured in the famous “Tomb Raider” movie.
Ta Prohm is among the largest of the monuments in the Angkor complex. The complex included 260 statues of gods, 39 towers with pinnacles and 566 groups of residences. Ta Prohm comprises a series of long low buildings standing on one level, which are enclosed by rectangular laterite wall (600 m by 1,000 m). Only traces of the wall are still visible. The center of the monument is reached by a series of towers connected with passages.
The outer wall of 1000 m by 650 m encloses an area of 650,000 m2 that at one time would have been the site of a substantial town, but that is now largely forested. An inscription at Ta Phrom indicates that that 12,460 people serviced this temple. There are entrance gopuras at each of the cardinal points, although access today is now only possible from the east and west.
One of the most distinctive features at Ta Phrom temple has to be the extraordinary trees growing out of the ruins. Two species predominate, but sources disagree on their identification: the larger is either the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) or thitpok Tetrameles nudiflora, and the smaller is either the strangler fig (Ficus gibbosa) or Gold Apple (Diospyros decandra).
Banteay Kdei, meaning “A Citadel of Chambers”, also known as “Citadel of Monks’ cells”, is a Buddhist temple and is located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom.
Built in the mid 12th to early 13th centuries during the reign of Jayavarman VII, it is in the Bayaon architectural style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller. Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls, and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.
Banteay Kdei is a massive Buddhist monastery and is surrounded by four concentric walls. Each of its four entrances is decorated with garudas, which hold aloft one of Jayavarman VII’s favourite themes: the four faces of Avalokiteshvara. East of Banteay Kdei is a vast pool of water, Sra Srang, measuring 800 m by 400 m, reserved as a bathing pool for the king and his consorts.
This Buddhist monastic complex is currently dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality of sandstone used in its buildings, and is now undergoing renovation. Banteay Kdei had been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries until the 1960s.
Preah Rup is a Hindu temple at Angkor, built as the state temple of Khmer King Rajendravarman II and dedicated in 961 or 962. It is a temple mountain of combined brick, laterite and sandstone construction.
The temple’s name is a relatively modern one meaning “turn the body”. It is thought by many Cambodians that funerals were conducted at the temple, with the ashes of the body being ritually rotated in different directions as the service progressed.
Preah Rup is located just south of the East Baray and is aligned on a north-south axis with the East Mebon temple which is on an artificial island in the baray. Its extensive laterite and brick construction give it a pleasing reddish tone particularly in the early morning and late afternoon sunlight.
The temple has a square lay-out and two perimeter walls. The outer enclosure is a platform bounded by a laterite wall. and a laterite causeway gives entry from the east. The four external gopuras are cross-shaped, having a central brick section and a sandstone vestibule on both sides.To either side inside the eastern gate is a group of three towers aligned north to south; one of the towers appears to have never been built or to have been dismantled later. Further ahead, through another gate, libraries lie to either side of the walkway. Steps lead toward the top level, with carved sitting stone lions arrayed at intermediate stages.
Preah Rup was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and it is probably located on a former shivaite ashram built by Yasovarman I in the previous century. Perhaps it was standing at the centre of a new capital city built by Rajendravarman, with the southern dike of East Baray as northern city limit, but nothing of the dwellings survived and this “eastern city hypothesis” by Philippe Stern was never confirmed by archeological discoveries.
Banteay Samre is a temple located in the Angkor temple complex 400 m east of the East Baray. Built under Suryavarman II and Yasovarman II in the early 12th century shortly after the construction of Angkor Wat, it is a Hindu temple devoted to the god Vishnu in the Angkor Wat style.
The temple is named after the Samre, an ethnic group of mountain people, who inhabited the regions at the base of Phnom Kulen and were probably related to the Khmers.
The temple uses the same materials as the Banteay Srei. The temple’s compact, well-balanced proportions echo other monuments of the period such as Beng Mealea and Chau Say Tevoda. It has a single tower over the shrine and this is connected by an antarala to a mandapa. All of this is flanked by two libraries and two concentric gallery enclosures surround the ensemble. Viewed from the east, the approach is by a 200 metre causeway paved in laterite and bordered by a naga balustrade in the style of Angkor Wat.
The presence of Buddhist scenes in a Hindu temple and the fact that in some places certain sculpted motifs, probably also Buddhist, have been mutilated makes a statement about the religious tolerance of the monument’s patron.
Banteay Samre was excellently restored by Maurice Glaize from 1936 until 1944.
Banteay Srei (or Banteay Srey) is a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is located in the Angkor area and lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built mainly of red sandstone, a medium that can be carved like wood and therefore lends itself well to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which can still be seen today. Brick and laterite were used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. The temple is well known for the beauty of its sandstone lintels and pediments.
The site consists of three concentric rectangular enclosures constructed on an east–west axis. A causeway situated on the axis leads from an outer gopura, or gate, to the third or outermost of the three enclosures. The inner enclosure contains the sanctuary, consisting of an entrance chamber and three towers, as well as two buildings conventionally referred to as libraries.
The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a “precious gem”, or the “jewel of Khmer art.”
Located in a remote area the temple was rediscovered in 1914 and cleared some 10 years later. It was reconstructed using the method of anastylosis by French conservator Henri Marchal during the 1930’s. Today Banteay Srei is a very well preserved monument. Its exquisite ornamentations that cover most of the temple show great skill and precision.
On the slopes of the Kulen Hills in north east Cambodia and around 25 km from the main temples at Angkor lies an archeological site consisting of intricate stone carvings in the sandstone formations of the river bed and banks known as Kbal Spean (“Bridge Head” in Khmer). It is also known as “The River of a Thousand Lingas” which are the stone carved bumps and is the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. It is believed that the Siem Reap River flowing into Angkor is blessed by the sacred lingas over which it flows. There are also many different mythological motifs carved in the rocks including the depiction of gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshimi, Rama and Hanuman as well as cows, frogs and crocodiles.
The archeological site was discovered in 1969 by the ethologist Jean Boulbet but further exploration of the site was curtailed due to the Cambodian Civil War until 1989 when the site was safe to visit.
The carvings were started during the reign of King Suryavarman I and ended with the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, these two kings ruling between the 11th and 12th centuries.The 1,000 lingas were attributed to a minister of Suryavarman I during the 11th century and these were carved by hermits living in the area.
The sculptures carved in the river bed and banks depict many Hindu mythological scenes and symbols and when the water level decreases there are also inscriptions which get exposed. The common theme of these sculptures is about creation as defined in Hindu mythology with Lord Vishnu lying on a serpent in a reclining pose on the ocean of milk, the lotus flower emerging from Vishnu’s navel which bears the god Brahma, the creator.
Beng Mealea was built mostly of sandstone in the Angkor style and is located about 40 km east of the main group of temples at Angkor in Cambodia. In Khmer Beng Mealea means “lotus pond”. It was built as a Hindu temple, but there are some carvings depicting buddhist motifs. Its primary material is sandstone and it is largely unrestored, with trees and thick brush growing wildly amidst its towers and courtyards with many of its stones lying in great heaps. For years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the site, as it is 77 km from Siem Reap by road.
Like Ta Prohm the Beng Mealea temple has been overgrown extensively by the jungle but unlike Ta Prohm you can explore this temple without the many tourists you get at Ta Prohm and the other popular Angkor temples.
The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style, which is identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Smaller in size than Angkor Wat, the king’s main monument, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire’s larger temples. The gallery which forms the outer enclosure of the temple is 181 m by 152 m. It was the center of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025 m by 875 m large and 45 m wide.
Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with “cruciform cloisters”, like Angkor Wat. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east. There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.
About 100km northeast of Angkor in Cambodia lies the ancient Angkorian site of Koh Ker which was the capital of the Khmer empire between 928 and 944 under King Jayavarman IV and his son Hasavarman II. In this remote area a vast number of temples were built and with the recent clearing of the many land mines this has opened up this area for exploration by visitors. It is around a 3 hour drive from Siem Reap but if you are interested in exploring overgrown temples devoid of the usual tourist throngs you get at Angkor then it is certainly a worthwhile visit.
In the centre of the Koh Ker area is Prasat Thom, a seven tiered 36m tall stepped temple rising above the flat plain and surrounding forest. Arriving at this pyramidal temple as I emerged from the trees after walking through the tumbledown entranceways and monuments reminded me of a scene from movies like Tomb Raider or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In late 2011, the remote location drew media attention worldwide when Sotheby’s, an auction house specialising in the antiquities trade, attempted to sell a statue of a mythic Khmer Empire warrior. In March 2012, the US and Cambodian governments filed court documents to seize the statue that they purport was illegally removed from the site. A twin statue, also linked to the Koh Ker site, is on display at the Norton Simon Museum in California.
Across the site of Koh Ker, there are many prasat or tower sanctuaries. A couple still feature an enormous linga (phallus) on a yoni (which symbolises the female genitals). The outlet for the water that was sanctified by running it over the linga can be seen in the outside wall of one of them. In other cases, three prasat stand next to each other, dedicated to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Most of them are surrounded by libraries and enclosures, and many also had moats. At that time, the roofs were still made of wood and today, only the holes for the beams remain in the stone structures.
Koh Ker has some of the most impressive and largest lingas in the region. The phallic symbols were an important part of Hindu Religion; they are always placed on the top of a Yoni pedestal. This is a representation of the female womb and has a drainage channel to divert the holy water poured over the linga to vessels placed outside the walls. The Buddhists did not accept the practice of worshiping the linga, so after conversion most of the Hindu Lingas were removed. As Koh Ker was abandoned a long time before this, nearly all the lingas remained in place.
Prasat Neang Khmau
Prasat Neang Khmau is part of the large Koh Ker temple complex which lies in the forests of North Cambodia. Koh Ker was the capital of the Angkorian empire from AD928 to AD944 and has been for sometime one of Cambodia’s most remote and inaccessible temple complexes. However due to recent de-mining and the opening up of a new road this puts Koh Ker in reach from Siem Reap by a day trip. The temple complex has some 42 separate structures in an area of 9 km by 4 km so to really appreciate it you should really spend the night in the area.
Neang Khmau means the “Black Lady” in Khmer, probably referring to the fire-marked surface of the tower. Although it has the appearance of being burned, the laterite stone is high in iron, so has become black due to oxidisation. You will see a lot of ruined towers blackened inside in this area. This is probably caused by the action of the damp humid air which is drawn in through the doorway and funnels up to the opening in the roof. Like many of the sanctuaries of Koh Ker, the temple was dedicated to Shiva.
Prasat Neang Khmau at Koh Ker is not to be confused with a similar named temple south of Phnom Penh which is also known as the Temple of the Black Virgin.
Away from the normal tourist temple areas of Angkor you can find some unique and incredibly interesting remote temples in Cambodia. One such temple, and one which is one of the more remote locations, is Prasat Preah Vihear which predates Angkor Wat by 100 years. Preah Vihear Temple is a Hindu temple built during the reign of Khmer Empire, that is situated on top of a 525-metre cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province of Cambodia. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague awarded the temple to Cambodia. Because of these past disputes there is still a heavy military presence at the temple site with bunkers, dugouts and many soldiers on the hilltop.
Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire with a view for many miles over the plains of North Cambodia. As a key edifice of the empire’s spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand’s Sisaket province and through which the temple is most easily accessible. On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The temple complex runs 800 m along a north-south axis facing the plains to the north, from which it is now cut off by the international border. It consists essentially of a causeway and steps rising up the hill towards the sanctuary, which sits on the clifftop at the southern end of the complex l Although this structure is very different from the temple mountains found at Angkor, it serves the same purpose as a stylised representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods.
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