ANGKOR THOM

ANGKOR THOM

Angkor Thom (two miles north of Angkor Wat) is moated walled city that covers nearly four square miles and is laid out in a square with each side measuring around for centuries was the seat of the Khmer government. The ruins are scattred over this large area. Most of the main temples were built under King Jayavarman VII, who felt Hinduism had failed his kingdom, and thus converted to Buddhism and dedicated his temples to Buddha. Angkor Thom means "Great City."

Temples inside the walls of Angkor Wat include Bayon, Phimeanakas, Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat. Many of the original buildings, such as the king’s place, wee made f wood and have long since disappeared.

The buildings at Angkor Thom are not as large or well preserved as those Angkor Wat, but they are still quite impressive all the same. Some people like Angkor Thom more than Angkor Wat because some of the features are more interesting. Around it is the remnant of a moat (now dry) that was once eight miles long and 300 feet wide and filled crocodiles to deter attackers. A causeway led to the Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King.

Five gates, which are mor eor less intact, mark the entrance to the site, The main gate was made with sculptures of 54 gods, one on each side , and the same number of demons on the other. Unfortunately some f the figures have had their heads knocked off by looters. The others are crowned by our massive faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, so that each face pints n a cardinal direction,

History of Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire, was a fortified city enclosing residences of priest, officials of the palace and military, as well as buildings for administering the kingdom. These structures were built of wood and have perished but the remaining stone monuments testify that Angkor Thom was indeed a "Great City" as its name implies. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

The Royal Palace situated within the city of Angkor Thom is of an earlier date and belonged to kings of the tenth and first half of the tenth and first half of the eleventh centuries. Although the foundations and an enclosing wall around the palace with entry towers have been identified, little evidence remains of the layout of the buildings inside the enclosure. This absence of archaeological evidence of the royal buildings suggests that they were constructed of wood and have perished.

The French ascertained a general plan of the Royal Palace. It included the temple-mountain of Phimeanakas and surrounding pools together with residences and buildings for administering the capital, which were probably at the back of the enclosure. Jayavarman VII reconstructed the original site of the Royal Palace Palace to erect the city of Angkor Thom, which was centered on the temple of Bayon and surrounded by a wall.

Zhou Daguan the Chinese emissary, who provided the only first-hand account o f the Khmer, described the splendor of Angkor Thom. “At the center of the Kingdom rises a Golden tower Bayon flanked by more than twenty lesser towers and several hundred stone chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with eight golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers. North of the Golden Tower of Bronze [Baphuon], higher even than the Golden tower. a truly astonishing spectacle. With more than ten chambers at its base. A quarter of a mile further north is the residence of the King rising above his private apartments is another tower of gold, These are the monuments which have caused merchants from overseas to speak so often of "Cambodia the rich and noble "

Layout of Angkor Thom

Symbolically, Angkor Thom is a microcosm of the universe, divided into four parts by the main axes. The temple of the Bayon is situated at the exact center of the axes and stands as the symbolical link between heaven and earth. The wall enclosing the city of Angkor Thom represents the stonewall around the universe and the mountain ranges around Meru. The surrounding moat (now dry) symbolizes the cosmic ocean. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

The city of Angkor Thom consists of a square, each side of which is about three kilometers (1.9 miles) long a laterite wall 8 meters (26 feet) in height around the city encloses an are of 145.8 hectares (360 acres). A moat with a width of 100meters (328 feet) surrounds the outer wall. An entry tower and along causeway bisect each side of the wall except on the east where are two entrances. The additional one, called the "Gate of Victory" is aligned with the causeway leading to the Terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King. A small temple known as "Prasat Chrung' stands at each corner of the wall around the city of Angkor Thom. An earth embankment 25 meters (82 feet) wide supports the inner side of the wall and serves as a road around the city.

Causeway with Stone Figures at Angkor Thom

A long causeway leading to each entry tower is flanked by a row of 54 stone figures on each side – demons on the right and gods on the left-to make a total of 108 mythical beings guarding the city of Angkor Thom. The demons have a grimacing expression and wear a military headdress whereas the gods look serene with their almond-shaped eyes and wear a conical headdress. (Some of the heads on these figures are copies; the original ones have been removed and are at the Angkor Conservancy in Siem Reap). [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

A serpent spreads its nine heads in the shape of a fan at the beginning of the causeway. Its body extends the length of the causeway and is held by the gods and demons forming a serpent-like railing. It may symbolize the rainbow uniting the worlds of man and the gods. This representation is reinforced by the presence of Indra.

A small sandstone temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara occupies each corner of the wall enclosing the city of Angkor Thom. An inscription at the temple names Jayavarman VII as the builder and gives the charter of the foundation of the wall and moat of the city. Each temple is in the shape of a cross opens to the east with a porch on each side, and is crowned with a lotus-shaped top. Abase with two tiers supports the temple. Female figures in niches and false windows typical of the period decorate the exterior. The upper half of the window is sealed with laterite blocks in emulation of an awning; the lower half contains balusters.

Entry Towers of Angkor Thom

Through here all comers to the city had to pass, and in honor of this function it has been built in a style grandiose and elegant, forming a whole, incomparable in its strength and expression. The five entry towers are among the most photographed of all the ancient Cambodian ruins. Each sandstone tower rises 23 meters (75 feet) to the sky and is crowned with four heads, one facing each cardinal direction. The faces may represent the rulers of the four cardinal points at the summit of mount Meru. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

The lower half of each gate is modeled like an elephant with three heads. Their trunks, which serve as pillars, are plucking lotus flowers. The Hindu god Indra sits at the center of the elephant with an Apsara on each side. He holds a thunderbolt in his lower left hand. Looking through the tower one can see a corbel arch, a hallmark of Khmer architecture. Inside, wooden crossbeams are visible and a sentry box stands on each side.

Thomanon (500 meters east of the Gate of Victory) is a temple dedicated to Hinduism, it was built in the late 11th and early 12th centuries by King Suryavarman II. The temple is rectangular in plan with a sanctuary open¬ing" to the east, a moat and a rampart with two gopuras, one on the east and another on the west, and one library near the south-east of the wall. Only traced of a laterite base of the wall remain. Two symmetrical shrines, Thom Manon and Chau Say are alike in design and structure and twins also in ruin.

Chau Say Tevoda at Angkor Thom

Chau Say Tevoda at Angkor Thom (east of the Gate of Victory of Angkor Thom, across the road south from Thommanon, 500meters off the road) was built in the end of the 11th century-first half of the 12th century by king Suryavarman II in Hindu with following Angkor Wat style art. Enter and leave Chau Say Tevoda by the north entrance. It

Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon are two small monuments close together (on the left and right sides of the road) and similar in plan and style. Although the precise dates of these monuments are unknown, they belong to the best period of classic art stylistically and represent two variations of a single theme of composition. Chau Say Tevoda has deteriorated more than Thommanon.

Chau Say Tevoda is rectangular in plan, with a Central Sanctuary opening to east, an enclosing wall with an entry tower in the middle of the enclosing wall at the east entrance. Walking towards the temple one can see traces of a moat and vestiges of a laterite base of an enclosing wall. The entry towers are mostly demolished except for traces of the bases and stair ways with sculpted steps. A raised causeway on three rows of octagonal supports (later than the monument) and a terrace link the east entry tower to a nearby river to the east. At the south of the passage a scene depicts the combat of Sugriva and Vali, at the north of the passage (East Side) the reliefs include monkeys, Siva and Parvati on a bull, and apsaras.

A long room with a porch precedes the square Central Sanctuary connecting it with the east entry tower by a passage raised on three rows of columns of which only traces remain. This long room is covered with a pattern of flowers inscribed in squares and sculpted with stone flowers such as are seen at Banteay Srei and Baphuon. The three false doors of the Central Sanctuary are decorated with foliage and columns with diamond-shaped patterns (lozenges) and flowers (on the left); human figures accentuate some of the bands of foliage in the columns.

Ta Keo

Ta Keo (east of Thommanon and ChauSay Tevoda) is dedicated to the Hindu god Siva and was built in late 10th century to early 11th century by the King Jayavarman V and Suryavarman I (Hindu). An example of the Kleang style of art, Ta Keo is the first temple at Angkor to be built entirely in sandstone and as such serves as a milestone in Khmer history. Enormous blocks of stone were cut to a regular size and placed in position. Enter and leave by the south or east entrances. The ascent to this temple is by steps and because of its orientation a visit in the morning is preferable.

Ta Keo's lack of ornament makes it distinctive among the works of the Khmer, who were otherwise so keen on decoration. But its very simplicity give it architectural importance, its plan shows the development of an austere aesthetic. Another unusual aspect of Ta Keo is that it remains unfinished. The reason for this is unknown. Had it been finished, Ta Keo would undoubtedly have been one of the finest temples at Angkor. It is an imposing sight, standing 22 meters (72feet) tall. It gives an impression of power.

Ta Keo is square in plan with five towers arranged like the dots on the face of a die and stands majestically on a terrace that is 12 meters (39 feet) high with three tiers. It is a representation of Mount Meru. The base has fine molding. The temple has two enclosures (1 and 2) with entry towers on each side. There are inscription on the pilasters of the east entry tower. The first two tiers of the platform form the base of two courtyards. One is enclosed by a wall the other by a gallery, the gallery is too narrow to permit walking around.

The east entrance to Ta Keo is marked by a causeway over a moat that is preceded by lions and boundary stones (not shown on the plan ). The entry tower in the exterior wall was made of sandstone with a central tower and three passages. On each side of the east wall there was a long hall that was probably a shelter for pilgrims. It was preceded by a porch with pillars. The second terrace has a molded laterite base with four sandstone entry towers, one on each side. It is surrounded by a sandstone gallery lit by windows on the in terrier. The gallery completely surrounds the terrace and has openings on each of the four sides. On the east there are two long halls of the same type as the rest halls on the first terrace. Two libraries open to the west.

The upper level is square and stands on a tiered base with stairways on each side. Most of the space on the upper level is occupied by the five towera, all unfinished, opening to the four cardinal points. The Central Sanctuary dominates the layout. It is raised above the other towers and is given further importance by the development of porches and pediments. The interior of the central tower is undecorated.

Chapel of the Hospital (west of Ta Keo temple and Spean Thma, on the west side of the road just over the bridge across Stung Siem Reap) was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. An inscription found in the area confirms the identity of this site as one of the chapels of the 102 hospitals built by the King. The central sanctuary is cruciform-shaped opening to east with false door on the other three sides. Female divinities adorn the exterior and a scroll surrounds the base of the tower. The pediments are decorated with images of the Buddha.

Spean Thmar - The Bridge of Stone (200 meters east of Thommanon) is a bridge constructed of reused blocks of sandstone of varying shapes and sizes, which suggests it was built to replace an earlier one. The orientation of the bridge seems odd because the course of the river has changed. The river one flows along the right side of the bridge of under its arches. The bridge is supported on massive pillars, the openings between them spanned by narrow corbel arches. There are reportedly traces of 14 arches. It can be accessed by walk to the side of the road and down the path.

Terrace of Leper King at Angkor Thom

Terrace of Leper King at Angkor Thom (immediately north of the Terrace of the Elephants and be accessed from the main road) may have been a crematorium. It contains bas reliefs of royal ceremonies. The name is perhaps derived from the lichen that grew on a statue of Yama, the God of Hell. The statue is a copy. The original is in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The most unusual thing about the statue of the Leper King is that even though he is naked he doesn’t have any sex organs. There is one story about a minister who refused to prostrate before the king, The hit king him with a sword and the minister spit on him with infected phlegm, causing the king to become a leper.

Terrace of the Leper King was built at end of the 12th century by king Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1220). The stone monarch is absolutely naked, his hair is plaited and he sits in the Javanese fashion. The legs are too short for the torso, and the forms, much too rounded, lack the strong protuberances of manly muscles; but, however glaring are his defects, he has many beauties, and as a study of character he is perhaps the masterpiece of Khmer sculpture. Whilst his body is at rest his soul boils within him. His features are full of passion, with thick lips, energetic chin, full cheeks, aquiline nose and clear brow... his mouth, slightly open, showing the teeth. this peculiarity of the teeth being shown in a smile is absolutely and strangely unique in Cambodian art. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

The terrace of the Leper King carries on the theme of grandeur that characterises the building during Jayavarman VII's reign. It is faced with dramatic bas-reliefs, both on the interior and exterior. During clearing, the EFEO found a second wall with bas-relief similar in composition to those of the outer wall. Some archaeologists believe that this second wall is evidence of a late rites, two meters wide of laterite faced with sandstone. It collapsed and a second wall of the materials, two meters wide, was built right in front of it without any of the rubble being cleared. Recently, the EFEO has created a false corridor which allows visitor to inspect the relief on the first wall.

The curious name of this terrace refers to a statue of the Leper King that is on the platform of the terrace. The one you see today is a copy. The original is in the court-yard of the National Museum in Phnom Penh. the figure is depicted in a seated position with his right knee raised, a position some art historians consider to be Javanese-style. Its nakedness is unusual in Khmer art.

Who was the Leper King? Mystery and uncertainty surround the origin of the name. The long-held theory that Jayavarman VII was a leper and that is why he built so many hospitals throughout the empire has no historical support whatsoever. Some historians think the figure represents Kubera, god of wealth, or Yasovaraman I, both of whom were allegedly lepers.

Another ideas is based on an inscription that appears on the statue in characters of the 14th or 15th century which may be translated as the equivalent of the assessor of Yama, god of death or of judgment. Yet another theory suggests that the Leper King statue got its name because of the lichen which grows on it. The position of the hand, now missing, also suggests it was holding something.

Coedès believes that most of the Khmer monuments were funerary temples and that the remains of kings were deposited there after cremation. He thinks, therefore, that the royal crematorium was located on the Terrace of the Leper King. The statues, then, represents the god of death and is properly situated on the terrace to serve this purpose. Yet another theory derives from a legend in a Cambodian chronicle that tells of a minister who refused to prostrate before the king, who hit him with his sword. Venomous spittle fell on the king, who then became a leper and was called the Leper King thereafter.

Preah Pithu at Angkor Thom

Tep Pranam at Angkor Thom (100 meters north of the Terrace of the Leper King and accessible by a long path from the road to Tep Pranam) This temple was built at the end of the ninth century by king Yasovarman I and dedicated to Buddhism. The entrance to Tep Pranam is marked by a laterite causeway bordered by double boundary stones at the corners and a terrace in the shape of a cross. The sandstone walls of the base of the temple have a molded edging. Two lions precede the walls and there are serpent balustrades, which are of a later date. The large Buddha seated on a lotus pedestal is in a molded base and coated in sandstone. The body of the Buddha has been reassembled from numerous stones. Tep Pranam is one of the most serene areas in the park of Angkor. A visit to this area should not be rushed and should also include Prah Palilay.

Preah Pithu at Angkor Thom (northeast of the Terrace of the Leper King and accessible from the main road) was built in the first half of the 12th century (parts of the 13th century) by Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150). It is dedicated to Hindu god Shiva with art in the style of Angkor Wat.

The complex of Preah Pithu has only recently been cleared and thus open to visitors. It is a delightful area to wander in and experience the pleasure of finding hidden stones, unseen carvings and obscure alcoves. And the proportions and decoration of the terraces are amongst the finest in Khmer art. Most of the structures are in poor condition, but their bases remain and, from the evidence, the buildings of Preah Pithu were of excellent quality in design, workmanship and decoration.

The Preah Pithu group consists of two cruciform terraces and five sanctuaries situated in seemingly random order amongst enclosure walls, moats and basins. All of the shrines are square with false doors, stand on a raised platform and are oriented to the east. Starting from the main road, the first temple is approached by a cruciform terrace with columns and a naga balustrade. Beyond is an enclosure wall with gopuras on the east and west sides. The sanctuary with four staircases stands on a plinth. Female divinities in niches are seen in the corners. Notice the floral motif on their skirts. A second shrine lies on the same axis and is similar in plan and decoration to the previous one.

A third temple is situated behind the other two and to the north. The sanctuary stands on a square terrace 4 meters (13 feet) high and 40 meters (131 feet) long on each side. Four axial stairways guarded by lions give access to the sanctuary. Although the shrine has windows with balustrades it is undecorated. Fragments of frontons and lintels provide evidence that it was later used as a Buddhist sanctuary.

Continuing towards the east there is a pond where two sculpted elephants stand on each side of a staircase. This is a particularly serene and pleasant spot. Retrace your steps and you will find remains of a fourth shrine on your left (south). The decoration on the pilasters of this shrine clearly belong to the Angkor Wat period. The fifth shrine of the Preah Pithu group is further north and comprises two buildings decorated with scenes from the Ramayana.

Terrace of Elephants

Terrace of Elephants (at the Royal Square of Angkor Thom, near Banyon) is a royal pavilion that lies in an open field and may have once been used as staging area for elephant fights or a viewing stand for processions. Extending for 300 meters, it has three platforms decorated with reliefs of lions and Garudas and near life-size elephant killing animals with their trunks and being attacked by tigers. On the south stairway is a three-head elephant gathering lotus flowers. On the base of the inner wall at a star iond large sculpture of a horse with five heads.

Accessible from the road at the east, the Terrace of Elephants was built at the end of the 12th century. It is dedicated to Buddhism and features Bayon-style art. One scene shows an Imperial hunts in a forest. The elephants look quite formidable. The forest in which they travel in impenetrable to all but tiny creatures, able to squeeze their smallness between the fissures of the undergrowth, and to the biggest animals, which crush chasms for their passage in the virgin vegetation. The elephants are ridden by servants and princes, and tread as quietly as if they were on an excursive promenade. The steps of even length have no respect for any obstacle.

Bayon

Bayon (within Angkor Thom, 1500 meters from the south gate) is an extraordinary temple located at the geographical center of the city of Angkor. The main temple has a large central dome surrounded by smaller towers decorated with faces and detailed ornaments. It was built about 100 years after Angkor Wat under Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219). The entry tower of the Bayon is from the east.

The Bayon temple is built of sandstone blocks with twin corridors and a number of towers. The central tower is 45-meters-high and features sculptured faces on all four sides. Describing a visit to Bayon in 1912, the French novelist Pierre Loti wrote, "I looked up at those all those towers, rising above men overgrown in the greenery and suddenly shivered with fear as I saw a giant frozen smile looming down at me...and then another smile, over there in another tower...and then three, and then five, and then ten." In Angkor the Magnificent. The Wonder City of Ancient Cambodia (1925), H. Churhill Candee wrote, “We stand before [the Bayon] stunned. It is like nothing else I the land.”

The Bayon vies with Angkor Wat as the favorite monument of visitors at Angkor. The two evoke similar aesthetic responses yet are different in purpose, design, architecture and decoration. The dense jungle surrounding the Bayon camouflaged its position in relation to other structures at Angkor so it was not known for some time that the Bayon stands in the exact center of the city of Angkor Thom. Even after this was known, the Bayon was erroneously connected with the city of Yasovarman I and thus dated to the ninth century. A pediment found in 1925 depicting an Avalokitesvara identified the Bayon as a Buddhist temple.

This discovery moved the date of the monument ahead some 300 years to the late twelfth century. Even though the date is firmly implanted and supported by archaeological evidence, the Bayon remains one of the most enigmatic temples of the Angkor group. Its symbolism, original form and subsequent changes and constructions have not yet been untangled.

The Bayon was built nearly 100 years after Angkor Wat. The basic structure and earliest part of the temple are not known. Since it was located at the center of a royal city it seems possible that the Bayon would have originally been a temple-mountain conforming to the symbolism of a microcosm of Mount Meru. The middle part of the temple was extended during the second phase of building. The Bayon of today belong to the third and last phase of the art style.

The quality of construction at Bayon is shoddy compared to Angkor Wat, an indication that the Khmer empire was clearly on the wan. Unlike Angkor Wat, which is in remarkably good condition, Bayon sags and lurches and the stones are coming apart. Jayavarman VII was also the most prolific builder of the Khmer kings. He appears to have spread himself too thin. The vast amount resources spent on temples may have contributed to the Angkor's decline.

Architectural Features of Bayon

Bayon is essentially a step pyramid with galleries around its base and steep staircases leading to terraces near the top. Organized on top of the main structure are 55 sculptured towers, most of which have impressive carved faces staring in all four directions. The 172 faces have similar features: almond-shaped eyes, thick, sensuous lips and smiles said to enigmatic as those of the Mona Lisa. No one is sure who the faces represent but many scholars believe they are images of Avalokitesvara, a Hindu-Buddhist deity closely identified with King Jayavarman VII.

The temple itself is said to represent a terrestrial version of heavenly palace of the Hindu god Indra. Its central images were a Buddhist statue with Mucalinda (these are now gone). The 13th century Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan who visited the site wrote the Buddha were massive, a lone colonnade led to a splendid palace with a great golden window that opened to a court where “men and women alike are anointed with perfumes composed of sandalwood, musk, other essences, and the worth of the Buddha is universal.”

Built from laterite, sandstone and sand in the late 12th century, Bayon was the last major temple constructed at Angkor. The architectural scale and composition of the Bayon exude grandness in every aspects. Its elements juxtapose each other to create balance and harmony. Over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 tower give this temple its majestic character. The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lids utter not a word and yet force you to guess much, wrote P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920s. It is generally accepted that four faces on each of the tower are images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and that they signify the omnipresence of the king. The characteristics of this faces - a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends-combine to reflect the famous 'Smile of Angkor'.

Layout of Bayon

A peculiarity of the Bayon is the absence of an enclosing wall. It is, though, protected by the wall surrounding the city of Angkor Thom. The basic plan of the Bayon is a simple one comprising three levels (1-3). The first and second levels are square galleries featuring bas-reliefs. A circular Central Sanctuary dominates the third level. Despite this seemingly simple plan, the arrangement of the Bayon is complex, with a maze of galleries, passages and steps connected in a way that make the levels practically indistinguishable and creates dim lighting, narrow walkways, and low ceilings.

Enter the Bayon from the east at the steps leading to a terrace. The interior of the Bayon, the one a visitor first encounters, is a square gallery on the ground or first level. This gallery is interspersed with eight entry towers - one in each corner and one in the middle of each side. All of the eight structures are in the shape of a cross. The gallery was probably originally covered with a root, perhaps of wood. For those who have limited time, enter the Bayon at the east, turn left at the first gallery and follow the arrow marked on the plan.

The decoration on the pillars in front of the entry tower at the east is characteristic of the Bayon style and is exceptionally beautiful. It is the recurring theme of the Apsaras but with a different treatment. A typical composition is a group of three Asaras dancing on a bed of lotuses. They are in a triangular formation. The figure in the center is larger than those on either side. A plain background highlights both the dancers and the intricately carved frame comprising a lightly etched pattern of flowers and leaves that look like tapestry. (Although a group of three dancers is typical, similar scenes are made up only one or two dancers.) The absence of a roof on these pillars allows sufficient light for the visitor to view and photograph this motif at all times of the day.

The two galleries of bas-reliefs are distinguished by the degree of elevation. The first or outer gallery is all on one level whereas the second or inner gallery is on different level and the passage is some times difficult. The layout of the inner gallery can be misleading but as lone as the relief are in view you are still in the second gallery. On the interior of the first level there are two libraries, one on each side near the corners at the east side of the gallery. The second gallery of bas-reliefs has a tower in each corner and another one on each side which combines to form an entry tower. On the interior of the second level there is a unit of galleries at each corner that form a cross with indentation. Each corner has a tower and a courtyard. Agigh terrace parallels the profile of the cross-shaped gallery.

The architectural climax is the third level, with the Central Sanctuary and the faces of Avalokitesvara. The east side of this area is crammed with a series of small rooms and entry towers .The multitude of faces at different levels affords endless fascination. Godliness in the majesty and the size; mystery in the expression wrote de Beer ski when he looked at the faces in the 1920s.

The central mass is circular, a shape that is uncommon in Khmer art. Small porches with pediments provide the bases for the monumental faces while windows with balusters keep the diffusion of light to a minimum. The faces on the four sides of the eight tower marking the cardinal directions are exceptionally dramatic depictions. The interior of the Central Sanctuary is and surrounded by a narrow passage. The summit of the Central mass is undoubtedly the Golden Tower which Zhou Daguan said marked the center of the Kingdom and was flanked by more than twenty lesser tower and several hundred stone chambers.

Bas-Reliefs at Bayon

The bas-reliefs at Bayon are within two galleries. The inner one is decorated with mythical scenes. The bas-reliefs on the outer gallery are a marked departure from anything previously seen at Angkor. They contain genre scenes of everyday life as well as history scenes with battles and processions.. The relief are more deeply carved than at Angkor Wat but the representation is less stylized. The scenes are presented mostly in two or three horizontal panels.

On the ground level depict scenes from the wars between eth Khmers, Chams and Siamese. Bas-reliefs In the east Gallery depict kings on battle elephants and in war canoes, accompanied by soldiers, armed with javelins and wearing exotic headdresses; ox carts, filled food and supplies; warriors, mounted on horses and flanked by musicians; and commanders, identified by umbrellas, mounted on elephants. The quality of the bas-reliefs is good but not as fine as that at Angkor Wat however they show more humor and wit and give more insight into the everyday life of the ancient Khmers.

In the South Gallery are images of everyday life that depict fortunetellers, hospitals, taverns, markets, fishing, festivals, jugglers, beauty parlors, women giving birth, men fishing in Tonle Sap, bookies taking bets at a cockfight, monks trying to remove the sarong of a young girl, and a man pulling out his whiskers with tweezers. There are also images of wild boar fights, jugglers, wrestlers, chess players, bow hunters and princesses surrounded by suitors. One scenes shows three smiling Cambodian women cheating three Chinese by secretly adding weight to the scales with their fingers.

In the North Gallery a procession of animals includes a deer, rabbit, pig, rhinoceros, and puffer fish. Many of the reliefs in the West Gallery are unfinished. Worth checking are the ones with a holy man escaping from a tiger by climbing a tree and battle scenes with masses of warrior and elephants

On the bas-reliefs in the galleries of the Bayon, H Churchill Candee wrote, “The have homely, human things to tell and they tell them without affectation, View the galleries of bas-reliefs clockwise, always keeping the monument on the right. Do not get so absorbed with the reliefs that you forget to stop at each opening and enjoy the view of the faces on the third level.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress,Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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