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.
ENTRY TO ANGKOR THOM
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 (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 (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.
AROUND THE TERRACES OF THE ELEPHANT AND 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.
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 (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 (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.
Restoration Work at Bayon: The North Library of Bayon was restored by a Japanese team that replicated ancient Khmer techniques, but in some cases used newly quarried stone, a practiced considered anathema to some archeologist, who think only original stones should be used. The Japanese team also restored the North Library of Angkor Wat.
The central tower at Bayon temple is at risk of collapse, according to research by the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA). The Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Parts of the sculptured faces have already fallen off, altering the symmetry the tower had when it was constructed during the late 12th century and 13th century. In its normal observation of the temple, the JSA detected no indication of the tower tilting. But during research at the nearby Prasat Sour Prat tower, the JSA discovered that the stone of which the Angkor monuments are constructed is vulnerable to extreme weather, including heavy rain and strong winds, and is at high risk of tilting drastically. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 06, 2005]
"The parts that have already fallen from the sculptures on the Bayon temple were presumably caused by extreme weather," said Yoshinori Iwasaki of the Geo-Research Institute, who led the JSA research into the structure of the monuments and the stability of the ground. "Some of the stone pillars supporting the tower have cracks, which could lead to the collapse of the whole tower if extreme weather conditions continue." In its "Master Plan for the Conservation and Restoration of the Bayon Complex," the JSA stressed that some reinforcement measures are necessary, such as an injection of glue between cracks or securing the tower with ropes.
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.
Baphuon (within Angkor Thom, 200 meters northwest of Banyon) was built by King Udayadityavarman II in 1060 and dedicated to Hinduism. Originally standing five stories tall, it was the most impressive structure in the Angkor area in its time. The 13th century Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan One who saw it called it “a truly astonishing spectacle.” “North of the Golden Tower [Bayon], rises the Tower of Branze [Baphuon] higher even than the Golden Tower : a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base,” he said.
Baphuon contained five towers and was bigger than many of the pyramids in Mexico. It was originally a Hindu temple but when Angkor converted to Buddhism a 250-foot-long reclining Buddha was placed at the top. When French archeologists rediscovered Baphuon it was collapsing in chunks because it had built on sand with poor drainage. They decided to take the temple apart and rebuild it so it would be stable. As they took it apart the archeologists made careful notes of where each stone went. Half the temple was in pieces, with blocks scattered over 25 acres of grassy fields, when work was interrupted in 1972 because of civil war and the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately during the Khmer Rouge years all the records of where the stones went were lost.
Work began anew in 1995. Without the records putting Baphuon back together has been described as the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle: one with 300,000 blocks for pieces. Over the years restoration and rebuilding work has been done by a 200-member team under the supervision of French archeologists, and slowly, block by block, it the temple is rising again.
Each block has a unique position. As is true with a jigsaw puzzle pieces that are almost correct isn’t good enough. Often only one stone fits in a given spot and finding that stone is no easy task. Aiding the team are 1,000 photographs taken before 1972, advice from archeologist who worked at site before 1972 and the shapes of the blocks themselves which offer various clues as to where they go. As of the early 2000s, archeologist said they knew where about 80 percent of the stones went and hoped rebuild the temple by the late 2000s.
Baphuon is situated inside the royal city of Angkor Thom but dates from the eleventh century and was built before the city was established. An interesting feature of Baphuon are the bas-reliefs which are scenes carved in small squares. Unfortunately few of these are visible because of the poor state of the temple. The narrative themes are realistic depictions of daily life and forest scenes.
Visitors enter Baphuon and leave from the east. Access to the summit is difficult as much of the temple has collapsed and it is overgrown but for those stalwarts who want to go to the top, use the way with columns at the east and the temple of Phimeanakas on the left. Visitors should walk down the causeway, climb the steps to the first tier, turn left and walk around the temple, always keeping it on their right. It was built in middle of the 11th century (1060) by king Udayadityavarman II, dedicated to The Hindu god Siva with following Prasat Baphuon.
Layout of Baphuon: Baphuon is a single sanctuary temple-mountain situated on a high base. It is a symbolical representation of Mount Meru. A rectangular sandstone wall measuring 425 by 125 meters (1394 by 410 feet) encloses the temple. A long sandstone elevated approach (200 meters, 656 feet) at the east entrance forms a bridge to the main temple. It is supported by three rows of short columns.
Before walking down the approach turn left at the east entry tower and walk to the end of the gallery for a superb view of a four-faced tower of the Bayuon framed by a doorway of Baphuon. The approach is intercepted by a pavilion in the shape of a cross with terraces on the left and right sides. Turn left and walk to the opening the approach. Continue to the view of the arrangement of the imposing pillars under the approach. Continue to the end of the gallery to see a rectangular paved pool.
The temple stands on a rectangular sandstone base with five levels that are approximately the same size, rather than the more common form of successively smaller levels. The first, second and third levels are surrounded by sandstone galleries. Baphuon is the first structure in which stone galleries with a central tower appear. Two libraries in the shape of a cross with four porches stand in the courtyard. They were originally connected by an elevated walkway supported by columns.
The gallery of the enclosure collapsed and, at a later date , the stones from it were modeled into the shape of a reclining Buddha that spans the length of the west wall ( the head is on the left, facing the temple) . It is an abstract form and the outline of this Buddha is difficult to distinguish. A stairway leading to the summit begins in the middle of the Buddha. The top level is in poor condition due to several collapses. Originally there was a Central Sanctuary with two wings. Each side of the entrance to the Central Sanctuary is carved with fine animated figures. If you look carefully you can see these from the ground on the west side. The view from the top with Phnom Bakheng in the south and Phimeanakas in the north is magnificent.
Phimean Akas (inside the enclosure of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom north of Baphuon) is a Hindu remple built by Kings Rajendravarman, Jayavamen V and Udayadityavarman I I from the end of the 10th century to the beginning of 11th century. The temple of Phimeanakas is situated near the center of the area enclosed by the walls of the Royal Palace. It must originally have been crowned with a golden pinnacle, as Zhou Daguan described it as the Tower of Gold The temple is built of roughly hewn sandstone blocks and has little decoration.
According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated.
Phimeanakas can be reached on foot either from Prah Palilay or from the Terrace of the Elephants. Pass through the gap in the south side of the enclosing wall of Prah and walk straight for about 200 meters (656 feet); turn left to the east and right at the first path, then follow it until you reach the temple. Or walk across the Terrace of Elephants at the entrance closest to the Victory Gate road and walk through an entry tower; then follow the path until you reach the temple. Alternatively, return to the main road beside the Terrace of the Leper King, turn right and turn right again on the first road, then drive straight to the monument. Enter Phimeanakas from the east entrance. It is possible to leave by the south gate and walk through a space in the enclosing wall to the east entrance of the Baphuon. for those who want to climb to the Central Sanctuary, use the west stairway, which is in the best condition.
Layout of Phimean Akas: The general plan of Phimeanakas is rectangular. The temple originally consisted of a Central Sanctuary on a tiered base and an enclosing wall. The grounds around the sanctuary included several courts and ponds. A laetrile wall encloses the temple and a second enclosing wall was built at a later date. Next there is a dry moat.The sandstone entry tower at the east is in the shape of a cross with two wings; the lintels have a central motif of a head of a Kala and the window frame is inscribed. These features are not shown on the plan: leave the tower and walk towards the main sanctuary. On the right (north) there is a pond with molding and laetrile steps. It may have been a part of the palace reserved for woman.
Return to the center walkway; after leaving the entry tower turn right and follow a path until you come to another large pond paved in laterite with sandstone steps. It was bordered by two stairways with bas-reliefs-along the side there are serpents in animal and human form surrounded by serpent-princesses; on the top there are male and female Garudas and mythical winged figures. This entire area was probably crowned by a serpent balustrade and may have served as a gallery for the sovereign and dignitaries of the court. It is separated from the north-enclosing wall by paved causeways and from another pond on the east.
The single sanctuary is on a base with three laterite tiers. It is approached by four steep stairways, one on each side. These stairways are framed by walls with six projections- two per step –decorated with lions. Elephants once stood on sandstone pedestals in the corners of the base but today they are mostly broken.
The upper terrace affords a spectacular view of the neighboring temple of Baphuon. A narrow covered sandstone gallery with windows and balusters at the edge of the upper terrace is a unique architectural feature. There were small pavilions at the corners but only vestiges remain.
OTHER MONUMENTS IN THE ANGKOR THOM AREA
Sour Prat (beginning of the road leading to the Victory Gate, in front of the Royal Palace in Angkor Thom) is a temple built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII that features a row of 12 square laterite and sandstone towers, six on one either side of the road leading to the Victory Gate. The two towers closest to the road are set back slightly from the others. The towers have an unusual feature of windows with balusters on three sides. Entrance porches open toward the west onto the parade ground. The interior of each tower has two levels and on the upper one there is a cylindrical vault with two frontons. The frames, bays and lintels were made of sandstone.
According to a Cambodian legend, the towers served as anchoring places for ropes which stretched from one to another for acrobats performing at festivals, while the king observed the performances from one of the terraces. This activity is reflected in the name of the towers. Zhou Daguan wrote about the entirely different purpose of the towers in describing a method of settling disputes between men. Some think that they may have served as alters for each province on the occasion of taking the oath of loyalty to the king.
The restoration of Prasat Sour Prat tower was completed in 2005 by the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA). The Prasat Sour Prat tower had been leaning and was partially collapsed. The team dismantled the tower, including its base, and restored the structure to its original design. The JSA started its restoration work in 1994. It also restored the Northern Library of the Bayon temple in 1999.
Preah Palilay (north of Phimeanakas) is an Angkor-Wat-style, Buddhist temple built in middle to last half of the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. The jungle around Prah Palilay is peaceful. The presence of Buddhist monks and nuns at this temple give it a feeling of an active place of worship. Lintels and pediments lying on the ground at the sides and back of the temple afford a rare opportunity to see relief at eye level. Many depict Buddhist scenes with Hindu divinities. Enter and leave the monument from the east. Leave Tep Pranam and walk to rah Palilay, then around the temple.
A large seated Buddha in front of the temple of Prah Palilay is of a recent date. A terrace in the shape of a cross precedes the temple and stands as an elegant example of the 'classic 'period of Khmer art. Serpent balustrades terminating with a crest of seven heads frame the terrace. A causeway joins the terrace to the entry tower at the east set in the enclosing laterite wall, of which only parts remain.
The entry tower is in the shape of a cross and has three passages and a cylindrical vault with a bouble pediment. The pediments of the pediments of the entry towers are modeled with Buddhist scenes. The lintel on the east side of the entry tower depicts a reclining Buddha and the pediment on the south side has a finely carved seated Buddha; the pediment on the north has an uncommon depiction of a standing Buddha with his hand resting on an elephant. There are remains of two guardians (decapitated) on the east and two lions on the ground between the terrace and the Central Sanctuary.
Only the Central Sanctuary of Prah Palilay remains intact. The sandstone tower opens on four sides, each one of which has a porch. The tower stands on a base with three tiers and has a stairway on each side. On the upper portion there is a truncated pyramid that forms a sort of chimney, which is filled with reused stones.
West Baray (four kilometers west of Angkor Thom) is the largest man-made body of water at Angkor. Visitors can hire a boat to take them to the island in the middle where West Mebon temple once stood. Today, only traces of it remain. But the island is a pleasant spot for a picnic or just walking around when water level is low. Alternatively, visitor can also go for a refreshing swim.
As the temple in the middle is in the same style as Baphuon, the baray was probably constructed in the 11th century. The east dyke leads to Ba Kheng temple. Some historian believed that the West Baray could have been a mooring place for the royal barges as well as a reservoir and a place for breeding fish.
West Baray is a vast man-made lake, surrounded by an earthen levee which forms a dyke. According to legend, the young daughter of a ruler of Angkor was grabbled by an enormous crocodile, which made a large opening in the south dyke of the West Baray that can still be seen today. The crocodile was capture and killed. The princess, still living in its stomach, was rescued.
Ak Yum (southern end of the West Baray) was built in the 7th to 9th century and dedicated to Hinduism. Ak Yum is a recently cleared site and is of great historical importance because it is the earliest site in the area. Dating from the seventh century it belongs to the pre-Angkor period. Inscriptions found on pillars give the dates of AD 609, 704 and 1001 for Prasat Ak Yum. Evidence of a linga and some sacred depository has also been found. During the construction of the West Baray around the 11th century this site was partially buried by the south levee of the baray.
West Mebon (four kilometers west of Angkor Thom) is a Baphuon-style temple situated at the center of an artificial lake on a circular island with a diameter of about 150 meters. It was built in second half of the 11th century by Udayadityavarman I and probably dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. To get there take a boat to the island in the center and walk to the east entrance of the temple.
The base for the temple was a square. A sandstone platform at the center is linked to a causeway of laterite and sandstone that leads to the east dyke. The West Mebon was originally surrounded by a square enclosure with three-square sandstone entry towers and a sanctuary on the East Side is reasonably intact. The sides of the towers are carved with lively animals set in small squares, a type of decoration found only at the Baphuon. Walk along the shoreline and look back at the island to see heaps of stones from the collapsed areas.
Preah Khan(two kilometers northeast of Angkor Thom on the Grand Circuit) is a well-preserved temple-city consecrated in 1191 under King Jayavarman VII and currently being reclaimed from the jungle by the World Monument Fund. One of the nicest things about it, is the way it is shaded by a huge canopy of rain forest trees and entangled by the roots of trees. In some cases trees have been completely engulfed and absorbed into a building, with the building supporting the tree and the tree supporting the building.
Preah Khan means “Temple of the Sacred Sword.” Built to honor King Jayavarman VII’s father, Dharanindravarman, it is spread out over 140 acres and served as a monastery and teaching complex. Its walls are carved with both Hindu and Buddhist images. In the 12th century it was the center of a 140 acre enclave with schools, hundreds of shops and dwellings and a population of 100,000 people. An inscription indicates that Preah Khan was built on the battle site where King Jaya-varman VII finally defeated the Chams. In those days it was known as Nagarajayacri which mean the city of Preah Khan.
In the Central Sanctuary there are good views in all four directions. The main, colonnaded, two-story temples once held images of 500 Hindu deities and was the site of 20 religious festivals a year (that can verified). Tour guides direct most people through the back entrance. The temple should be entered through the main East Gate.
In the Hall of Dancers are friezes of apsaras holding snakes in dancing positions that are not all that different from those of modern temple dancers. Sometimes dance performances ith barefoot girls dancing to the accompaniment of drums, cymbals and xylophones are performed here. There are some lovely carvings of garudas, bird heads on human figures placed there to ward off evil spirits and Buddhas that were carved from apsaras, indicating the swift change at Angkor from Hinduism to Buddhism.
You can also find phallic lingas (symbols of Hindu god Shiva) and a carving of King Jayavarman VII’s wife (here you can even make some stretch marks of motherhood). More than 900 inscriptions in Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer are here. It is said the walls were painted in gold and embedded with diamonds (archeologists doubt this). There are also some headless statues—the work of looters.
Conservationists are currently at work trying to save the temple and the trees that embrace it— in the process doing much damage to the trees and buildings. Most of the trees are fiscus trees, which can live to be 100 or 200 years old. They damage the buildings by burrowing between blocks and forcing them part, swaying in the wind and weakening the building further, and sending roots along the ground, which undermines the walls. Sometimes a tree falls down completely in the rainy season bringing the structure its is attached to down with it. Preah Khan is guarded at night by a guards with an AK-47 to deter looters.
The Preah Khan complex covers 56 hectares and served as the nucleus of a group that includes Neak Pean and Ta Som, located 4 kilometers long Jayatataka Baray—the last of the great reservoirs to be built in Angkor. Four concentric ramparts subdivide Preah Khan. The outer or fourth wall, which is encircled by a wide moat, today encloses a large tract of jungle, formerly the living quarters of the monks, students and attendants of Preah Khan. The second rampart delineated the principle religious compound of about four hectares within which there is a dense concen¬tration of temple and shrines. The central complex is Buddhist. The northern and western sectors are dedicated to Hinduism— Vishnu (west) and Shiva (north), whilst the southern sector is a place of ancestor worship. The eastern sector forms the grand entrance to the central shrine. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]
A place for a king located near Preah Khan temple is called Veal Reacheak or Preah Reachea Dak. It is 1,500 meters long and 1,200 meters wide. Nearby about 700 meters north of Preah Khan temple along the road to Angkor Thomdistrict is another small temple called Ptu. The temple was made
Neak Pean (in the east of Prah Khan, 300 meters from the road) is a temple with a large square pool. At the center is a round “island” created by two intertwined naga “snakes.” Once used in purification rituals, the pool was fed by four large water spouts form different reservoirs. Sometimes during the rainy season it fills. Most of the time there are just couple of pools within the pool.
Dedicated to Buddha and built in the Bayon art style, Prasat Neak Pean was constructed in the second half of the 12th century by king Jayavarman VII. Although Neak Pean is small and mostly a collection of five ponds, it is worth a visit for its unique features. It is believed to have been consecrated to Buddha as his arrival at the state of Nirvana.
Neak Pean is a large square man-made pond (70 meters, 230 feet each side) bordered by steps and surrounded by four smaller ponds. A small circular island with a stepped base of seven laterite tiers is in the center of the large square pond. Small elephants sculpted in the round originally stood on the four comers. The central tower was dedicated to Avalokitesvara. The bodies of two serpents encircle the base of the island and their bodies are entwined. The name Neak Pean signifies curved Nagas.
The central pond is a replica of Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas, situated at the top of the universe. The lake gives birth to the four great rivers of the earth. These rivers are represented at Neak Pean by sculpted gargoyles corresponding to the four cardinal points Lake Anavatapta was fed by hot springs and venerated in India for the curative powers of its waters. The orientation of the ponds at Neak Pean ensured that the water was always fresh because the ponds received only reflected light. Enter and leave from the north entrance. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]
Prasat Krol Ko (northwest of Neak Pean, 100 meters from the road) is a Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century-early 13th century by king Jayavarman VII in the Bayon style. The main items of interest at Krol Ko are the pediments on the ground. Two outstanding ones are: 1) the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara standing on a lotus flanked by devotees; and 2) a strongly modeled scene of Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana to shelter the shepherds.
Kro Ko is a single tower monument with two enclosing walls built of laterite with an entry tower at the east and a moat with steps. There is a library built of laterite and sandstone opening to the west on the left of the interior courtyard. The Central Sanctuary stands on a terrace in the shape of a cross. Enter and leave from the east.
Ta Som (east of Neak Pean) was built in the end of the 12th century, dedicated to the father of the king (Buddhist), replica to Bayon style of art. Ta Som has not been restored. It is a small quiet temple and affords a delightful visit. In the past one of the significant features of Ta Som was the growth of fig trees the faces at the entrance towers. These have been cut from the east tower but they are still visible at the west one. The entry and exit to Ta Som can only be access from east entrance.
Ta Som is a single tower monument on one level surrounded by three enclosing walls with entry on the east and west carved with four faces, the face on the right of the east tower (facing the temple) has a beautiful smile. The entry towers are in the shape of a cross with a small room on each side connecting to a laterite wall. Walk through the first entry tower over a causeway, which crosses a moat and is bordered with serpents and large Garudas. The wall of the second enclosure is in laterite with a sandstone entry tower in the shape of a cross on the east and west sides. The entry towers have windows with balusters on the exterior and proceeded by a porch with pillars.
The next enclosure comprises a laterite and sandstone gallery with corner pavilions, which have molded false doors. Amongst the crumbled heaps of stones in the courtyard are two libraries opening to the west. The main tower is in the shape of a cross with four porches. To see the Central Sanctuary, courtyard and libraries, climb through the opening on the north side. An image of Avalokiteshvara was reassembled after a tree and its roots were removed.
Bakheng (between Angkor Wat and Bayon, 1,300 meters north of Angkor Wat and 400 meters south of Angkor Thom) is temple situated on a hill, whose summit can be reached by climbing a steep 67-meter path or a guarded switch-backing "elephant road" on the east side of the monument. The temple isn't so impressive, its mainly foundations and crumbling walls, but the view is great. One one side you can see Angkor Wat and Siem Riep. From the opposite you can look out over Angkor Thom and Bayon as well as forests and rice fields. Many people climb it at sunset. In the 1960s the summit was approached by elephant and, according to a French visitor, the ascent was "a promenade classic and very agreeable
The setting sun vista is a memorable sight. When Frenchman Henri Mouhot stood at this point in 1859 he wrote in his diary: “Steps.. lead to the top of the mountain, whence is to be enjoyed a view so beautiful and extensive, that it is not surprising that these people , who have shown so much taste in their buildings, should have chosen it for a site.” It is possible to see: the five towers of Angkor Wat in the west, Phnom Krom to the southwest near the Grand Lake, Phnom Bok in the northeast, Phnom Kulen in the east, and the West Baray.
To avoid the crowds, it is best to got at sunrise rather than sunset. Most of the landscape seen from the view is flat and tranquil—a dark ocean of forest, freckled here and there with Angkor ruins, roads, villages and rice fields. It is only on the north and northeast that a range of mountains, the Dangreks, 120 kilometers or so away, breaks the contour of the vast, unvarying expanse. Near the bottom of the hill on the south side, in the early morning, threadlike wisps of smoke from invisible native hamlets mingle with patches of mist. And then, as the light strengthens, to the southeast, the tremendous towers of Angkor Wat push their black mass above the grey-green monotony of foliage.
Phnom Bakheng was built in late ninth to early tenth century by King Yasovarman and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. After Yasovarman became king in 889, he founded his own capital, Tasoharapura, Northwest of Roluos and built Bakheng as his state temple. The sites known today as Angkor and thus Bakheng is sometimes called 'the first Angkor '. A square wall; each side of which is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long, surrounded the city. A natural hill in the center distinguished the site.
The temple of Bakheng was cut from rock and faced with sandstone. Traces of this method are visible in the northeast and southeast corners. It reflects improved techniques of construction and the use of more durable. This temple is the earliest example of the plan with five sandstone sanctuaries built on the top level of a tiered base arranged like the dots on a die, which became popular later. It is also the first appearance of secondary towers on the tiers of the base.
Layout of Bakheng: Phnom Bakheng is square with a base of five tiers (1-5) and five sanctuaries (6-10) on the top level, occupying the corners and the middle of the terrace. The sides of the base are each 76 meters (249 feet) long and the total height is 13 meters (43 feet). Each side of the base has a steep stairway with a 70 incline. Seated lions flank each of the five tiers. Vestiges of the wall with entry towers surrounding the temple remain. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]
The number of towers at Bakheng suggests a cosmic symbolism. Originally 109 towers in replica of Mount Meru adorned the temple of Phnom Bakheng but many are missing. The total was made up of five towers on the upper terrace, 12 on each of the five tiers of the base, and another 44 towers around the base. The brick towers on the tiers represent the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac. Excluding the Central Sanctuary, there are 108 towers, symbolizing the four lunar phases with 27 days in each phase. The levels (ground, five tiers, upper terrace) number seven and correspond to the seven heavens of Hindu mythology. Seated lions sculpted in the round are on each side of the slope near the summit. The proportions on these lions are particularly fine. Further on, there is a small building on the right with sandstone pillars; the two lingas now serve as boundary stones. Continuing towards the top, one comes to a footprint of the Buddha in the center of the path. This is enclosed in a cement basin and covered with a wooden roof.
Closer to the top, remains of an entry tower in the outside wall enclosing the temple are visible. Two sandstone libraries on either side of the walkway are identified by rows of diamond-shaped holes in the walls. Both libraries open to the west and have a porch on the east side. Small brick sanctuary towers occupy the corners of each tier and each side of the stairway. Five towers are arranged like the dots on a die. The tower in the middle contained the linga. It is open to all four cardinal points. The other four sanctuaries on the top level also sheltered a linga on a on a pedestal and are open on two sides.
The evenly spaced holes in the paving near the east side of Central sanctuary probably held wooden posts, which supported a roof. The Central Sanctuary (10) is decorated with female divinities under the arches of the corner pillars and Apsaras with delicately carved bands of foliage above; the pilasters have a raised interlacing of figurines. The Makaras on the tympanums are lively and strongly executed. An inscription is visible on the left-hand side of the north door of the Central Sanctuary.
Bakheng in 1936:
In 1936, H.W. Ponder wrote, “This is most solitary place in all Angkor and the pleasantest. If it was truly the Mount Meru of the gods, then they chose their habitation well. But if the Khmers had chanced to worship the Greek pantheon instead of that of India, they would surely have built on Phnom Bakheng a temple to Apollo; for it is at sunrise and sunset that you feel its most potent charm. To steal out of the Bungalow an hour before the dawn, and down the road that skirts the faintly glimmering moat of Angkor Wat before it plunges into the gloom of the forest; and then turn off, feeling your way across the terrace between the guardian lions (who grin amiably at you as you turn the light of your torch upon them); then clamber up the steep buried stairway on the eastern face of the hill, across the plateau and up the five flights of steps, to emerge from the enveloping forest on to the cool high terrace with the stars above you is a small pilgrimage whose reward is far greater than its cost in effort. [Source: HW Ponder, “Cambodian Glory, The Mystery of the Deserted Khmer Cities and their Vanquished Splendor, and a Description of Life in Cambodia Today (Thornton Butterworth, London, 1936)]
Here at the summit it is very still. The darkness has lost its intensity; and you stand in godlike isolation on the roof of a world that seems to be floating in the sky, among stars peering faintly through wisps of filmy cloud. The dawn comes so unobtrusively that you are unaware of it, until all in a moment you realize that the world is no longer dark. The sanctuaries and altars on the terrace have taken shape about you as if by enchantment; and far below, vaguely as yet but gathering intensity with every second, the kingdom of the Khmers and the glory thereof spreads out on every side to the very confines of the earth; or so it may well have seemed to the King-god when he visited his sanctuary how many dawns ago.
Soon, in the east, a faint pale gold light is diffused above a grey bank of cloud flat-topped as a cliff, that lies across the far horizon; to which smooth and unbroken as the surface of a calm sea, stretches the dark ocean of forest, awe-inspiring in its tranquil immensity. To the south the view is the same, save where along low hill, the shape of a couchant cat, lies in the monotonous sea of foliage like an island. Westward, the pearl-grey waters of the great Baray, over which a thin mist seems to be suspended, turn silver in the growing light, and gleam eerily in their frame of overhanging trees; but beyond them, too, the interminable forest flows on to meet the sky. It is only on the north and northeast that a range of mountains the Dangrengs, eighty miles or so away breaks the contour of the vast, unvarying expanse; and you see in imagination on its eastern rampart the almost inaccessible temple of Prah Vihear.
Immediately below you there is morning is windless; but one after the other, the tops of the trees growing on the steep sides of the Phnom sway violently to and fro, and a fussy chattering announces that the monkeys have awakened to a new day. Near the bottom of the hill on the south side, threadlike wisps of smoke from invisible native hamlets mingle with patches of mist. And then, as the light strengthens, to the southeast, the tremendous towers of Angkor Wat push their black mass above the grey-green monotony of foliage, and there comes a reflected gleam from a corner of the moat not yet overgrown with weeds. But of the huge city whose walls are almost at your feet, and of all the other great piles scattered far and near over the immense plains that surround you, not a vestige is to be seen. There must surely be enchantment in a forest that knows how to keep such enormous secrets from the all – Seeing Eye of the sun.
In the afternoon the whole scene is altered. The god-like sense of solitude is the same; but the cool, grey melancholy of early morning has been transformed into a glowing splendor painted in a thousand shades of orange and amber, henna and gold. To the west, the bray, whose silvery waters in the morning had all the inviting freshness of a themes backwater, seems now, by some occult process to have grown larger, and spreads, gorgeous but sinister, a sheet of burnished copper, reflecting the fiery glow of the waste ring sun. Beyond it, the forest, a miracle of color, flows on to be lost in the splendid conflagration; and to the north and east, where the light is less fierce, you can see that the smooth surface of the sea of treetops wears here and there all the tints of an English autumn woodland: a whole gamut of flowing crimson flaring scarlet, chestnut brown, and brilliant yellow; for even these tropic trees must 'winter.’ By this light you can see, too, what was hidden in the morning that for a few miles towards the south, the sweep of forest is interrupted by occasional patches of cultivation; rice fields, dry and golden at this season of the year, where cattle and buffaloes are grazing.
As for the Great Wat, which in the morning had showed itself an indeterminate black mass against the dawn; in this light, and from this place, it is unutterably magical. You have not quite an aerial view the Phnom is not high enough for that; and even if it were, the ever encroaching growth of trees on its steep sides shuts out the view of the Wat's whole immense plan. But you can see enough to realize something of the superb audacity of the architects who dared to embark upon a single plan measuring nearly a mile square. Your point of view is diagonal; across the north west corner of the moat to the soaring lotus-tip of the central sanctuary you can trace the perfect balance of every faultless live. Worshipful for its beauty, bewildering in its stupendous size there is no other point from which the Wat appears so inconceivable an undertaking to have been attempted much less achieved by human brains and hands.
But however that may be even while it, the scene is changing under your eyes. The great warm-grey mass in its setting of foliage, turns from grey to gold; from the fold to amber, glowing with ever deeper and deeper warmth as the sun sinks lower. Purple shadows creep upwards from the moat, covering the galleries, blotting out the amber glow; chasing it higher and higher, over the poled up roofs, till it rests for a while on the tiers of carved pinnacles on the highest tower, where an odd one here and there glitters like cut topaz the level golden rays strike it.
The forest takes on coloring that is ever more autumnal the Baray for ten seconds is a lake of fire; and then, as though the lights had been turned off the pageant is over...and the moon, close to the full, come into her owe, shining down eerily on the scene that has suddenly become so remote and mysterious; while a cool little breeze blows up from the east, and sends the stiff, dry teak-leaves from the trees on the hillside, down through the branches with a metallic rattle. There is one more change before this nightly transformation-scene is over: a sort of anti-climax to be seen in these. Soon after the sun has disappeared, an after-glow lights up the scene again so warmly as almost to create the illusion that the driver of the sun's chariot has turned his horses, and come back again. Here on Bakheng, the warm tones of sunset return for a few minutes, but faintly, mingling weirdly with the moonlight, to bring effects even more elusively lovely than any that have before. Then, they too fade; and the moon, supreme at last, shines down unchallenged on the airy temple.
It is lonelier now. After the gorgeous living pageantry of the scene that went before it, the moon's white radiance and the silence are almost unbearably deathlike far more eerie than the deep darkness of morning with dawn not far behind. With sunset, the companionable chatter of birds and monkeys in the trees below has ceased; they have all gone punctually to bed; even the cicadas for a wonder are silent. Decidedly it is time to go. Five almost perpendicular flights of narrow-treaded steps leading down into depths of darkness are still between you and the plateau on the top of the Phnom: the kind of steps on which a moment of sudden, silly panic may easily mean a broken neck –such is the bathos of such mild adventures. And once on the plateau you can take your choice of crossing it among the crumbled ruins, and plunging down the straight precipitous that was once a stairway- or the easy, winding path through the forest round the south side of the hill, worn by the elephants of the explorers and excavators.
Either will bring you to where the twin lions sit in the darkness black now, for here the trees are too dense to let the moonlight through, and so home along the straight road between its high dark walls of forest, where all sorts of humble, half-seen figures flit noiselessly by on their bare feet, with only a creak now and again from the bundles of firewood they carry, to warn you of their passing. Little points of light twinkle out from unseen houses as you pass a hamlet; and, emerging from the forest to the moat-side, the figures of men figures of men fishing with immensely long bamboo rods, from the outer wall, are just dimly visible in silhouette against the moonlit water. It is difficult to believe, at first, that the steep stone cliff ahead of you is, for once, a natural feature of the landscape, and not one of those mountains of masonry to which Angkor so soon accustoms you. The feat of building a flight of wide stone steps up each of its four sides, and a huge temple on the top, is a feat superhuman enough to tax the credulity of the ordinary mortal.
Tourism at Bakheng Today: Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, “Built by a mighty 9th-century Khmer king, the soaring temple of Phnom Bakheng stands atop the highest peak of ancient Angkor. With a sweeping view that takes in Angkor Wat, the monks stationed here were probably among the first to glimpse the approaching Siamese troops that snuffed out this city's centuries-long domination of much of Southeast Asia. So perhaps it is not surprising that more than 500 years later, Phnom Bakheng has become the ideal perch from which to watch another assault on Angkor -- by marauding armies of tourists. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, February 6, 2007]
“Nowhere is tourist crowd problem worse than at Phnom Bakheng, where a number of new guidebooks advise visitors not to miss the sunset from the temple's summit. Tips like that have led to a daily siege by an armada of tour buses around dusk. On a recent afternoon, about 4,000 visitors, speaking Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, English and a host of other languages, scampered to the top of the temple, stepping on pictorial stones and manhandling ancient statues as one lonely guard sat on the sidelines, overwhelmed.
In 2006, “the U.S.-based World Monuments Fund, which is doing major restoration work at Phnom Bakheng, was forced to rope off the rapidly deteriorating main stone path leading to the temple area because of a combination of trampling tourists and rain runoff. Inside Phnom Bakheng, statues and carvings in low relief have sustained new damage from tourists. Fresh graffiti have been sprayed alongside sandstone carvings of flying celestial nymphs and Garuda warriors. On one side of the temple, piles of sandbags placed last year to hold up a retaining wall have been damaged by tourists who have climbed and descended the temple's sides without waiting their turn on a number of steep stone staircases.
"In the 10th century, this was a perfect creation, a structure built with mathematical and religious harmony and where the king and a few of his monks would come to worship," John H. Stubbs, the World Monuments Fund vice president for field projects, said as he surveyed the crowds on the temple summit. "But now, look at this," he said. "It simply was not built for these thousands of people to be here at once. Tourism is a double-edged sword. We want everyone to appreciate the importance of Angkor's temples, but not like this."
Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Many of Phnom Bakheng's 108 shrines stand on platforms that have shifted over the centuries as water trickles in and loosens sand and dirt, and the tourists are gathering where they shouldn't. So many people have clambered up stones next to the crowded stairs that erosion is accelerating, with loosened sections poised to tumble, Burnham said. "The platforms where people stand are not really stable," Burnham said. "They're eroding very rapidly. The magnificent sculpture on the shrine at the center of the temple is in very fragile condition and has not been treated for conservation yet. "People shouldn't really be touching it, or going anywhere near it," she said. Burnham's fund received almost $1 million last month from the State Department for a project to stabilize the eastern side of Phnom Bakheng, the temple's most endangered section. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2008]
Prasat Baksei Chamkrong (150 meters north of Phnom Bakheng and 80 meters from the road leading to the south gate of Angkor Thom) is a small temple with its four square tiers of laterite, crowned by a brick sanctuary. It might serve for a model in miniature of some of its giant neighbors, and is almost as perfect as perfect as the day it was built. A visit to Baksei Chamkrong can be combined with a stop at the south gate of Angkor Thom. Enter and leave the temple from the east entrance.
The stairs to the Central Sanctuary are in poor condition but the architecture and decoration of this temple can be viewed by walking around it (in a clockwise direction). Those who persist in climbing to the Central Sanctuary should use the north stairway. It was built in middle of the tenth century (947), perhaps begun by Harshavarman I and completed by Rajendravarman II. Dedicated to The Hindu god Siva it may have been a funerary temple for the parents of the king with following transitional between Bakheng and Koh Ker.
According to legend, the king fled during an attack on Angkor and was saved from being caught by the enemy when a large bird swooped down and spread its wings to shelter the king. The name of the temple derives from this legend. Baksei Chamkrong was the first temple-mountain at Angkor built entirely of durable materials brick, laterite and sandstone. Even though it is small the balanced proportions and scale of this monument are noteworthy. Inscriptions on the columns of the door and the arches give the date of the temple and mention a golden image of Siva.
Baksei Chamkrong is a simple plan with a single tower on top of a square tiered base with four levels of diminishing size (27 meters, 89 feet, a side at the base) built of laterite (1-4). The height from the ground to the top of the Central Sanctuary is 13 meters (43 feet). Three levels of the base are undecorated but the top one has horizontal molding around it and serves as a base for the Central sanctuary. A steep staircase on each side of the base leads to the top. A brick wall with an entry tower and sandstone steps enclosed the temple. Although it has almost all disappeared vestiges are visible on the east side of the temple.
The square central tower is built of brick and stands on a sandstone base. It has one door opening to the east with three false doors on the other sides. As is typical of tenth-century Khmer architecture, the columns and lintels are made of sandstone. A vertical panel in the center of each false door contains motifs of foliage on stems. The interior of the tower has a sunken floor and a vault with a corbel arch. The finely worked decoction on the sandstone columns and horizontal beams above the doors imitates woodcarving. An outline divinity can be seen in the bricks at the corners of the tower. A three-headed elephant on the east lintel is finely
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, 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, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014