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Introduction of Angkor Complex

Inside Angkor wat - by Kent Details on walls - by Guek Hiang Angkor wat - by Kent

The sprawling megalithic complex of Angkor is no longer Asia's best kept secret. Hidden for centuries by jungles, Cambodia's ancient treasures and far-flung temples are at last emerging. More and more visitors are being lured to explore these mysterious temples and the rich and proud civilization that lived in them. Millions arrive every year to look for gods, demons and dancing asparas hidden among jungle vines or tumbled masonry, and the numbers are expected to grow.

Ancient complex of temples

Covering an area of more than 400 sq km, the Angkor Archaelogical Park contains the behemoth religious shrines and fortified cities built by the Khmer kings from the 9th to the 15th century. Angkor was the heart of a Khmer empire which in its heyday controlled much of Southeast Asia.

There are hundreds of temples, ranging from piles of rubble, hilltop monuments, pyramid shaped Hindu temples  to the world's largest religious temple, Angkor Wat. These temples were designed on precise geometry and symmetrical lines, and are loaded with symbolism of a higher cosmic order.

 

The best maps of these temples are contained in a work "The Monuments of the Angkor Group and were drawn up by Maurice Glaize, who was the conservator of Angkor from 1973 to 1945. Written originally in French, an English translation is available here

Giant Temple City

While most know Angkor from its temples, it essentially was a large city, built over several hundred years by some 40 kings from 802AD to 1431 until a disastrous invasion by the Thais convinced the Khmer kings to out.  At its height, Angkor probably supported a million people in the huge urban sprawl surrounding the temples.  Little is known of the lives of the ancient Khmers as the domestic buildings, which were made of straw and wood, have long disappeared.

However, some 1200 inscription stelae found throughout the region point to the scale and complexity of the civilization. As well, the remains of a vast and complex water system interconnected to several vast reservoirs show a sophisticated system of transportation and irrigation. Recent satellite photos have identified even more temple sites and suggest that the Angkor supporting area could have been as vast as 3,000 sq kms. This would make Angkor the largest documented pre-industrial city, overshadowing the large Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, which was between 100-150 sq kms in size.

Angkor temples and their kings

The Angkor era can be roughly divided into 5 epochs of time, each identified with a king, a distinct architectural style and signature temples.

The Bakong era between 8-9th century encompassed the birth of the Khmer Empire in 802AD when King Jayavarman II declared independence from Java and made himself the first devaraja (god king) on the top of Phnom Kulen. His successor, Indravarman I, built the Bakong temples, the first major sandstone pyramid-temple and the first baray.

The Bakheng era came next between 9-10th century when King Yasovarman I moved the capital from Roulous in the plains to the Angkor area, and marked the location with three temple mountains. The most prominent of these was in the center of his reign, Phnom Bakheng. In 921, the capital was relocated to Koh Ser, 100kms to the Northast.

King Rajendravarman returned to the empty holy city in 944AD. During this Pre-Rup era, he commissioned the temples of East Mebon, Pre-Up and Phimeanakas as well as constructing the East Baray. Delicate Banteay Srei, and Ta Keo were also built during the Pre-Rup age.

Angkor Wat's King

Expansionist King Survyavarman I was the dominant figure in the 11-12th century and is immortalized as the ruler who built Angkor Wat for the Hindu god Vishnu. He waged costly wars on Vietnam and brought the Chams to heel. The Angkor Wat period represents the height of the ancient artistic culture. Other Monuments include the Baphuon, Banteay Samre. The Western Baray, another vast reservoir, was also excavated.

A surprise attack by the Chams led to the sacking of Angkor, but its greatest king, King Jayavarman II, seized back power in 1181. A prolific builder and a socialist-minded king he built the magnificent Angkor Thom complex and centered his kingdom on the Bayon in the heart of Angkor Thom city. His other temples were Ta Promm and Preah Khan He also commissioned schools, hospitals and roads, abolished castes and declared everyone equal.

The Decline of Angkor

After his death, construction of temples came to a halt as it was believed that his prolific public works program effectively exhausted the sandstone quarries. Religious conflict among the succeeding kings weakened the empire and Angkor was sacked by the Thais in 1431. It was after that shocking loss that the Khmers moved their capital to Phnom Penh.

Deserted in the 15 century, the first foreigners to see Angkor were the Portuguese in the 16th but it was only until the French took control of Cambodia in 1864 that Angkor's grandeur was re-discovered.
 

       
   Pub Street Psar Chas Night Market Angkor Complex
   Angkor Wat Angkor Thorn The Bayon Ta Phrom
   Phnom Bakheng Banteay Srei Phnom Kulen Preah Khan

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