Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is the gateway to the ruins of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 13th centuries. You will be fascinated by this UNESCO World Heritage Site plus its neighboring temples.

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1 Introduction to Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

Angkor Archaeological Park is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site. These Khmer temple ruins were built from the 9th through the 12th centuries. This former “Temple City” is the pride of Cambodians and visited by over two million people a year. The park stretches about 150 square miles, making it the world’s largest religious complex. The core sections are Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm (Jungle Temple) and Angkor Wat shown here.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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2 Nāga Serpent Sculpture at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

Before crossing the footbridge into Angkor Wat, you are greeted by this seven-headed nāga sculpture forming part of the balustrade. The serpents have been carved into a fan resembling a cobra’s hood. According to legend, the Khmer people were born from this reptilian race who hailed from the Netherworld. An odd number represents infinity and immortality.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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3 Causeway Entrance into Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

This 820 foot, sandstone causeway – protected on either side by a moat – leads to a terrace at the entrance of Angkor Wat. The famous Hindu compound was commissioned by Suryavarman II. He was the king of the Khmer Empire from 1113 until 1150. The towers within the 400 acres of temples were designed to resemble the five summits of Mount Meru. According to Hindu and Buddhist mythology, that location in the Cosmic Ocean represents the center of all universes.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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4 Ta Reach Statue at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

When Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century, the temple was dedicated to Lord Sri Maha Vishnu. This 16 ½ foot, sandstone likeness stands beneath a parasol at the western entrance. The Hindu deity is considered to be the supreme god of all beings for all time and the god of preservation. When Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple in the late 13th century, the statue’s head was replaced with a Buddha image. The original head was returned during a 2000 restoration project. The sculpture, known as Ta Reach or the King of the Ancestors, is still revered by Cambodians. They frequently make an offering of a pig’s head.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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5 Bas-relief Artwork at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

There are almost 13,000 square feet of bas reliefs at Angkor Wat. Most of this mid-12th century Khmer artwork depicts scenes from Hindu mythology. They include epic battles plus the visual stories of princes and kings like this one of Suryavarman II. The most famous is called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. This elaborate panel illustrates the creation of the universe.

Angkor Wat Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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6 Central Tower at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is shaped into a large rectangle. Inside are three galleries forming tiers. The levels are believed to represent the three highest levels of supremacy: the king, the moon and Vishnu. The temple also has four towers at the corners. The fifth prasat with a conical shape resembling a lotus bud is this central one. It reaches a height of 213 feet. These architectural elements are designed to symbolize Mount Meru. This arrangement is called a quincunx.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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7 Panel of Davatas at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

These davatas are five of the estimated 2,000 carvings of women throughout Angkor Wat. A large percent of these bas-reliefs are still in good condition showing remarkable detail in their jewelry, headdresses and facial features. Most of them are considered to be custodians or guardians of the temple. A few of the carvings show women dancing. These are called apsaras or tep apsar.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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8 Library at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

In the center of a courtyard of a cruciform terrace is the Library. An additional one stands nearby. Like all of the buildings at Angor Wat, they were constructed from sandstone. It is estimated over five million blocks – some weighing 1.5 tons – were used to construct the entire temple. The stones were quarried from Mount Kulen over 25 miles away.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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9 Devatas Carvings at Angkor Wat in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

This slender woman is a devata. Similar carvings of heavenly maidens from Mount Meru are displayed along the archways and walls of Angkor Wat. They are commonly described in Hindu epics. According to mythology, devatas were often used by the gods to seduce demons so they could be entrapped and slayed. Hence, these spiritual figures are considered to be the protectors of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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10 Ta Keo Temple in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

The temple of Ta Keo was constructed in a Khleang style while Jayavarman V was the Emperor of Angkor. His reign was from 968 until 1001. The ruler’s religious belief was Shaivism. This sect of Hinduism believes Shiva is the Supreme Being. The dominant features of this terraced, sandstone structure are five large towers. The tallest one in the center of the step pyramid reaches a height of 72 feet. This quincunx represents the five peaks of Mount Meru. In mythology, this holy place is said to measure over 670,000 miles.

Ta Keo, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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