Angkor- General Notes

5 Jul

Angkor was the site of a series of capital cities of the Khmer empire for much of the period from the 9th century to the 15th century CE. Their ruins (13°24’N, 103°51’E) are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonle Sap), near modern day Siem Reap, Cambodia, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together they comprise the premier collection of examples of Khmer architecture. Visitor numbers approach one million annually.

Over a period of 300 years, between 900 and 1200 AD, the Khmer empire produced some of the world’s most magnificent architectural masterpieces on the northern shore of the Tonle Sap, near the present town of Siem Reap. Most are concentrated in an area approximately 15 miles east to west and 5 miles north to south, although the Angkor Archaeological Park which administers the area includes sites as far away as Kbal Spean, about 30 miles to the north. Some 72 major temples or other buildings dot the area.

The principal temple, Angkor Wat, was built between 1112 and 1150 by Suryavarman II. With walls nearly one-half mile long on each side, Angkor Wat grandly portrays the Hindu cosmology, with the central towers representing Mount Meru, home of the gods; the outer walls, the mountains enclosing the world; and the moat, the oceans beyond. The later capital of Angkor Thom, built after the Cham sack of 1177, has at its centre the Bayon. Construction of Angkor Thom coincided with a change from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. Temples were altered to display images of the Buddha, and Angkor Wat briefly became a Buddhist shrine. A subsequent Hindu revival included a large-scale campaign of desecration of Buddhist images, before Theravada Buddhism became established from the 14th century.

During the 15th century, nearly all of Angkor was abandoned after Siamese attacks, except Angkor Wat, which remained a shrine for Buddhist pilgrims. The great city and temples remained largely cloaked by the forest until the late 19th century when French archaeologists began a long restoration process. From 1907 to 1970 restoration of Angkor was under the direction of the École française d’Extrême-Orient, which worked to clear away the forest, repair foundations, and install drains to protect the buildings from water damage. After the end of the civil war, work began again, and since 1993 it has been jointly co-ordinated by the French, Japanese and UNESCO through the International Co-ordinating Committee on the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), while Cambodian work is carried out by the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), created in 1995. Some temples have been carefully taken apart stone by stone and reassembled on concrete foundations. Since the end of the civil war, international tourism to Angkor has increased, posing additional conservation problems but also financial assistance to the restoration projects.

2001 saw the release of the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, filmed on location at various Angkor sites. Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, also incorporated scenes filmed at Angkor.

Angkor will play host to the Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2006 from November 21-January 9, 2007.

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The area covers many significant archaeological sites, including:

Angkor Wat Temple, (12th-15th centuries)
The largest and most famous of the Angkor temples.  

Angkor Thom South Gate, (12th-early 13th centuries)
The gateway to the Angkor Thom capital city. 

Banteay Kdei Temple, (11th century?)
Little is known about this mysterious temple, including its sponsor.  

Banteay Srei Temple, (967)
A remarkable pink sandstone temple northeast of Angkor. 

Baphuon Temple, (c. 1060)
A once grand temple mentioned in the travel annals of a 14th century Chinese visitor.  

Bayon Temple, (1200)
A complicated temple noted for its gigantic head sculptures.
Chau Say Tevoda Temple, (mid 12th century)
A badly eroded temple dedicated to Shiva.  

East Mebon Temple, (953)
Both the architect and the exact time of dedication–down to the minute–are known.
Neak Pean Temple, (late 12th century)
A tiny temple that once stood at the center of a great reservoir.  

Prasat Kravan Temple, (921)
A beautifully preserved temple with an unusual five-part facade. 

Preah Khan Temple, (1191)
A university and a temple, Preah Khan commanded 100,000 workers.  

Pre Rup Temple, (961)
State temple of King Rajendravarman. 

Royal Terraces, (12th-13th centuries)
Carved bas reliefs on stone platforms that were probably foundations.  

Sras Srang Reservoir, late 10th century
One of the few reservoirs at Angkor that still holds water. 

Ta Keo Temple, (975)
An enormous temple west of the eastern reservoir.  

Ta Prohm Temple, (c. 1191)
A mightly temple that archaeologists have allowed nature to recover 

Thommanon Temple, (mid-12th century)
The counterpart to Chau Say Tevoda temple.


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