Angkor Thom Temple

Angkor Thom Temple

Location : Siem Reap

Angkor Thom is undeniably an expression of the highest genius. It is, in three dimensions and on a scale worthy of an entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas that only great painters would dare to portray.

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. Temples inside the walls of the city described in this article are Bayon, Phimeanakas, Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat.

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 (see map opposite). 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 "

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.

LAYOUT

The city of Angkor Thom is surrounded by a wall, 8m high and 12km long, with five gates (two in the eastern wall). The entrances to some of the gates are lined with statues of gods and demons holding nagas, and the gates themselves are adorned with the face of Avalokiteshvara, the goddess of compassion (although it’s thought they also strangely resemble King Jayavarman VII). The wall itself is circled by a 100m wide moat. Bayon is in the center of this area, with Baphuon slightly to the west, and some of the smaller temples further north. The stunningly intricate Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King are to the north of Bayon.

Bayon

Perhaps the spookiest or the most mesmerizing of the Angkor temples, the center piece of Angkor Thom – Bayon – looks like nothing much from a distance. However, once inside, you realize that Bayon is constructed around 54 towers, with 216 smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara peering down at you. Bayon is a fantastic temple to explore – with mazes of tunnels, blocked doorways and tumble-down rocks making it a perfect place to get lost in the mysteries of Angkor.

Bayon is 45m high and has three levels linked by stairs and small yards. The galleries on the first and second level have historical and religious bas-reliefs. The third level has a central circular tower, which is unique in Khmer Architecture.

Baphuon

Baphuon is located 200m west of Bayon and was marked as the center of the city when the whole of Angkor Thom was fully complete. A pyramidal representation of Mount Meru, at the time, it was probably one of the most impressive of the Angkor temples. A 200m elevated walkway leads to the temple which has a central tower 43m high.

Terrace of the Elephants

This 350m long terrace was supposedly used as a platform from which Jayavarman VII viewed his victorious returning army. The stairs are decorated with lions and garudas and life-sized images of elephants and their guardians are displayed on the terrace walls.

Terrace of the Leper King

This 7m high platform is located north of the Terrace of Elephants. On top of the platform you will see a nude statue (the original is kept in the National Museum of Phnom Penh). The exact meaning of the statue isn’t known. Some believe that it represents one of two possible Angkorian Kings who had leprosy. Others believe is represents the God of Death, and that the terrace as the royal crematory.

Preah Palilay

One of the loveliest temples in the Angkor Thom complex is Preah Paliliay in the north-west corner of the site. Quiet and atmospheric, it provides some great photo opportunities with huge trees looming over its structure.

Phimeanakas

Phimeanakas is more interesting historically than visually. It used to house a Royal Palace, where bathing would take place (the pools are still apparent) but very little remains. However, a climb up its pyramidal structure gives nice views of the surrounding area.

CAUSEWAY WITH STONE FIGURES

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).

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

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.

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.


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