Angkor Wat History

Angkor Wat is the best preserved temple in the vast Angkor temple complex near the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was built by King Suryavarman II, who was the King of the Khmer Empire, to be a Hindu temple and a capitol city in the early 12th Century. The Khmer Empire over expanded, over exhausted its slave labor force, and drained most of its resources building Angkor Wat and other surrounding temples. In the late 13th century, King Jayavarman VIII, who was Hindu, was deposed by his son in law, Srindravarman. Srindravarman had spent the previous 10 years in Sri Lanka becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk. The new King decided to convert the Khmer Empire's state religion from Hindu to Buddhist. The conversion was relatively easy since civilians were tired of the constant political corruption and failing empire of the time and were eager to follow a faith that offered tranquility without a need for material gain and power. Hence, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple in the early 14th century. Angkor Wat was almost entirely abandoned in the 16th century and it began to fall into disrepair. During this time, a few western travelers 'rediscovered' the site and noted its high level of craftsmanship and beauty. Restoration of the temple took place during the 20th century and although it was never completely restored, Angkor Wat has become the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia today.

The temple is located on a 1 square kilometer piece of land that is surrounded by a 150 meter wide moat. The moat is one of the main reasons why the site is as well preserved as it is today because it protected Angkor Wat from the overgrowth of the nearby jungle. There are two causeways that connect to the temple, an east and a west causeway. The temple is enclosed by a huge outer wall that measures 1000 meters by 700 meters and is 5 meters tall. The main temple stands on an elevated berm within the outer wall and includes a tower at each corner, plus the central tower which rises 65 meters above the ground. The front of the temple faces west, which is unique in its time since almost all of the Angkor temples face east to align with the rising sun. There are two competing views on why the temple faces west. The first theory is that it was meant to be a funeral temple for the King. The second theory is that since the temple was dedicated to the god Vishnu, who was god of the west among other things, that they constructed the temple to face west to honor Vishnu.

Angkor Wat Architecture

Angkor Wat followed a 'Temple Mountain' architectural style that was popular and also traditional of the Khmer Empire at the time. Angkor Wat is known for its amazing and extensive bas-relief (shallow, projected images) artistry that adorns many of the walls within the temple. The temple complex was constructed almost entirely out of polished sandstone obtained from a quarry located about 30 miles away. Many of the stones were carved to fit together perfectly as no mortar was used throughout most of the temple. Construction of Angkor Wat is estimated to have taken around 40 years and worked stopped abruptly after the King's death, as some of the detailed decorations were not finished. This is what led many to believe that the temple was built to be a funeral temple for the King.


Earliest photo of Angkor Wat taken by Emile Gsell in 1866.


Angkor Wat: Wonder of the World

On April 15th, 2009, Angkor Wat was voted as the 6th of 12 Wonders of the World on our own Wonders of the World Vote. The other five already voted in are Machu Picchu in Peru, The Colosseum in Italy, The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, The Great Wall of China in China, and the Taj Mahal in India.


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