Facts About Angkor Wat

Facts About Angkor Wat

By Wendy Updated Aug. 12, 2021

Highlights

  • The largest single religious monument in the world — a microcosm of the Hindu universe.
  • The most sublime of all the Khmer temples — like a city in its own right, set apart by a wide moat and occupying almost 200 hectares.
  • The apex of Khmer architectural genius — an architectural masterpiece of finely balanced elements, with precise proportions and rich in detail.
  • The symbol and national pride of Cambodia — the national flag features a depiction of Angkor Wat.
  • The immense bas-reliefs are the most famous creations in Khmer art — scenes mainly coming from the Hindu epics Ramayana /ra:’ma: jənə/ and Mahabharata /məha:’ba:rətə/.
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Background Essentials

  • Popular name: Angkor Wat /'æŋkɔ: wat/ literally means the “city temple”. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word nagara vāṭa. Angkor means “city”, while Wat means “temple ground”.
  • Date: built during the early 12th century.
  • Built By: Suryavarman II (reigned 1113—50 AD), a king who reunified the Khmer empire and extended its influence across the mainland. He venerated the god Vishnu.
  • Purpose: originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, a protector who preserves universal order in the Hindu Trinity. At some point in the 14th century, however, the temple was converted to be a place for Theravada Buddhist worship.
  • Symbolism: Angkor Wat is a highly symbolic structure. It’s a microcosm of the Hindu universe. The wide moat represents the cosmic ocean, while the concentric galleries represent the mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru, the center of the universe. The five-towered temple standing in the middle of the complex and shaped like a lotus represents Mount Meru.
  • Orientation: faces west rather than the much more traditional east. This orientation is considered to be unusual as it breaks with convention. The most likely explanation is that the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, frequently associated with the west.

    An alternative explanation is that Angkor Wat may exist primarily as a tomb for king Suryavarman II, since west is the direction of death. The king, however, died in battle during a failed expedition and whether or not his ashes were interred in the central monument remains unknown.

  • Construction: exclusively with sandstone. Between 5 million and 10 million sandstone blocks were quarried from Phnom Kulen, a holy mountain nearly 25 miles to the northeast. Virtually the temple’s surfaces, columns and lintels were elaborately carved.

Plan

  • Features: the temple combines two major features of Khmer architecture: the pyramid and concentric galleries. The pyramid in the form of temple-mountain often created with stepped terraces to symbolize Mount Meru. Galleries surrounded were the annex buildings evolved later.
  • Outer enclosure: the outer wall is surrounded by an apron of open ground and a 190m-wide moat. Most of the area is now covered by forest, whereas it was once taken up with the city, and north of the temple was the royal palace. City buildings were presumably constructed with perishable materials rather than with stone, so no trace remains of them, only some outlines of the streets.
  • Causeway: two causeways crossing the moat from west and east are the main entrances to the temple. Sculptures of lions and serpents flank the avenues. On either side of the west causeway, close to the temple, are two ponds, and the view of Angkor Wat’s grand exterior from their banks is one of the most spectacular. Straight ahead is the west entrance, with the ruins of three towers.
  • Gallery of bas-reliefs: the finest bas-reliefs almost 600m in length and 2m in height cover the exterior walls of the third enclosure. The scenes mainly depict episodes from Hindu epics, with the exception of the Procession of Suryavarman II and Heaven and Hell, carved on the South Gallery.
  • Central sanctuary: the central sanctuary towering over the complex is crowned with five towers in a quincunx; four at four corners and one in the middle. The central summit is enclosed by a continuous gallery and rises above the surrounding four.

    The shrine has changed since its foundation. Originally, it was occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on four sides. It was converted, however, to Theravada Buddhist worship and the new walls are carved with standing Buddhas.

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History

  • 1113 — 1150: the initial design and construction took place during the reign of Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat was built as the king’s state temple and capital city.
  • 1177: Angkor was sacked by the Chams and Angkor Wat was plundered by the invaders.
  • 1181: King Jayavarman VII, a devout follower of Mahayana Buddhism who built the city of Angkor Thom, restored the empire. Thus, toward the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat was gradually transformed into a center for Buddhist worship.
  • 1296: a Chinese diplomat named Zhou Daguan lived in Angkor for one year and wrote a book about his experience. His account of the Angkor temple complex and the customs of Cambodia was translated into English, and named The Customs of Cambodia. His book is one of the most important sources for understanding the historical Angkor.
  • 1431: the Thais grew in strength and made incursions into Angkor before sacking the city. During this period, the Khmer elite began to migrate to the Phnom Penh area. Angkor Wat was somewhat neglected, and protected by the jungle.
  • 16th century: Angkor Wat was not completely abandoned and functioned as a Buddhist temple.
  • 17th century: Japanese Buddhist pilgrims established small settlements near Angkor Wat alongside Khmer locals, as they thought the temple was Jetavana, a famous Buddhist monastery in India.
  • 1863: Henri Mouhot, a French naturalist and explorer, alerted the West to the ruins of Angkor, via publication of his travel notes.
  • 20th century: Angkor Wat was restored and in 1992 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • 2015: official figures showed that over 2 million tickets were sold to foreigners visiting the ruins of Angkor; most visited Angkor Wat.

Travel Essentials

  • Location: 3.7 miles (6 km) N of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
  • Entry:for now, 1-day ticket costs US$20, 3-day ticket costs US$40 and 7-day ticket costs US$60. From 1st, February, 2017, there will be a rise in price. The price will be at: 1-day ticket costs US$37, 3-day ticket costs US$62 and 7-day ticket costs US$72. The 3-day ticket is valid for any three days within a one-week period. The 7-day ticket is valid for any seven days within a month. Tickets issued after 5 pm are valid the same day (for sunset viewing) and the next day.
  • Ticket booth: the ticket-sales office is in the Angkor Conservation Area on the road from Siem Reap to Angkor. It opens from 5 am to 5.30 pm. Make sure to keep your ticket intact as it will be regularly checked at most checkpoints and monuments.
  • How to get there: it takes about 20 minutes by car from downtown Siem Reap and 10 minutes from Siem Reap International Airport.
  • Visit: if you only spend one day at Angkor, go first to Angkor Wat and stay there for several hours.
  • Guide: a local guide is essential when visiting.
  • How to get around: a private car with a driver is highly recommended, for a more comfortable and flexible experience.
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