Angkor Thom, the last capital of Angkor Period (AD 802-1432) until the 15thcentury, was indeed a Great City as it name implies, and it served as the religious and administrative center of the vast and powerful Khmer Empire. The capital of King Jayavarman VII (AD 1181-1220), Angkor Thom, is a microcosm of the universe divided into four parts by the main axes. Bayon temple stands as the symbolic link between heaven and earth. The wall enclosing the city of Angkor Thom represents the stone wall around the universe and the mountain ranges around Meru. The surrounding moat suggests the cosmic ocean. This symbolism is reinforced by the presence of god Indra on his mount, the three headed elephant.
Angkor Thom is enclosed by an 8 meters high laterite rampart that is laid out on a square grid of 3 kilometers long on each side. A moat with a width of 100 meters surrounds the outer wall. The city is accessed along five great causeways, one in each cardinal direction-Death Gate (east), Dei Chhnang Gate (north), Takao Gate (west), and Tonle Om Gate (south)-plus an additional Victory Gate on the east aligned with the Terrance of the Elephants and the Leper King. A tall gopura distinguished by a superstructure of four faces bisects the wall in the center of each side.
Four small temples, all called Chhrung temple stand at each corner of the wall around the city of Angkor Thom. Made of sandstone and designed in a cross plan, the temple built by King Jayavarman VII to worship Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. An inscription tells about its construction.
The stone causeway across the broad moat surrounding Angkor Thom with their unique gopura, are one of the great sights at Angkor, never ceasing to fill visitors with wonder. The causeways leading to the gopuras are flanked by a row of 54 stone figures on each side-god on the left and demons on the right-to make a total of 108 mythical beings guarding each of the five approaches to 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 conical headdresses. The gods and demons hold the scaly body of naga on their knees. This composition defines the full length of the causeway. At the beginning of the causeway, the naga spreads its nine heads in the shape of a fan.
The five sandstone gopura rise 23 meters to the sky and is crowned with four heads; one facing each cardinal direction. At the base of each gate are finely modeled elephants with three heads. Their trunks are plucking lotus flowers, in Theory out of the moat. The god Indra sits at the center of the elephant with his left hand. Stand in the center of the gopura, visitors will see a sentry box on each side. Also remains of wooden crossbeams are still visible in some of the gopuras. Beneath the gopura visitor can see the corbelled arch, a hallmark of Khmer architecture.
Unique even among its cherished contemporaties, Bayon epitomises the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia's legendary king, Jayavarman VII. It's a place of stooped corridors, precipitous flights of stairs and, best of all, a collection of 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 coldly smiling, enormous faces of Avalokiteshvara that bear more than a passing resemplance to the great king himself.
The Bayon temple is located in the center of Angkor Thom. The temple is one of the most popular sites in the Angkor complex. It was built in the late 12thand early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII. The architectural composition of the Bayon exudes grandness in every aspect. Aver 200 large faces caved on the 54 towers give this temple its majestic character, which at that time represents the 54 provinces in Cambodia. The iconography of the four faces has been widely debated by scholars and some think they represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, in keeping with the Buddhist Character of the temple, it is generally accepted that the four faces on each of the towers are images of King Jayavarman VII and signify the omnipresence of the King.
The plan of the Bayon is presented on three separate levels. The first and second levels contain galleries featuring the bas-reliefs. A 16-sided central sanctuary dominates the third level, which is cruciform in plan. Despite this seemingly simple plan. The layout of the Bayon is complex due to later additions, a maze of galleries, passage and steps, connected in a way that makes the levels practically indistinguishable and create dim lighting, narrow walkways and ceiling.
Besides the architecture and the smiling faces, the highlight of Bayon is undoubtedly the bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs on the inner gallery are mainly mythical scenes, whereas those on the outer gallery are a marked departure from anything previously seen at Angkor. They are unique and contain genre scenes of everyday life-markets, fishing, festivals with cockfights and jugglers and so on-and historical scenes with battles and processions. The bas-reliefs are more deeply carved than at Angkor Wat, but the representation is les stylized. The scenes are presented mostly in two or three horizontal panels. The lower one, with an unawareness of the laws of perspective, shows the foreground, whereas the upper tier presents scenes of the horizon. They both exhibit a wealth of creativity. Descriptions of the bas-reliefs in this guide follow the normal route for viewing the Bayon. They begin in the middle of the east gallery and continue clock-wise. Visitors should keep the monument on their right.
Preah Ngok is north of the Bayon. It features a large sandstone statue of the Buddha sitting crossed leg with its eyes opened only slightly. From the 13th to 15thcenturies, it was one of the Buddhist temples in Angkor area.
Preah Ang Kork Thlork
Preah Ang Kork Thlok or Wat kork Thlok is located west of Bayon temple. According Khmer legend, Kork Thlok was the first name of Cambodia. An Indian man named Preah Thaong was banished from his country. He threw a javelin to determine where he would live. His javelin landed on Kork Thlok Island. So he went to the island, where he met Neang Neak, whom he married. Neang Neak’s father, a sea naga King, inspired the sea and created a country that is known today as Cambodia.
Baphuon temple is west of the road to the Dei Chhnang Gate and near the Bayon temple. The temple was built in the 11th century, around 1060, by King Udayadiyavarman II (AD 1050-1066), dedicating to Brahmanism. A highlight of the temple is the bas-reliefs, which differ from most others as they are vignettes carved in small stone squares set one above the other on the temple wall, similar to tilling. Unfortunately few of these are visible because of the poor state of the temple.
Baphuon is a single temple-mountain sanctuary situated on a high base symbolizing Mount Meru. A rectangular sandstone wall measuring 425 by 125 meter encloses the temple. A special feature is the 200 meters long elevated eastern approach supported by three rows of short, round columns forming a bridge to the main temple. Originally, a central tower shrine with four porches crowned the peak, but it collapsed long ago. The first, second and third levels are surrounded by concentric sandstone galleries.
Phimeanakas temple is south of Baphuon temple, within the confines of the Royal Palace. The temple was built in the late 10th and early 11th centuries by three different Kings King Rajendravarman, King Jayavarman V and King Suryavarman I. It was the temple where the king worshipped. The temple was originally known as Hemasrngagiri which means gold. It must originally have been crowned with a golden pinnacle, as Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan described it as the Tower of Gold. It is small compared to others, but, even so, it has appeal and is situated in idyllic surroundings.
The single sanctuary stands on the base with three laterite tiers and is approached by four steep stairways, one on each side. These stairways are framed by walls with six projections-two per step-decorate with lions. Elephants one stood on sandstone pedestals in the corners of the base, but, today, they are mostly broken.
This temple is associated with a legend that tells of a gold tower inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great, where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated. To the north of Phimeanakas, there are two ponds that were part of the Royal Palace compound. The smaller and deeper pond, known as Srah Srei or the women’s bath, while the other larger pond known as Srah Pros or the men’s bath.
Royal Palace is situated at the heart of the city of Angkor Thom, the Royal Palace area is distinguished by two terraces that parallel the road. Evidence of the Royal Palace itself is illusive because only the stone substructure remains. Like much of Angkor Thom, the residences of the king, and those who worked in the palace, were built of wood and have disintegrated, leaving no traces.
Terrace of the Elephants
The Terrace of the Elephants is located directly in front of the east gopura of the Royal Palace rampart. The terrace was built in late 12thcentury by King Jayavarman VII. One of the main attractions of this terrace is the façade decorated with elephants and their riders depicted in profile. The elephants are using their trunks to hunts and fight while tigers claw at them.
The Terrace of the Elephants extends over 300 meters long from the Baphuon to the Terrace of the Leper King. It has three main platforms and two subsidiary ones. The south stairway is framed with three-headed elephants gathering lotus flowers with their trucks which form columns. The central stairway is decorated by lions and garudas in bas-reliefs in a stance of support for the stairway. Several projections above are marked by lions and naga balustrades with garudas flanking the dais. The terrace has two levels one of which is square and another which has a gaggle of sacred geese carved along its base. It is likely that these platforms originally formed the based for wooden pavilions which were highlighted with gold.
As the northern end of the platform behind the outer wall, a large horse with five head sculpted in high relief stands on each side at the base of the inner retaining wall. The horse is an exceptional piece of sculpture, lively and remarkably worked. It is the horse of a king, as indicated by the tiered umbrellas over his head; it is surrounding by apsaras and menacing demons armed with sticks in pursuit of several people bearing terrified expressions. Some believe this is a representation of Avalokiteshvara in the form of the divine horse Balaha.
Terrace of the Leper King
The Terrace of the Leper King is located on the way from the Bayon temple to the Dei Chhnang Gate on the left and north of Terrace of the Elephants. It was built in late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. The curious name of this terrace refers to a statue of the Leper King that is on the platform of the terrace. The naked figure is depicted in a seated position with his right knee raised. Today statue is a copy. The original is in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
Who was the Leper King? Mystery and uncertainty surround the origin of the name. The long-held theory that King Jayavarman VII was a leper and that is why he built so many hospitals throughout the empire has no historical support whatsoever. Some historians think the figure represents Kubera, god of wealth, or Yasovarman I, both of whom were allegedly lepers. Another idea is based on an inscription that appears on the statue in characters of the 14th or 15th centuries which maybe translated as the equivalent of the assessor of Yama, god of death or of judgment. Yet another theory suggests that the Leper King statue got it name because of the lichen which grown on it. The position of the hand, now missing, also suggests it was holding something.
The Terrace of Leper King is supported by a base 25 meters on each side and 6 meters high. The sides of the laterite base are faced in sandstone and decorated with bas-reliefs divided into seven horizontal registers. The exterior wall contains mythical beings-nagas, garudas, and giants with multiple arms, carriers of swords and clubs, and seated women with naked torsos and triangular coiffures with small flaming discs-adorn the walls of the terrace. The interior wall is remarkable condition. The deeply carved senses are similar to those on the exterior and include a low frieze of fish elephants and the vertical representation of a river.
Tep Pranom Temple
Tep Pranom is located northwest of the Terrace of the Leper King. The temple was built in the reign of the King Yasovarman I. Part of the temple were built different times ranging from the late 9th to 13th centuries. The site was originally a Buddhist monastery associated with King Yasovarman in the late 9th century.
The entrance to the temple is marked by a laterite causeway bordered by double boundary stones at the corners and a cruciform terrace. The sandstone walls of the base of the terrace have a molded edging. Two lions preceded the walls and are in 13th century art style. The naga balustrades are probably 12th century, whereas the two lions preceding the terrace at the east are Bayon style. Tep Pranom once housed a statue of a kneeling Buddha on a lotus pedestal with a molded base and coated in sandstone, called Tep Pranom, but the statue is no longer there.
In addition, a hermitage built in the 9th century during the reign of King Yasovarman can be found south of Yasodharatataka, East Baray. The statue and the hermitage are an indication that Buddhism had already been introduced to Cambodia by that time.
Palilay temple is located north of Phimeanakas temple and behind Tep Pranom. The temple was built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII’s father, King Dharanindravarman (AD 1150-1160), who was a Buddhist. The temple’s lintels and pediments lying on the ground afford a rare opportunity to see relief at eye level. Many depict Buddhist scenes with Brahmanism divinities.
Only the central sanctuary remains intact. The sandstone tower opens on four sides, each one with a porch. The tower stands on a base with three tiers intercepted by stairs on each side. The upper portion is collapsed and a truncated pyramid forms a cone which is filled with reused stones. The principle feature of interest at this temple is the Buddhist scenes on the frontons. They are some of the few that escaped defacement in the 15th century. The scenes depicted are: east, a reclining Buddha reaching nirvana; south, a seated Buddha, which is especially beautiful in the mid-morning sun; north, a standing Buddha with his hand resting on an elephant.
Preah Pithu Temple
Preah Pithu is a ground of temples located northeast of the Terrace of the Leper King. Studies of their style indicate that all except one are Brahman temple built during the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. The lone Buddhist temple, built sometime between the 13th and 16th centuries, has many Buddha bas-reliefs and other signs related to Buddhism. Most of the structures are in poor condition, but their bases remain and, from the evidence, the temples were of excellent quality in design, workmanship and decoration. Preah Pithu temple consists of two cruciform terrace and five sanctuaries situated in seemingly random order amongst ramparts, moats and ponds. All the shrines are square with false door, stand on a raised platform and are oriented to the east.
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