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Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Hidden deep in the jungles of Cambodia lays the worlds’ largest religious monument, the magnificent Angkor Wat. Though Angkor, the capitol city of the ancient Khmer civilization, was lost to the jungle ages ago, the temple complex of Angkor Wat remains intact thanks to the Buddhist monks who have maintained the temple since it’s abandonment around 1431 A.D..

(Click on any image below to view the full size version.)

Angkor Watphoto credit: ecperez via photopin cc

Completed in 1135 A.D., the vast Angkor complex was constructed on the flood plain of the MeKong River and actually floats on a swamp, supported by a foundation of subterranean water. The crowning achievement of the Angkor complex is the temple of Angkor Wat, a 213 foot tall stone monument adorned with countless beautiful carvings and sculptures.

The Angkor Wat complex alone covers over 500 acres, is surrounded by a 4 mile moat, and contains so many bas-relief stone carvings and sculptures that even resident archeologists find something new every time they visit the site. In fact, the temple contains the longest continuous sculptures in the world, exquisite bas-relief carvings that go on for more than half a mile! (Image Below)

Angkor Wat 7photo credit: justin_vidamo via photopin cc

Built by King Suryavarman II after violently seizing power of the empire from his uncle, the elaborate complex was constructed in the form of a reproduction of the world of the gods. The temple of Angkor Wat represents nearby Mount Meru, which was believed to be the home of the ancient Hindu gods, and the moat that surrounds it is a representation of the cosmic oceans. It is interesting to note that the Aztecs did the same in their re-construction of Teotihuacan when constructing the amazing city of Tenochtitlan around 700 years ago. Though the sites of Tenochtitlan and Angkor Wat are separated by the vast Pacific Ocean and hundreds of miles of jungle, they actually have many features in common, such as their construction over a swamp area using an innovative underwater foundation, advanced water systems and canals, and their stunning religious temples.

Given its grand features and design, it may come as no surprise that Angkor Wat was built as a gateway to the afterlife, so that the reigning King Suryavarman II would go to heaven once he left the earthly plain, and just like the pyramids of Egypt, the temple was to be completed before the death of the king.

Angkor Wat 3photo credit: Robert Nyman via photopin cc

Despite the awe inspiring appearance of Angkor Wat, it is really just a small portion of an astonishingly large civilization. Some would argue that the vast water management system of Angkor, stretching 1100 miles from the Kulen Mountain range to the north all the way down to the rice patties and reservoir below, is actually the most astonishing achievement of the Khmer people. This system is so huge that it is virtually impossible to get an accurate idea of its massive size from the ground and because of this the extensive and complex system of canals and waterways remained hidden until 1984, when it was revealed by NASA satellite images.

Angkor Wat 5photo credit: Robert Nyman via photopin cc

The largest reservoir in the Khmer empire, situated at the far southern end of the region, still holds over 50 million cubic meters of water to this day. The extensive waterways carried water to ancient rice patties, which can also still be seen today criss crossing the landscape, and provided year round harvests for the nearly 1 million Khmer people who once lived here.

Angkor Wat 1photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc

The Kulen Mountains to the North of Angkor Wat are the source of the river which feeds the Angkor complex. Though this area is riddled with landmines left over from modern warfare, it features stunning waterfalls that the local residents have just recently begun to reuse for bathing, recreation, and rejuvenation.

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Near these beautiful falls lies another enchanting creation of this ancient civilization; a sacred part of the river which runs over solid rock carved with blessings to bless the water that flows into the fields below. The ancient Khmer people completed the carvings during the dry season when the river bed was exposed, leaving behind beautiful works of art that can still be clearly seen under the shimmering waters of the river. (Image Below)

Angkor Wat River Carvingsphoto credit: oldandsolo via photopin cc

Some Interesting Facts about Angkor Wat

  • The temple of Angkor Wat is as high as the Notre Dame Cathedral, contains as much stone as the great pyramid of kufu in Egypt, and is thought to have been built over the course of only 32 years.
  • The demanding, steep stairways of the temple were built in this fashion in order to represent the difficulty of getting into heaven, and were regularly and extensively walked by resident monks as part of spiritual and religious practices.
  • Completed in 1135, the vast, elaborate complex was abandoned only 2 centuries later.
  • At its peak in the 12th century, the site was home to over 1 million people and was surrounded by enormous rice paddies that provided year round harvests to feed this large population.
  • The temple complex is densely covered in trees, some over 5 meters in width, which grow into and around the stone blocks of the structures, lending an even more surreal appearance to the site.

Angkor Wat 6photo credit: HeyItsWilliam via photopin cc

The second largest temple in the complex at Angkor is Bayon, which features over 200 giant faces perched atop its massive stone towers. The magnificent bas-relief carvings of this temple are dedicated to telling about the everyday lives of the Khmer people, depicting markets, gambling such as cock fighting and wild boar fights, and day to day tasks such as food preparation.

Despite years of archaeological work in the area, several hundred temples still remain shrouded in the jungles of the Angkor complex and few people have yet to explore these hidden ruins, a testament to its immense proportions.

Angkor Wat 2photo credit: staffan.scherz via photopin cc

The vision of the ancient people who created this wondrous place is apparent when viewing the countless carvings and temple grounds found at Angkor, and while Angkor Wat remains the most widely known area of this ancient empire, the thick jungles still hold many secrets for us yet to discover.

Angkor Wat


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