Angkor Wat (or
Angkor Vat) ( ), is a temple
complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for
the king Suryavarman II in the early
12th century as his state temple and capital city.
best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have
remained a significant religious centre since its foundation—first
, dedicated to the god Vishnu
, then Buddhist
temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture
. It has become a symbol
of Cambodia, appearing
on its national flag, and it is the
country's prime attraction for visitors.
Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture
: the temple mountain
the later galleried
, based on early South Indian
Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati
. It is designed to represent Mount Meru
, home of the deva
: within a moat
and an outer wall
long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next.
At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx
of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples,
Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the
significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and
harmony of the architecture
and for the
(guardian spirits) adorning its walls.
The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "City Temple"; Angkor
is a vernacular form of the word nokor
which comes from
is the Khmer
word for temple. Prior to this time the
temple was known as Preah Pisnulok
, after the posthumous
title of its founder, Suryavarman
lies 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of
the previous capital, which was centred on the Baphuon.
Angkor Wat is the southernmost temple
of Angkor's main group of sites.
is in an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of
ancient structures. It is the southernmost of Angkor's main
The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the
first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II
(ruled 1113 – c. 1150),
Dedicated to Vishnu
, it was built as the
king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation
nor any contemporary inscriptions
referring to the temple have been found, its original name is
unknown, but it may have been known as Vrah Vishnulok
after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after
the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief
decoration unfinished. In 1177,
approximately 27 years after the death of Sulyavarman II, Angkor
was sacked by the Chams
, the traditional
enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire
was restored by a new king, Jayavarman
VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon
respectively) a few kilometres to the north.
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. Hence, the new King decided to convert
the official religion of the empire from Hindu to Buddhist. Given
the constant political corruption of the time, citizens were quick
to follow a faith founded on tranquility without a need for
material gain and power. This made the conversion relatively easy.
Hence, Angkor Wat was converted from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist
use, which continues
to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples
in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century
it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in
part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from
encroachment by the jungle.
One of the
first Western visitors to the temple
was Antonio da Magdalena, a
Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of
such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe
it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in
It has towers and decoration and all the
refinements which the human genius can conceive of". However, the
temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on
the publication of Henri Mouhot
travel notes. The French explorer
wrote of it:
"One of these temples—a rival to that of
Solomon, and erected
by some ancient Michelangelo—might take
an honourable place beside our most beautiful
It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome,
and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the
nation is now plunged."
Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, was unable to believe
that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated
it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat
was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic
evidence accumulated during the
subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the
whole Angkor site.
There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of
settlement including cooking utensils weapons or items of clothing
usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of
the monuments themselves.
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century,
mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was
interrupted by the civil war and Khmer
control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but
relatively little damage was done during this period other than the
theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.
The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of
great national pride. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of
Cambodian national flag
introduction of the first version circa 1863. In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumour circulated that a Thai soap opera
actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to
Site and plan
Wat, located at , is a unique combination of the temple mountain,
the standard design for the empire's state temples, the later plan
of concentric galleries, and influences
from Orissa and the
Chola of Tamil Nadu, India.
A plan of Angkor Wat
temple is a representation of Mount Meru
the home of the gods: the central quincunx
of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls
and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean. Access to the
upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with
the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.
Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west
rather than the east. This has led many (including Glaize and
) to conclude that
Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. Further
evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs
, which proceed in a counter-clockwise
terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals
take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. The
also describes a container which may have been a
funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower. It has
been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the
disposal of a corpse. Freeman and Jacques, however, note that
several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern
orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's alignment was due to its
dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.
A further interpretation of Angkor Wat has been proposed by
. Drawing on the
temple's alignment and dimensions, and on the content and
arrangement of the bas-reliefs, she argues that these indicate a
claimed new era of peace under king Suryavarman II
: "as the measurements of solar
and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor
Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated
chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king's power and to
honor and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above."
Mannikka's suggestions have been received with a mixture of
interest and scepticism in academic circles. She distances herself
from the speculations of others, such as Graham Hancock
, that Angkor Wat is part of a
representation of the constellation Draco
The north-west tower of the inner
gallery at sunset
Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture
—the Angkor Wat
style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer
architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone
(rather than brick
) as the main building material.
Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite
was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The
binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified,
although natural resins
or slaked lime
have been suggested.
Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its
design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece
. According to Maurice Glaize
, a mid-20th-century
conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by
the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and
the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power,
unity and style."
Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include:
, redented towers shaped like
passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the
cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple.
Typical decorative elements are devatas
, and on pediments
extensive garlands and narrative scenes.
The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more
static and less graceful than earlier work. Other elements of the
design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time,
including gilded stucco
on the towers, gilding on some figures on the
bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors.
Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in
which quality was often sacrificed to quantity. Other temples in the
style are Banteay
Samré, Thommanon, Chao Say
Tevoda and the early temples of Preah Pithu at Angkor; outside
Angkor, Beng Mealea and parts of
Rung and Phimai.
Aerial view of Angkor Wat
The outer wall, 1024 by 802 m and 4.5 m high, is surrounded by a 30
m apron of open ground and a moat 190 m wide. Access to the temple
is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the
west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly
replacing a wooden bridge. There are gopuras
at each of the
; the western is much
the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that this
gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper. Under
the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu
known as Ta Reach
, which may originally have occupied the
temple's central shrine. Galleries run between the towers and as
far as two further entrances on either side of the gopura often
referred to as "elephant gates", as they are large enough to admit
those animals. These galleries have square pillars on the outer
(west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side. The ceiling
between the pillars is decorated with lotus
rosettes; the west face of the wall with
dancing figures; and the east face of the wall with balustered
windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas
including (south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be
showing her teeth.
The Temple viewed from the
The outer wall encloses a space of 820,000 square metres (203
acres), which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by
the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like
all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable
materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except
the outlines of some of the streets. Most of the area is now
covered by forest. A 350 m causeway connects the western gopura to
the temple proper, with naga
balustrades and six sets
of steps leading down to the city on either side. Each side also
features a library
with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of
stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the
temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is
the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to
the central structure.
This model of Angkor Wat shows intact
the half-galleries of the lower level and towers at the corners of
the second-level galleries.
The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is
made of three rectangular galleries
rising to a
central tower, each level higher than the last. Mannikka interprets
these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma
, the moon, and Vishnu
Each gallery has a gopura
at each of the
points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their
corners, forming a quincunx
with the central
tower. Because the temple faces west, the features are all set back
towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure
and gallery on the west side; for the same reason the west-facing
steps are shallower than those on the other sides.
The outer gallery measures 187 by 215 m, with pavilions rather than
towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the
temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the
structure. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on
the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan
(the "Hall of a Thousand Buddhas"). Buddha
images were left in the cloister by
pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed.
This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of
pilgrims, most written in Khmer
others in Burmese
. The four small courtyards marked
out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water.
North and south of the cloister are libraries
Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other
and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a
later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas
the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. The second-level
enclosure is 100 by 115 m, and may originally have been flooded to
represent the ocean around Mount Meru
Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and
gopuras of the inner gallery. The very steep stairways represent
the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods. This inner
gallery, called the Bakan
, is a 60 m square with axial
galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and
subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. The roofings of
the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake
ending in the heads of lions
. Carved lintels and
decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the
shrines.The tower above the central shrine rises 43 m to a height
of 65 m above the ground; unlike those of previous temple
mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four.
The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and
open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to
, the new walls
featuring standing Buddhas. In 1934, the conservator George Trouvé
excavated the pit beneath the central shrine: filled with sand and
water it had already been robbed of its treasure, but he did find a
sacred foundation deposit of gold leaf
metres above ground level.
Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the
causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which
predominantly takes the form of bas-relief
friezes. The inner walls of the outer
gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting
episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
. Higham has called
these, "the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving".
From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery
shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama
) and the
Battle of Kurukshetra
Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava
On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a
procession of Suryavarman II
the 32 hells
and 37 heavens
of Hindu mythology.
Glaize writes of;
"... those unfortunate souls who are to be thrown down
to hell to suffer a refined cruelty which, at times, seems to be a
little disproportionate to the severity of the crimes
So it is that people who have damaged others' property
have their bones broken, that the glutton is cleaved in two, that
rice thieves are afflicted with enormous bellies of hot iron, that
those who picked the flowers in the garden of Shiva have their heads pierced with nails, and thieves
are exposed to cold discomfort."
On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the
Churning of the Sea of Milk
, showing 92
and 88 deva
using the serpent Vasuki
to churn the sea under Vishnu's direction
(Mannikka counts only 91 asuras, and explains the asymmetrical
numbers as representing the number of days from the winter solstice
to the spring equinox
, and from the equinox to the
). It is followed by Vishnu
(a 16th-century addition).
The northern gallery shows Krishna's victory over Bana
(where according to Glaize, "The workmanship
is at its worst") and a battle between the Hindu gods and asuras.
The north-west and south-west corner pavilions both feature much
smaller-scale scenes, some unidentified but most from the Ramayana
or the life of Krishna
The stones, as smooth as polished marble, were laid without mortar
with very tight joints that were sometimes hard to find. The blocks
were held together by mortise and
joints in some cases, while in others they used dovetails
and gravity. The blocks were presumably put in place by a
combination of elephants, coir
and bamboo scaffolding. Henri Mouhot noted that most of the blocks
had holes 2.5 cm in diameter and 3 cm deep, with more
holes on the larger blocks. Some scholars have suggested that these
were used to join them together with iron rods, but others claim
they were used to hold temporary pegs to help manoeuver them into
place.The Khmer architects never made the curved arches used by the
Romans. They did create a corbelled
, but this often proved unstable and collapsed.
The monument was made out of enormous amounts of sandstone, as much
as Khafre's pyramid in Egypt (over 5 million tons). This sandstone
had to be transported from Mount Kulen, a quarry approximately to
the northeast. The stone was presumably transported by raft along
the Siem Reap river. This would have to have been done with care to
avoid overturning the rafts with such a large amount of weight. One
modern engineer estimated it would take 300 years to complete
Angkor Wat today. Yet the monument was begun soon after Suryavarman
came to the throne and was finished shortly after his death, no
more than 40 years.
Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels even roofs are
carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from
unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as
warriors following an elephant mounted leader and celestial dancing
girls with elaborate hair styles. The gallery wall alone is
decorated with almost 1,000 square meters of bas reliefs. Holes on
some of the Angkor walls indicate that they may have been decorated
with bronze sheets. These were highly prized in ancient times and
were a prime target for robbers. While excavating Khajuraho, Alex
Evans, a stone mason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture
under , this took about 60 days to carve. Roger Hopkins and Mark
Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12
quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone. The labour
force to quarry, transport, carve and install this much sandstone
must have run into the thousands including many highly skilled
artisans. The skill required to carve these sculptures was
developed hundreds of years earlier, as demonstrated by some
artifacts found that were dated to the seventh century before the
Khmer came into power. ...
Angkor Wat today
This model of Angkor Wat is designed
to give tourists an overview of the site.
In the foreground is depicted the cruciform terrace which lies
in front of the central structure.
The Archaeological Survey
carried out restoration work on the temple between
1986 and 1992. 
Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued
conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple
is part of the Angkor World Heritage
, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and
has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site. The
(GACP) is working to protect the devatas
other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple from damage. The
organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in
very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and
deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier
restoration efforts. Other work involves the repair of collapsed
sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse: the
west facade of the upper level, for example, has been buttressed by
scaffolding since 2002, while a Japanese team completed restoration
of the north library of the outer enclosure in 2005. World Monuments Fund
began work on the
Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery in 2008.
Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. In 2004 and
2005, government figures suggest that, respectively, 561,000 and
677,000 foreign visitors arrived in Siem Reap province,
approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia for both
years. The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little
damage, other than some graffiti
; ropes and
wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and
floors, respectively. Tourism has also provided some additional
funds for maintenance—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket
revenues across the whole Angkor site was
spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by foreign
government-sponsored teams rather than by the Cambodian
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- Higham, The Civilization of Angkor pp. 1-2.
- Quoted in Brief Presentation by Venerable Vodano Sophan
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Regained (1995)p. 67-99
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reported that the head of state was buried in tower after death,
and he referred to Angkor Wat as a mausoleum
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World", p. 81-85 (1999) Thames & Hudson, London
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281-287.(Mannikka, nee Moron)
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Apsara Conservation Project Building Techniques, p. 5.
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