Angkor Wat Archeological Site

Angkor Wat Archeological Site

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Description of Angkor Wat Archeological Site

Angkor Wat Archeological Site

Angkor Wat is a temple complex in honor of the god Vishnu, built by King Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century in the Angkor region, Siem Reap province in northern Cambodia, in the vicinity of the Great Lake, where in the 11th-14th centuries there was an area of ​​the capitals of the Angkor Empire and the residences of the ancient Khmer kings. In the era of Angkor Wat, the capital of the ancient Khmers was Yashodharapura.

Angkor Wat was conceived as the earthly incarnation of the heavenly abode of Vishnu. Its symbols are five sandstone towers rising above the temple walls. The towers represent the peaks of Mount Meru, the center of the universe. The temple complex is surrounded by a wide rectangular pond, symbolizing the ocean of milk, from which the elixir of immortality amrit arose.

Angkor Wat was built as a temple-mountain (prang) - a type of religious building characteristic of Cambodia. It is a three-tiered truncated pyramid with towers on top, whose total height reaches 65 m. The temple is surrounded by a rectangular wall and an artificial pond 1.5 × 1.3 km. The only entrance is located on the west side. The road from the entrance tower to the temple is framed by parapets decorated with sculptures of seven-headed nagas. Angkor Wat is a striking example of an organic combination of architecture and sculptural plasticity. Bas-reliefs in its design play an important architectonic role. Particularly noteworthy are the bas-reliefs placed on three tiers of the district galleries of the temple. They reflect stories from Hindu mythology, the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, as well as from Khmer history. Eight gigantic panels of the first tier with complex multi-figured compositions, “Churning the Milky Ocean”, “Battle of Kurukshetra”, etc., occupying an area of 1200 m2, as well as about 2 thousand figures of celestial maidens – apsaras on the walls of the second tier, received fame.

Radiocarbon analysis of the remains of charcoal, which served as fuel for domestic hearths, indicates that the mass settlement of the area around Angkor Wat occurred in the 11th century. The construction of Angkor Wat began in the 12th century and continued for several decades. The construction was accompanied by the creation of a complex system of water structures and canals that served to accumulate, store and collect water throughout the year. It is believed that most of the population left Angkor Wat at the end of the 14th century under the influence of climate change and the degradation of the water system.

Along with the Athenian Parthenon, the Mughal Taj Mahal and the Javanese Borobudur, Angkor Wat is one of the most grandiose monumental structures on Earth. The famous temple complex is visited annually by over 2 million tourists. Angkor Wat represents the Khmer civilization and has been featured on the coat of arms and national flag of Cambodia since 1863. As part of the Angkor ensemble, Angkor Wat is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 1995, the Cambodian authorities created the APSARA Authority (English) - a government agency responsible for research, protection and conservation of the Angkor archaeological park.

In 2014, Google Corporation took over a million photos of Angkor as part of the Google Street View project. As a result, 90 thousand panoramic images of over 100 temples were created.


Angkor Wat Archeological Site

Etymology and Writing

The name “Angkor” comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Nagar’, which has the only meaning in this language - “city”. In Khmer it is pronounced ‘noko’ (Khmer.: នគរ - “empire, kingdom, country, city, city-state”), but due to the metathesis in colloquial speech it has turned into ‘ongkoa’. The word “ongkoa” is consonant with the concept of a crop that is close to peasants and literally translates as “raw, threshed rice” (Khmer.: អង្ករ). As you can see, both phonetically and in writing it is very difficult to distinguish from the name of your own “Angkor” or ‘Ongko’ (Khmer.: អង្គរ - “city”, “capital city”, “Angkor”).

It should be understood that "Angkor" is not a historical name that is native to this area of ​​the kingdom of Cambodia. It arose much later, when the local places were long abandoned by the Khmer rulers, lost their role as the metropolitan region and began to decline. Nevertheless, people always remained here, therefore, Angkor for a long time retained the importance of an important economic center and a large city, which later was reflected in the toponym. Over the centuries, the reduced common people ‘Noko’ acquired the meaning of a proper name, ‘Ongko’, entrenched in the name of the architectural park of Angkor (or Ongkor), the city of Angkor Thom, as well as the temple of Angkor Wat.

To this it is necessary to add that in the Khmer language there are various concepts for the city, the main city of the province or region, the metropolis, as well as the capital city and, even more, the capital of the kingdom and a democratic state. So, referring to Phnom Penh, the Khmers often say simply ’tikrong’ (Khmer.: ទីក្រុង), that is, “the city that is the place of the king”, its “throne city”. Unlike the original ‘noko’, the word ‘Ongko’ has the meaning of “throne city”, but it is used exclusively in relation to the ancient Khmer capitals. That is, “Ongko” may not be all, but just one of the former capitals of “Mohanoko” (Khmer.: មហានគរ), the “Great Kingdom”, as Cambodia was called in ancient times: Bapnoma (Angkor Borey), Chenla or the empire of Cambujades ( Angkor Thom).

The word “Wat” goes back to the Pali expression “watthu-arama” (“the place where the temple was built”), which denoted the sacred land of the monastery’s monastery, but in many countries of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) it has long been of broader significance, referring to any Buddhist monastery, temple or pagoda. In Khmer ‘voat’ (Khmer.: វត្ត) can mean both “temple” and “veneration, admiration”. Indeed, Angkor Wat is a symbol of Khmer national pride.

In Khmer, the name of the temple of Angkor Wat is pronounced ‘Ongkovoat’ (Khmer.: អង្គរវត្ត). In the vast majority of sources it is interpreted as a “city-temple”, “city temple” or even “capital temple”. In fact, since the name “Angkor” was used as a proper name from the 15th-16th centuries, it does not require translation in the same way as, for example, the name of the city of Astana, and its most accurate interpretation is “Angkor Temple” or “Temple of Angkor”.


Monuments of the Angkor region

Angkor (“Royal [city]”) is considered to be a group of monuments located in the area of the medieval Khmer capitals of the period of the Angkor Empire. In its place, since the 9th century, there was the capital of the Khmer kingdom. At the height of its power in the 11th and 12th centuries, the kingdom included the territories of Cambodia, southern Vietnam, southern Laos, and parts of Thailand. Angkor was located in the heart of a huge kingdom, the capital was connected with small satellite cities by an extensive road network. It is believed that Angkor was founded by King Jayavarman II in 802. He proclaimed himself the universal ruler and united the local leaders around him. The founding of Angkor by Jayavarman II is known from a stone inscription made hundreds of years after the events described. It is possible that the early temples on the territory of Angkor were built long before him.

The monuments of Angkor include Mahendraparvata, Yashodharapura and Angkor Thom. Angkor monuments represent different religious traditions and architectural styles. The early Angkorian style is represented by the Saivite Prasat temples on Mount Phnom Kulen, the central temple of the maiden raja on Mount Phnom Bakheng, the royal temple-tomb of Pre-Rup (“Inverted Body”), the royal chapel of Phimeanakas (“Air Palace”), and also unfinished by the temple of Ta-Keo ("Stone Mass"). Experts also refer to the classical Angkorian style as the Buddhist complexes Prah-Khan (“Holy Sword”), Neak-Peam (“Curled Nagas”), Alley of the Giants, the central temple of the Bodhisattva Raja Bayon, the Shaivite temple Baphuon (“Copper Tower”) and, finally , the Vaishnava temple of Angkor Wat ("Royal Temple").

The monuments of Angkor are located in a fertile plain northeast of Tonle Sap ("Great Lake") and not far from the modern city of Siem Reap. Almost all the capital cities founded by the rulers of the ancient Khmer kingdom from the end of the 9th to the middle of the 15th century were founded on the plain. Each ruler built his capital royal temple in Angkor, usually in the form of a stepped pyramid. In accordance with the precepts of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, she personified Mount Meru - the center of the universe and the abode of the gods. The royal temples were surrounded by a series of concentric structures—walls, canals, ditches, and embankments—built according to the same cosmological principles. Inside the concentric structures were the main buildings of the ancient cities, including the royal palace and temples built at the expense of the king, members of the royal family or high dignitaries. All internal buildings, except for religious monuments, were created from short-lived wood, and therefore did not survive. An extremely important part of the capital cities were water structures: reservoirs (in Khmer "barai"), canals, dams and ponds, which were also built according to cosmological principles.

Angkor Wat is located two kilometers south of the ancient city of Angkor Thom and five kilometers from the modern city of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is the largest temple complex not only in Cambodia, but also in the world. The grandiose ensemble of stone buildings, esplanades, courtyards, squares and canals covers an area of about 200 hectares. The complex was erected during the period of the highest territorial and political domination of the Angkor Empire and marks the end of the heyday of Khmer classical architecture. According to local legend, the Angkor ensemble was founded by the will of the god Indra, who wanted to build a heavenly palace for Prince Ket Mealea.

According to Khmer mythology, Ket Mealea (Ashes of Ket Mealia) was the son of the ruler Indrapast. He possessed amazing beauty and spiritual perfections. The god Entrea (Indra) himself descended to him on Earth and took him to heaven. However, the heavenly beings could not bear the smell of man. Then Indra ordered the divine architect Pusnuka to erect a palace on earth, similar to the heavenly palace of Indra. The bull Nandin, Shiva's mount, pointed out a place for construction on Bakheng Hill - this is how the first sacred buildings of Angkor were laid.

The temple complex of Angkor Wat was erected during the reign of Suryavarman II (1113-1152) and dedicated to the god Vishnu. Khmer legends say that in order to create a "heavenly palace on earth", the son of Suryavarman II refused to inherit the throne, for which he received the nickname "Mason". Angkor Wat has survived much better than many monuments of its era due to its geographical remoteness and the artificial canals surrounding it. The architecture, layout, sculptural compositions and bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat are an inseparable fabric of a monument of medieval temple art. While working on the bas-reliefs, scientists discovered several images of Shiva and Brahmins with wedge-shaped beards, atypical for the classical Angkorian style. Comparison with images of the Taoist immortals of the Ming period revealed that Chinese stone carvers took part in the creation of Angkor Wat. The hypothesis of Chinese involvement is supported by the testimony of a contemporary, Zhou Daguan, who visited Angkor Thom in 1297. In the Song and Yuan era, Kambujadesh was considered a fertile land where Chinese craftsmen moved to work.

In 2007, a team of researchers created a map of the Angkor region based on aerial photographs and radar data. The study covered an area of about 3,000 square kilometers around the temple complex of Angkor Wat. As a result, 168 temple buildings were discovered, of which access in the jungle was possible to 94. In addition, aerial photography made it possible to determine the water and transport system of the region: the location of once-existing ponds, roads and canals. The Greater Angkor project was initiated by a group of scientists from the University of Sydney with the involvement of colleagues from Cambodia and France. They were able to map the entire catchment area of the rivers of the Angkor region. The results of the study showed that about two-thirds of the region was once inhabited, making it the largest pre-industrial settlement in human history.


Discovery of Angkor Wat

The history of Angkor ends at the end of the 13th century. Construction in the capital stopped, and the inhabitants left its territory. Only at the end of the 16th century did European visitors, who were Portuguese missionaries and merchants, mention visiting the forgotten place. The city was in ruins, was almost completely abandoned, and the city buildings were swallowed up by the jungle. For centuries, the rainforest hid from prying eyes the "dead city", which was once the center of the Angkor Empire. The discovery took place on January 22, 1861, when the French botanist Henri Muo discovered a lost city on the left bank of the Siem Reap River. The first acquaintance of the European reader with Angkor was due to the publication of travel notebooks, letters and drawings of Muo in the journal Le Tour du Monde. The publication turned out to be posthumous - by that time the author had died of swamp fever during an expedition to Laos. Following Muo, a few more French explorers had to pay a high price for the passion for the ancient city, swallowed up by the jungle.

Before the official "discovery" of Angkor Wat by the French, its mention can be found in the Portuguese chronicler Diogo do Couto. He describes Angkor Wat based on the impressions of the Capuchin monk António da Madalena, who visited Angkor between 1585 and 1586:

This temple [Angkor Wat] is one hundred and sixty paces long, and it is such a strange structure that it cannot be described with a pen, nor can it be compared with any other building in the world. The central building is composed of four naves, and the roof of the vault, highly ornamented, rises in a high pointed dome, built on numerous columns, carved with all the frills that human genius can devise.
— George Groslier, Angkor and Cambodia

After the establishment of the French mission in Phnom Penh in June 1864, representatives of the French colonial administration and the first scientists began to visit the Angkor region. At the international exhibition in Paris in 1889, objects of Angkorian art were exhibited. They aroused keen interest among art historians and Orientalists. In 1898, by decision of the Paris Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Literature, the Archaeological Mission of Indochina was established under the High Commissariat of Indochina. Since 1900, it has been called the "French School of the Far East" (L'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, EFEO). The school began to coordinate scientific research in the territory of the ancient Khmer kingdom and other regions of French Indochina.

The romantic vision of a ruined city inspired the British writer Rudyard Kipling to write the famous story about Mowgli and the banderlog kingdom in an abandoned city. In The Jungle Book (1894) Kipling describes his impressions of the ruins in the story "Hunting the Python Kaa" and also in The Second Jungle Book (1895) in the story "The King's Encas". However, Angkor was never completely abandoned. It was briefly occupied by a Khmer king in the 1550s, and later the Theravada Buddhist monks lived in its ruins.

In 1931, a semi-annual international colonial exhibition was held in Paris. Its symbol was a full-scale model of Angkor Wat. It was believed that the colonial exhibition would represent the efforts of the French government to fulfill its civilizational mission outside of Europe. The Angkor Wat Pavilion combined reconstructions of parts of an ancient Khmer temple with showcases of colonial reforms. From the outside, the Angkor Wat pavilion was a detailed copy of it, while the inside was devoted to economic and social activities in French Indochina.


Creator of Angkor Wat, Suryavarman II

Tradition says that Suryavarman II seized power by uniting the two kingdoms. The battle with opponents, according to stone inscriptions, was fierce: “after a battle that lasted a whole day, King Dharanindravarman was overthrown by Suryavarman and his kingdom was left without protection ... Bringing with him a large army, he began a fierce battle; jumping on the head of the elephant on which the enemy king was sitting, he killed him, just as Garuda on the top of the mountain killed the snake.

Then turning against the nameless ruler, the heir of Harshavarman III on the throne of Angkor, he forced him to share the fate of his uncle Dharanindravarman. Having removed all obstacles, Suryavarman II became the ruler of the united kingdom. According to official sources, the accession to the throne of Suryavarman II coincided with the death of Jaya Indravarman II in Champa and Chanzita in Pagan - perhaps they were the opponents of Suryavarman II.

Despite the frequent defeats reported by opponents of Suryavarman II, his military policy bore fruit, as evidenced by the territorial expansion of the Khmer state. In the Chinese "History of the Sung Dynasty" it is noted that in the north of Cambodia its border coincided with the borders of Tonkin, in the east the country bordered on the South China Sea, in the west the border coincided with the line of the modern border with Burma, and in the south - with the line crossing the Malacca peninsula, a little south of the Isthmus of Kra. Thus, the territory of ancient Cambodia exceeded its modern borders. It included present-day Vietnam, Laos, most of Thailand, and half of Malaya.

In addition to being a conqueror, Suryavarman II is known as an active builder. The structures built during his reign are numerous, which is confirmed by epigraphic data. These include a number of buildings located in the north-west of the country, outside the capital. In some places - in Phnom Chizor, Phnom Sandak, Wat Phu, Preah Vihear - he completed unfinished buildings and laid new ones. In Angkor, Suryavarman II built the Prah Pithu ensemble in the northern part of the royal square, the Chau Sai Tevoda and Thommanom ensembles five hundred meters from the Victory Gate, on the line of the eastern gopura of the royal palace of Angkor Thom, the Banteay Samre ensemble at the eastern end of East Baray, the central part of the Dust ensemble Khana in Kampongsvae and others. Angkor Wat was the pinnacle of his building activity.

It is known that Suryavarman II was an adherent of Vaishnavism. Worship of Vishnu became part of the tradition of the royal court. Most of the temples under him were erected in honor of Vishnu. The efforts of the ruler were aimed at maintaining his veneration as a deva-raja. One of the hypotheses says that Angkor Wat, according to the plan and internal location, is a temple intended for burial. It may have been built to store the king's ashes, as well as a statue depicting him as Vishnu. This is what makes the location of Angkor Wat so unusual, because it is oriented to the west, which is the east for the dead.

The last years of the reign of Suryavarman II are little known. In addition, there is no exact date of his death. The last stone inscription mentioning Suryavarman II dates back to 1145. Apparently, he was the mastermind behind the campaign against Tonkin in 1150. However, the Chinese embassy of 1155 does not report anything about the change of power. On the contrary, it marks the renewal of political ties between countries. Ten tamed elephants were presented to the Chinese emperor. It is believed that the resumption of diplomatic relations, interrupted for seventeen years, was initiated by the heir Suryavarman II. Thus, his death is dated between 1150 and 1155. The causes of death are also unknown, but his posthumous name is known - Paramavisnuloka ("Going to the highest abode of Vishnu"), which reflects his commitment to Vaishnavism.


Hinduism and Buddhism at Angkor Wat

The first ancient Khmer state of Bapnom (or, as it was called in China of the 2nd-6th centuries, Funan) was strongly influenced by South Indian culture. In the 2nd century, Buddhist communities appeared on the territory of modern Cambodia - first the Mahayana traditions, and then in the 3rd century the Theravada. The spread of Buddhism was accompanied by its adaptation to local beliefs. However, later Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism. Following the spread in South India, Vaishnavism began to penetrate Cambodia in the first third of the 5th century. Its apogee was the deification of the king and the emergence of the cult of the deva-raja, that is, the god-like ruler.

The heyday of the ancient Khmer state fell on the period of the reign of King Jayavarman II. He and his heirs pursued an active policy of conquest. As a result, by the middle of the 9th century, Khmer possessions covered almost the entire Indochinese peninsula. At the center of the new empire was the capital region of Angkor. In the 9th-14th centuries, Hinduism flourished in the Angkor Empire with the cult of the warlike deity Harihara, who united the gods Vishnu and Shiva. He combined, on the one hand, the ancient local traditions of honoring the ancestors and spirits of the earth, and, on the other hand, faith in the divine powers of the ruler. Since the 10th century, ideas have been put forward in temple art designed to perpetuate the cult of the raja deva, in whose honor temples are erected.

Angkor Wat was planned to honor Vishnu, glorify and deify its creator, Suryavarman II. However, Vishnu's murti has not been preserved in the main sanctuary of the temple. A large stone statue of Vishnu, believed to be at the center of Angkor Wat, greets visitors at the western entrance pavilion. Despite the fact that the eight-armed image is not located in the sanctuary, but stands near the gate, in Angkor Wat it is worshiped in the same way as Buddha statues. A flower garland is put on Vishnu's neck, a yellow cloth is thrown over his body, and symbolic banners made of paper and cloth are swaying on his hands. At the feet of Vishnu, visitors leave offerings of lotus buds, the pedestal in front of him is turned into an incense burner. Although the statue depicts Vishnu, visiting Buddhists pay homage to him, reflecting the religious syncretism that is characteristic of South and Southeast Asia.

Despite decades of construction, the temple complex was never completed. Its architectural layout and structure of the complex took place, but the decorative work was not completed. The reasons for the cessation of work could be numerous, the main of which is the death of the patron of the temple, Suryavarman II. However, the unfinished decoration had practically no effect on the inviolability of the monument. The unfinished work may have been one of the reasons that prompted the heirs of the ancient Khmers to reuse the complex as a Buddhist shrine and Buddhist pilgrimage site. In the 16th century, King Ang Chan (1516-66) placed Buddha sculptures in one of the unfinished galleries to assert his political legitimacy as Suryavarman II's heir.

The earliest inscription that indicates the official resuscitation of Angkor Wat dates from September 8, 1546. It records the beginning of the stone carving project under the direction of the royal master Vrah Mahidhar and its reason: "because the ancient king Maha-Vishu-Loka (i.e. Suryavarman II) did not finish two stone panels". Ang Chan's grandson named Satha "restored the building to its former glory". An inscription dated 1577 states that the Queen Mother is delighted to see her son, the ruler of Sath, rebuild the ancient temple of Vrah Vishnu Loka (i.e. Angkor Wat) "totally bringing it back to the state it was in ancient times. ". The walls of the complex were repaired, the roof was reconstructed, and the top of the 60 towers was covered with gold.

By reanimating the monumental complex as a temple of Theravada Buddhism, the Khmer rulers of the 16th century thereby made efforts to reunite with their historical ancestors. For them, who were constantly at war with neighboring kingdoms, including the Siamese who expelled the Khmers from Angkor, the successful restoration of Angkor Wat and identification with the ancient culture allowed them to strengthen their political and spiritual status. By the 17th century, Angkor Wat was already perceived as the largest Buddhist monastery in Southeast Asia, attracting pilgrims even from Japan.

In a letter dated June 11, 1668, the French missionary M. Chevreul, who was in Cambodia from 1665 to 1670, mentions that

… there is a very old and famous temple eight days' journey from the city where (if the Lord will give me some free time) I hope to go. This temple is known among all the pagans of the five or six great kingdoms as Rome is among the Christians; there they have their learned people; and from there they receive instructions and decisions regarding religion, as we have in Rome. It's called "Onco"; People from Siam, Pegu, Laos, Ternaserim and other kingdoms come and make important pilgrimages, even if they are at war among themselves...
— George Groslier, Angkor and Cambodia

The temple buildings housed images of the Buddha, standing along the walls and corridors. The appearance of the monument and its decoration did not undergo significant changes, but its interior space received a different filling. Images of the Buddha were carved and painted on the walls of the main shrine. In front of the sanctuary, statues of the Buddha accumulated, which were left by pilgrims to receive spiritual "merits". Most of the Buddhist inscriptions are on the sides of the columns between the decorative patterns - they list the names of people who donated gold, silver and wooden Buddha statues, as well as other offerings. Subsequently, the French colonial administration got rid of a significant part of them, as well as the surrounding wooden Buddhist buildings, in order to give the complex a monotheistic look.

In modern Angkor Wat, you can find many plinths without statues. A large number of Buddhist images still used in worship are damaged. In particular, many lack heads or limbs. This is partly the result of wild "archaeologisation" during the colonial period. Artifacts worthy of museums and aesthetically perfect were confiscated and sold to museums in Europe, primarily in France. In the 20th century, trade in Khmer art between Western collectors led to the loss of part of the heritage of Angkor Wat.


Architecture of Angkor-Vata

The architecture of Angkor Wat historically dates back to the Southeast Asian type of temple-mountain (prang). From the point of view of the ensemble solution, it is the most complete and complicated development of the temple-mountain concept in the conditions of the Khmer plain. The architectural image of Angkor Wat symbolically reproduces the Hindu model of the universe. The five central towers represent the cosmic mountain Meru, located in the center of the universe. The reservoir around represents the primary world ocean, the churning of which, according to myth, brought the drink of immortality to amrit.

The territory of Angkor Wat is a rectangular area about 1500 x 1300 meters in size, enclosed by a stone wall. Along it stretch water channels with a width of about 200 meters. The temple complex is oriented to the west and has a single external entrance with a portal located in the center of the western wall. The ensemble of main buildings has been moved to the eastern half of the site. Fine-grained gray sandstone served as the main building material. From the gate in the western outer wall to the main entrance to the inner temple territory, there is a wide slab-paved road about 220 meters long. On both sides of the western road to the main entrance, sculptural figures of snakes-nagas, personifying the myth of the origin of the royal dynasty, stretch. The main entrance is made in the form of a suite of intersecting galleries. The complex of buildings behind it is based on a rectangular stone platform measuring about 1025 x 800 meters, framed by a wide pool and a wall.

The central part of the main temple is located on three interconnected powerful terraces (the lower one measures 197 x 215 meters). They rise up in the form of a pyramid with increasing height: their height is, respectively, 3.5, 7 and 13 meters. Each of the terraces is surrounded by a gallery with a gable roof and an entrance with fancy porticos and a pediment. At the corners of the galleries and in the center of the ensemble there are multi-tiered pyramidal towers. The central sanctuary tower is 42 meters high and rises 65 meters above ground level. It was intended to hold the (posthumous) image of the dev-raja (god-king). Below it is a deep vertical well-mine, where sacred objects and, possibly, the cremated remains of the ruler were placed. The roofs of the towers and some other buildings, apparently, were lined with gold.

The use of georadar by scientists from the University of Sydney in the western part of Angkor Wat led to the discovery of the remains of dismantled buildings adjacent to the western tower, which is the main entrance to the temple complex. The finds include the foundations of six laterite stone towers that once existed. They were symmetrically located in relation to the gate and the main temple of Angkor Wat. Apparently, they were surrounded by a rectangular laterite wall, the remains of which are preserved on the eastern side of the gate. Scholars believe that in addition to the six towers built in front of the entrance to Angkor Wat, there were three more towers that were demolished during the construction of the main western entrance. Their configuration indicates that before the reconstruction of the temple territory, the original appearance of the complex was a kenkons of towers, surrounded by four additional towers.

The appearance of the Angkor Wat ensemble as an integral structure is striking in its purity of lines and plastic perfection. The creation of the ancient Khmer combines harmony and spiritual greatness. In the relationship between the horizontal dimensions of the facades and the verticals of the towers, in other parameters and the alternation of esplanades, reservoirs and courtyards, there is a deep understanding by the masters of Angkor Wat of the patterns and dynamics of the landscape and spatial perception of the architectural ensemble.


The ring wall of Angkor-Vata

The outer wall, measuring 1024 by 802 meters and 4.5 meters high, is surrounded by a 200-meter-wide canal with a coastal strip of open land thirty meters long. The passage to the temple is carried out along an earthen embankment from the east, and from the west - along the crest of a bulk sandstone dam. The entrance from the west is currently the main entrance, but in the past there may have been a wooden bridge. Each side of the world has its own gate tower, which serves as the entrance to the temple complex. The western tower is the largest: it consists of three, now destroyed, towers. Maurice Gleizes (English), custodian of Angkor Wat in 1937-1945, notes that the main gate tower both hides the complex from the entrance and echoes it, being its likeness. Below the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which, according to the local population, was located in the central part of the temple. The towers are connected by galleries, which have a solid wall on the inside and square columns on the outside. The galleries are large enough to let the elephants through - the entrances of the towers are often referred to as "elephant gates". The ceiling between the columns is decorated with rosettes in the form of a lotus flower, the western facade of the wall is decorated with dancing figures, and the eastern one is decorated with windows in the form of a balustrade, figures of men dancing on the backs of galloping animals, and devatas, among whom there is one, the only one in the whole temple, baring his teeth.

The surrounding wall encloses a space of 820 thousand m2, which, in addition to the main temple, was originally occupied by service and residential buildings, as well as to the north of the temple, by the royal palace. Like the rest of the mundane buildings of Angkor, the structures were built from non-durable materials and nothing remains of them, except for the contours of some streets. Much of the space within the outer wall is now covered in jungle. The western tower is connected to the temple by a 350-meter stone road (platform) with a balustrade in the form of Naga figures. The road has six entrances to the city on each side. On both sides of the road there are also so-called "libraries" located opposite the third staircase in a row, counting from the main temple. Ponds were built between the libraries and the temple, which were added later, as well as a cruciform terrace, guarded by lion figures, connecting the stone road to the core of the complex.

Angkor Wat of the 12th and 13th centuries is known primarily as a religious center. The fate of the complex of the late period, as a rule, is of less interest. Traces of modifications to the circumferential wall hold the key to understanding its future role. From the 9th to the 15th century, Angkor was at the center of the Khmer empire. However, later he found himself on the periphery of the state. By that time, the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya had significantly expanded its influence and occupied part of the former territory of Angkor. Angkor Wat was the first and only known example of an Angkor temple that was rebuilt for defensive purposes. Circular holes were made in the masonry of the perimeter wall, as well as openings of collapsed walls were sealed and some other structural changes were made. Wooden structures were attached to the circumferential wall from the inside. Warriors were supposed to be on them - this was an analogue of a fighting move or a wall gallery in medieval castles. There is no mention of the reconstruction either in stone inscriptions or in chronicles. Archaeological research conducted by the University of Sydney in the 2010s suggests that the rebuilding of Angkor Wat took place either between 1297 and 1585 during defensive works, or between 1585 and 1630. Apparently, it represented the last attempt to protect Angkor from medieval Thailand. Thus, by the end of the Angkorian period, the temple complex turned into a fortification.


Reliefs of Angkor Wat

Among the ancient Khmers, relief was given preference over other types of decorative techniques. Temples from ancient times had a complex sculptural design. The reliefs of early temples are considered masterpieces of temple art: Banteaysrey (967), Bapuon (about 1060), Bayon (construction from the 12th to the beginning of the 13th centuries). Angkor Wat is dedicated to Vishnu and the deification of Suryavarman II. This is confirmed by the plots of the wall bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. Avatars of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna are dedicated to scenes from the ancient Indian epics Ramayana, Mahabharata, Harivansha. In addition, the walls of the temple tell about the exploits of Suryavarman II. In the visual arts of Southeast Asia, it is difficult to find other examples of such a majestic transmission of heroic stories.

Panel "Battle of devas and asuras" (northern gallery, western side)
The story about the exploits of Suryavarman II required the ancient masters to create an ideal image of the ruler. In addition, the image of Suryavarman II reflects the characteristic features of his era and conveys the atmosphere of an ancient civilization. Thanks to the coverage of events, the ability to reveal complex plots, the ancient masters managed to reveal their history in each relief. The reliefs on the walls of the outer galleries are created as a continuous series of events. Narrative consistency is a hallmark of Angkor Wat's artistic setting. Thematic panels look grandiose: their length reaches 800 meters, and the total area is 1400 m2.

Panel "Battle of Kurukshetra" (western gallery, south side)
The décor of Angkor Wat consists of reliefs, varied in patterns and degree of their convexity. The reliefs can be both gigantic and almost flat, similar to embossing on the skin. Another difference between the reliefs of Angkor Wat is the skill of depicting mass scenes. You will not find anything like this in the art of Ancient India, nor in other cultures of Southeast Asia. Partially approaching the reliefs of Angkor Wat are giant rock reliefs with scenes of Arjuna's repentance and the "Throwing of the Ganges to the ground" in Mahabalipuram.

In total, Angkor Wat has eight thematic compositions. Relief panels are arranged in a certain sequence. These include an episode from the Mahabharata, the so-called "Historical Gallery", an image of the heavenly and lower worlds, a story from the Ramayana, the Churning of the Milky Ocean, a plot from the Harivansh, the battle of gods and demons. In general, the compositions reflect the myths about the creation of the universe, the stories of the gods and battle scenes. The latter are called upon to identify the military exploits of the king with the divine deeds of Vishnu.

Panel "Vishnu's Victory over the Asuras" (east gallery, north side)
A distinctive feature of the reliefs of Angkor Wat is their huge extent. The compositions are designed for the viewer to see them at close range. This explains the masters' choice of low relief technique. The artists understood that their work would be seen in motion. As a result, their choice was the allocation of three levels of panels, located horizontally. The bottom edge of the horizontal row is dedicated to secondary characters. It plays the role of a decorative frieze. The middle level is dedicated to the main plot and its characters. The upper edge is filled with images of the inhabitants of the heavenly world - Apsaras. The masters used complex solutions, including spatial layering and scaling of figures depending on their semantic significance. In addition, the masters tried to arrange the figures in such a way as to create the illusion of perspective and depth. The masters placed the figures on the plane, alternating the effects of tension, stretching and intersection with each other.


Ornaments of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is richly decorated with patterned ornaments. Common ones include floral patterns popular in the Khmer tradition. Less common are geometric patterns. Simple ornaments are found in the form of auxiliary elements, such as patterned lattices and frames. Another distinguishing feature of Angkor Wat is the combination of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic patterns that give rise to bizarre stone patterns.

In decorative design, the Khmer borrowed from the masters of ancient India the veneration of trees. In Angkor Wat, the trees are depicted in detail, which reflects a special attitude towards them. The drawings themselves have repetitive elements, they alternate rhythmically and have symmetry. Among plant drawings, preference was given to images of the lotus. Several varieties can be distinguished, including lotus shoots, stem whorls, flower buds and rosettes. It is noteworthy that each image has its own logic and is located in a certain place. In particular, the outer surface of the columns is decorated with rosettes in the form of an open lotus flower, as well as buds and volutes of the stem. The side and back surfaces of the columns were decorated with images of an opened lotus in a circle. Finally, floral rosettes adorn the plafonds and load-bearing beams.

The mastery of the artists manifested itself in the creation of complex ornamental compositions. Fantastic plants are intertwined in them, densely covering the surface of the walls. Interlacing and alternation of lines create an original, unique pattern. Complex ornaments alternate with simple ones, and the use of typical patterns makes the overall composition harmonious and balanced.

An example of a combination of floral and geometric patterns is found in the sculptures of the riding bird Garuda and snakes-nagas. They combine plastic and patterned decorative forms. In addition, stylized human images can be found at Angkor Wat. For example, drawings of deities, praying ascetics and dancing apsaras. Some ornaments are geometric compositions of animals and plants. There are other drawings in the temple complex, in which images of people, birds, horses, lions and monkeys are visible.


Hidden Paintings of Angkor Wat

From the middle of the 15th century until the 18th century, Angkor Wat turned into a Buddhist shrine. After the partial restoration of the complex by King Ang Chan (1516-66), Angkor Wat became a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, known far beyond the borders of Cambodia. Buddhist transformation has left its artistic mark on the appearance of Angkor Wat. In the 2010s scientists from the Australian National University and the APSARA agency discovered about 200 wall paintings of the post-Angkorian period. Under normal lighting, most patterns are not visible to the human eye. Their presence was confirmed by digital image processing. The drawings are colored images of boats, buildings, musical instruments and animals.

In some drawings, deities and mythological figures are recognized. The drawings within the second and third walls are images of apsaras (celestial nymphs). Their figures are crudely drawn in several styles, and their random distribution throughout the complex may indicate that they are the work of visitors. On the way to the main temple, in the entrance rooms in many reliefs, Apsaras are bordered with red pigment. this is considered a sign that the figures were drawn at the same time according to a common design. Among the drawings, one non-Apsarian figure stands out - the image of Hanuman, the monkey god and companion of Rama, popular in the iconography of Southeast Asia.

Many of the drawings, possibly acts of medieval vandalism, may have been left behind by pilgrims and visitors to Angkor after it was abandoned in 1431. However, a number of the drawings located in the uppermost part of the sanctuary of the temple, apparently, were part of the restoration work of King Ang Chan. Similar iconographic paintings are found in Buddhist temples throughout mainland Southeast Asia. Similar temple frescoes are known in Pagan (Myanmar) and Ayutthaya (Thailand). It is believed that most of the drawings were made when Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion. The paintings at Angkor Wat are thus a rare example of Middle Period painting and one of the earliest examples of temple frescoes in post-Angkor Cambodia.


Construction technologies

The stones that make up the building look polished. The masonry was carried out without mortar, while the stones are so tightly fitted to each other that the seams between them are sometimes impossible to find. Stone blocks sometimes do not have joints and are held only by their own weight. In some cases, a spike connection is used, as well as a dovetail. Presumably, the stones were set in place using the force of elephants, which served as a lifting force in a pulley mechanism using coir ropes. Henri Muo noted in his notes that most of the stones have holes with a diameter of 2.5 cm and a depth of 3 cm, and the larger the stone block, the more holes in it. The exact purpose of the holes is unknown, but some researchers suggest that they were intended to connect stones to each other using metal rods, others hypothesize that temporary dowels were inserted into the holes, which served to facilitate the control of stone movement during installation. There are holes in some of the walls of Angkor Wat, which may indicate that the walls were decorated with metal (bronze) sheets. The metal shone in the rays of the Sun, but it was also the target of robbers and vandals.

For the construction of the complex, a huge amount of sandstone was used, comparable to the volume that went into the construction of the Khafre pyramid in ancient Egypt (more than 5 million tons). Centuries after the construction of Angkor Wat, Japanese archaeologists from Waseda University (Tokyo) discovered traces of a series of man-made water channels that were involved in the construction of the complex. Supposedly, five million tons of sandstone used for the construction of temples were transported to the construction site by water. Each of the sandstone blocks weighs up to 1.5 tons and was mined in quarries on the Kulen mountain plateau. In 2012, archaeologists discovered the remains of channels from the foot of Kulen to Angkor, 34 kilometers long. More than 50 stone quarries were found near the Kulen Plateau and along the water route, the materials of which match the stone that makes up the temple.


Ancient inhabitants of Angkor Wat

Joint research by scientists from the University of Hawaii, the University of Illinois, the French School of the Far East and the APSARA agency, conducted between 2010 and 2013, made it possible to describe the residential areas of Angkor Wat located within its outer wall. The entire space inside the wall was an orthogonal grid. Each of its cells was a "block" formed by embankments and depressions. The exception is the area from the main western tower to the main temple. The embankments appear to have once been buildings, while the depressions were once ponds. Thus, the area around the temple was a grid of buildings and ponds. The entire territory could include 283 buildings and 250-300 ponds.

Signs of residential settlement at Angkor Wat date back to the 6th century, that is, long before the official founding of Angkor and the construction of Angkor Wat itself in the 1100s. In other words, the area has been inhabited for several centuries. Excavations have shown that light residential buildings were located on the territory near the temple. Scientists have not found evidence of an exclusive elite building of the temple building. This means that neither royalty nor Brahmins lived around Angkor Wat. On the contrary, the main inhabitants were employees of the temple with modest material wealth. They occupied relatively small and short-lived buildings in the immediate vicinity of the temple. The layout of the territory around the temple, its system of ponds and houses, is not original. It was formed as a result of long-term residential development, the original structure of which dates back to the 6th-8th centuries. The final residential structure was formed already in the XI-XII centuries.

In Angkor Wat, daily religious rituals, collective and individual, dedicated to Vishnu were held. They were attended by brahmins and their assistants, pilgrims, ascetics and believers. Pujas, temple ceremonies, festivals and other events required significant attendants. In addition to priests, musicians, dancers, singers and guards, they included gardeners for making garlands, milkmen for making butter, bookkeepers for keeping expenses on ceremonies, as well as cooks, tailors, carpenters, weavers, washers, masons, architects - in short, everyone those who maintained the temple infrastructure.

Archaeological excavations have revealed three waves of settlement at Angkor Wat before the 16th century, when Khmer royalty made efforts to restore the temple to its former glory. The first wave were 6th-century settlers who apparently laid out the sacred site. The second wave of mass settlement continued throughout the reign of Suryavarman II. Finally, new settlers arrived after the end of the Angkorian period after the 15th century, but their numbers were insignificant.

Most of the burial mounds in the temple area contain archaeological evidence of residential activities such as cooking and building houses. The extracted materials contain mainly ceramics, including earthenware and Chinese ware. Chinese utensils date from the period between the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Some Chinese centers such as Guangdong are known to have produced goods for foreign trade and these are found throughout the Khmer kingdom. Chinese bowls, boxes and spherical vases of low quality were found at Angkor Wat, which indicates intensive trade with the northern neighbor.

At its peak, Angkor Wat may have had between 3,000 and 4,300 inhabitants. No significant differences were found in ceramic ensembles from different mounds, which indicates the absence of social stratification. In other words, the territory around the temple was occupied by service personnel. It is possible that both permanent and temporary employees were located in light residential buildings. The latter worked on a “shift basis”: they moved here every month for two weeks, which was typical for ancient Cambodia.


The water crisis and the decline of Angkor

The dense jungle that covered much of the abandoned city made it difficult for early European explorers to map Angkor. It was not until the late 1930s that Georges Trouvet and Henri Marshal, scientists of the French School of the Far East, were able to draw maps of the central part of Angkor. The maps revealed an amazing system of canals, embankments, dams, ditches, reservoirs and ponds. The artificial water system served for the accumulation, storage and distribution of water in the gigantic territory of Angkor. In addition, Angkor's water system was part of a complex agricultural irrigation network. The man-made system of Angkor was the source of prosperity and expansion of the city. However, it was she who caused its decline and subsequent destruction. The use of remote sensing methods allowed scientists to obtain a complete map of the area. The Angkor water management network covered an area of 900 to 1000 km2. The size of the controlled territory indicates that Angkor was the largest pre-industrial settlement on Earth. In fact, it combined the management of water resources, the administrative and religious center.

As the city grew, residents preferred not to upgrade the old water management infrastructure, but to expand it, while at the same time complicating the flow management system. By the end of the 11th century, all local rivers were diverted by canals to feed the rice fields. Angkor has reached the maximum capacity of its water infrastructure. Its further development was impossible and the city began to suffer from defects in complex planning. Even relatively small changes in water flows, such as a wet year or an overflow in one of the key channels, could cause the entire water system to malfunction. The accumulation of water in artificial formations led to silt settlement and clay formation, as well as uneven distribution of nutrients. Long periods of stagnant water in reservoirs led to the disappearance of nutrients. In some channels, located "upstream", there was a build-up of a layer of silt, while "downstream" nutrient reserves were depleted. In addition, the drainage of certain areas as a result of failures in the irrigation system has led to soil acidification and a deterioration in the productivity of rice fields. By the 14th century, Angkor's water management network was suffering from numerous problems that were not, or could not be, remedied. The water system was already too large and complex to reconfigure. The population had no choice but to unsuccessfully struggle with the centuries-old consequences of water management mistakes.

The collapse of Angkor's water management system in the 14th and 15th centuries coincided with a severe drought that caused social upheaval. Long periods of drought occurred in 1350-1370 and 1400-1420. Climate change was accompanied by the migration of local elites to new places of residence. Their workers followed them, and over time, the water system of Angkor was no longer possible to serve due to a lack of people. The last major stone temple at Angkor was built in 1295, the same year as the last stone inscription in Sanskrit. The last inscription in Khmer is dated 1327. The capital was moved to the south of the empire, and Angkor began to lose its political and economic significance. The city's elite left the city about a century before it finally became depopulated. It is believed that the collapse of the Angkor civilization occurred in 1431, when the capital was sacked by the troops of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya.

Research in the University of Sydney region showed that urban land use gradually declined over the hundred years before population exodus. By the end of the 14th century, the canals and reservoirs were covered with floating wetland vegetation, indicating that the city's water infrastructure was no longer maintained. Archaeological evidence suggests that the demise of Angkor was not a one-time occurrence due to the Thai invasion or the destruction of the water system, but was gradual, accompanied by a demographic shift in the urban elite. In the XV century the city ceased to exist.


Restoration and preservation of Angkor Wat

Like other ancient temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat faced the problem of gradual destruction. Under the influence of natural factors such as tropical humidity, wind, sunlight, vegetation and fungi, stone materials gradually decay. Work on the preservation of Angkor Wat began as early as 1908 with the launch of the Conservation d'Angkor project of the French School of the Far East. The school was responsible for research, conservation and restoration until 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over. From 1986 to 1992, restoration work on the temple was carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India, as France at that time did not recognize the Cambodian government. In 1992, after the appeal of King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, Angkor Wat was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as being in danger (and excluded from it in 2004).

To preserve the monument, in 1993 the governments of France and Japan, in cooperation with UNESCO and the government of Cambodia, established the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor). It is designed to coordinate and harmonize scientific and archaeological projects, as well as to determine the technical standards and financial conditions necessary for the implementation of projects in the Angkor region. In 1995, the Cambodian government created a special state agency, APSARA Authority, to protect the site of the monument and develop the historical region of Angkor. In 1996, the Cambodian Heritage Protection Act came into force.

Not the last role in the deterioration of the monument is played by the human factor. If in 1993 only 7.6 thousand tourists visited the place, then in 2012-15 their number exceeded two million. Angkor Wat accounts for every second foreign tourist arriving in Cambodia. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, 2.6 million people visited the monument in 2018, and the revenue of the state-owned company Angkor Enterprise, which is responsible for selling tickets, amounted to 116.6 million US dollars. The main flow of tourists comes from China, followed by South Korea and the United States. According to TripAdvisor travel service, out of 759 attractions from 68 countries, Angkor Wat took the first place in 2017 in popularity. It is followed by Plaza de España in Seville, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and other attractions.

The flow of tourists causes some damage to the monument, and for the safety of the authorities, they resorted to preventive measures: they stretched ropes as fences and installed wooden steps for climbing. By decision of the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor in 2019, a decision was made to build a 23 km long cycle path around the archaeological park. European tourists rent bicycles from hotels, while most prefer cars and motorcycles. Laying a cycle path should ensure the safety of cyclists and reduce traffic congestion.

The maintenance of the complex takes about a third of the proceeds from ticket sales. Most of the work on the preservation and restoration of the monument is funded by foreign governments - France, Japan, the United States and others. In 2001, the Cambodian authorities developed the concept of "Angkor Tourist City". It involves the improvement of transport links with the protected area and the construction of hotels for foreign tourists. To receive tourists in Siem Reap, an international airport was built in 2006. However, the implementation of the large-scale Angkor Tourist City project has jeopardized the water supply, sewerage and electricity systems in the neighboring city of Siem Reap. The clearing of the jungle, housing construction and the laying of a highway have affected the groundwater level, which negatively affects the stability of the temple.

As of 2017, work on the conservation of Angkor Wat was carried out by several international projects: the Japanese "Team for Safeguarding Angkor" and the University of Sofia "Angkor International Mission", the American World Monuments Fund, the Italian Ingegneria Geotecnica, the German Apsara Conservation Project.


Angkor Wat in pop culture

The popularization of Angkor Wat in Western culture was largely facilitated by the release in 2001 of the Hollywood blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. In entertainment films, it is presented as a place of daily trade and a Buddhist temple where monks gather for rituals. At the same time, Angkor Wat is revealed as a mystical spiritual place where the protagonist is healed and receives spiritual insight. The "post-modern" characteristics of Angkor, blurring the lines between the real and the fictional, have created a controversial picture of Angkor. However, due to the fact that Lara Croft became the first popular film made about Angkor since 1964, many in Cambodia welcomed its release. It was believed that it would positively affect tourism and trade.

In 2012-14, the dystopian anime series "Psycho-Pass" was released in Japan, where Angkor Wat is the setting for some scenes.

Popular science and documentaries about Angkor Wat.