Small circuit stretches from Victory Gate to the East Gate of Angkor Wat. The temples covered by this loop are Angkor Wat, South Gate Angkor Thom, Bayon, Preah Ngoc, Baphoun, Phimeanakas, Sras Srei, Terrace of Elephant, Victory Gate, Thommanom, Chau Say Tevada, Hospital Chapel, Ta Keo, Ta Nei, Ta Phrohm, Banteay Kdei, and Sras Srang.
Angkor Wat which literally means ‘City Temple’ is a Hindu temple complex built to replicate the heavens on earth. Constructed for King Suryavarman II in the early twelfth century, it is the best-preserved temple and is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation; first Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is one of the largest monuments for religion ever built and truly is one wonder of the world.
The temple is living evidence of high classical style of Khmer architecture. This magnificent temple combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture; the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture. Constructed within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 miles) long with three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next, it is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology.
At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west and this has scholars divided as to its significance. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture. The extensive bas-reliefs and the numerous guardian spirits adorning its walls serve as evidence of the strong Khmer religious beliefs.
ANGKOR THOM CITY
The walled city of Angkor Thom is a very popular tourist spot. It was constructed in the late twelfth century to early thirteenth century by King Jayavarman VII. This site is situated 1.7 Km north of Angkor Wat, within its walls are several monuments from earlier eras as well as those built by Jayavarman and his successors.
The fortified city of Angkor Thom, about 9sq km in extent, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire built by Angkor’s greatest King, Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1201).
Centered on Baphuon, Angkor Thom is enclosed by a square wall 8m high and 12km in length and encircled by moat 100m wide. The city has five monumental gates, one each in the north, west and south walls and two in the east wall. In front of each gate stand giant statues of 54 gods (to the left of the causeway) and 54 demons (to the right of the causeway), a motif taken from the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk illustrated in the famous bas-relief at Angkor Wat. In the center of the walled enclosure are the city’s most important monuments, including the Bayon, the Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas and the Terrace of Elephants.
Huge temple-mountain in the heart of Angkor Thom. Largely collapsed and in ruined condition, the main temple area is undergoing extensive restoration. Most of the construction area is not open to the public but over the last several months, certain areas have begun to open to the public. The exterior entry gate and elevated causeway are open as well as some areas around the perimeter of the construction. Note the unique animal carving at the walkway entrance. Similar carvings are visible on West Mebon. Also note the large reclining Buddha on the west side, which was added to the temple at a much later period.
TERRACE OF THE ELEPHANT
The Terrace of the Elephants is part of the walled city of Angkor Thom. The terrace was used by king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army.
It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas. Most of the original structure was made of organic material and has long since disappeared and most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. The terrace is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern side.
The 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall. It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square-three in the center and one at each end. The middle section of the retaining wall is decorated with life size Garudas, a large mythical bird, bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appear in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and lions; towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants complete with their Khmer mahouts.
Ta Prohm, a Bayon style temple, is believed to be founded in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.
Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found where the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most iconic temples with visitors.
Rajavihara (Royal temple), as it was originally known, was one of the first temples founded pursuant to a massive program of construction and public works after the King’s ascension to the throne in 1811 A.D. It was built in honor of his family. The temple’s main image, representing Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, was modeled on the king’s mother. The northern and southern satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to the king’s guru and his elder brother respectively. As such, Ta Prohm formed a complementary pair with the temple monastery of Preah Khan, dedicated in 1191 A.D., the main image of which represented Avelokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and was modeled on the king’s father.
The site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 80,000 people in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies.
Built in the late twelfth to early thirteenth century during the reign of Jayavarman VII, Banteay Kdei is known only as a Buddhist temple constructed in the Bayon style. It has been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries, but the inscription stone has never been discovered so it is mystery; unknown to whom the temple is dedicated.
Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls, and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister. Like all the other ruins in Angkor, the carvings are captivating.
It was perhaps a chapel to Kama, God of Love. The spot would suit the temper of the strange power, terribly strong and yet terribly tender, and of that passion which carries away kingdoms, empires and whole worlds.
Love could occupy this quiet nest embedded in water, which gave the impression that love had come one day and had left there, when he went away, a part of his spirit.