The ancient Khmer civilization left us a masterpiece of incredible beauty, the results of unthinkable human labor and cultural and religious heritage! How did they manage to create this wonder of the world 800 years ago? How?! Despite the hard fate of this long-suffering country and its people, during such a long period of time these outstanding architectural structures have been preserved, giving us today the opportunity to dive into the atmosphere of the ancient city of Siem Reap and its Khmer inhabitants, who, despite the influence of such history, keep on smiling and staying friendly, positive, good-natured people who know how to forgive each other. We have a lot to learn from them!
This is the largest temple complex of all religious buildings ever created! Hundreds of towers were dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The history of the temples is more mysterious than the Maya, no one knows why people left it...
Do you want to visit Angkor? We are going to debunk myths and exaggerations, introducing the ancient city to you.
- What we know about Angkor Wat
First of all, the inhabitants left the city not suddenly and not for unknown reasons, but gradually, of course, since the neighbors were seizing the territory. Thailand conquered a lot of land from Cambodia, including part of Angkor. Thus, the Khmers moved their capital to Phnom Penh. The administration moved there, and most of the capital's residents left these places.
Secondly, not all buildings were abandoned. The Angkor Wat complex has never been empty. Monks lived there, so it is in better condition. They could not protect the structures from destruction during the occupation, but they protected them from giant trees.
Thirdly, it was not lianas that braided abandoned buildings, but trees. When you see them, you will remember the living bridges of India. There, the bridge system is formed from ficus roots. In Angkor Wat, it’s one of the types of ficus and cotton tree (tetramelia hololiths). In fact, it is clear that really different types of trees act as orderlies of the jungle, absorbing what people have built. And they built a lot.
Imagine the 9th-13th century AD, the huge Khmer empire that existed on the territory of modern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, with the capital Angkor, with about 1 million inhabitants.
Angkor Wat Temple is considered the largest Hindu building. Built in the 12th century in honor of the god Vishnu, it is a symbol of the universe, the heavenly habitat of the Gods. It was erected in just 40 years from 5 million tons of sandstone. Building material was delivered by rafting along the river, presumably sandstone was mined at a distance of 40 km.
The territory of the temple is surrounded by a moat, 3.6 km long and 200 m wide, which is considered to be a symbol of the oceans, but this is a unique hydraulic system that protects the temple from flooding to this day.
These temples were built with smoothly hewn stones, which were stacked on top of each other without mortar. They fit so tightly that in some places it is impossible to see the seams. Inside, thousands of images are carved on the walls, literally on every centimeter.
But how is this possible? This is all manual work, there was not even metal capable of processing such a number of stones to such a state. Incredibly complex engineering calculations and projects were needed for this.
Even modern technologies do not allow building a similar structure nowadays. All mysteries have not yet been solved.
So let's continue... Wars, drought of the 14th century lead to the fall of the Khmer empire, the entire population fled to Phnom Penh, the current capital. And the jungle had been engulfing the temple for about 500 years. Only in 1860, Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, told the world community about this city, he discovered Angkor Wat. Constant long wars only led to the destruction and looting of temples. Only in 1992, Angkor was included in the UNESCO world heritage list, since then, active work has been carried out to restore buildings.
There are a lot of disputes between scientists, someone insists that this is the legacy of the Khmer empire, and someone proves that it is more than a thousand years old...
A satellite photo of Angkor showed that the structure of the temple complex reproduces the position of the stars of the constellation Draco at dawn on the day of the vernal equinox in 1050 BC. And the presence of images of stegosaurs on the walls gives the right to believe that it really can be a building of ancient times and obviously not the 12th century. Nowadays, excavations are being carried out, hypotheses are being put forward that another civilization existed thousands of years ago, the role and power of which is still unknown to us. And Angkor is among these mysterious places. We’ll talk about it later.
- Acquaintance with Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the largest temple in Cambodia. All tours start here, when people watch the dawn in large crowds.
Let's start our acquaintance. In the morning, an experienced tuk-tuk driver takes you first to the ticket office. This is such an extended complex of several large buildings. In one of them, there is a hall with a high ceiling and a lot of tourists and polite attendants who are ready to show you the way. Ticket will be issued for your name, also, you will be photographed right away. You can use them anytime for three days within a month. Before you step on the territory of the monument, you need to show them. Serious but polite security guards will check your ticket and punch a hole for that day. Then they will check the ticket to just make sure that the hole is already there, so you can walk until you drop. After all, that’s what you need to do - walk until you bring yourself to a fainting state from fatigue, heat and impressions.
Tuk-tuk as transport is perfect here. As soon as your ride starts, a cool breeze blows you right away. Nothing interferes with viewing the surroundings at 360°, only a roof over your head. The movement is not fast, so you have time to see everything.
The surroundings do not let you get bored. You can enjoy here the jungle, and unusual cacti right next to the wheels, which are more than a meter high and grow like a dense wall or a fence. Behind them, you’ll see a yard and a house - it’s some village. Then fields again, grazing buffaloes with horns of a wide crescent with the dark gray skin, like in a cartoon about Mowgli. But cows, white, with long legs, always chew something, and their bones stick out, as if nobody feeds them at all. The buildings and the old ruins are also very beautiful. From this moment on, your life will be divided into prior to and after Angkor.
- East Mebon Temple of Angkor
East Mebon is a temple, which dates back to the X century. Once there was a huge reservoir around it, and it was arranged before the appearance of the temple. It provided the area with water.
The Khmer already had a well-thought-out and well-arranged irrigation system. This gave large harvests, hence prosperity, funds for wars of conquest and grandiose construction.
The temple was built without fortifications. Located in the center of the reservoir, on an island, it did not need protection. And the passages in the walls on all four sides were exits to the piers.
Three levels, three lines of walls. But the walls are not defensive, but as retaining for the embankment of the next height. They are connected by stairs with towers (gopuras), which are lined up from the bottom up in one line. Standing on one tier, you see the steps going up, but you don’t see the very top. It is hidden, as if cut off, by the cornice of the tower. It is necessary to go further, but even there the next tower will hide a further rise. Only by climbing up, you can find out what is there.
The steps are steep, the stairs are high. Everything suggests that your path is not going to be easier. You chose to come here, and their rules are harsh and rigor. Do if you can. It not only looks beautiful, but also commands respect. You are not a guest here. The guests were not invited. These structures are only for those who are initiated. Tourists are like uninvited guests here, so at least behave respectfully. And this awareness, once received, will not leave you. The thrill of proximity to the sacred, its presence, will no longer allow you to treat these buildings as an object of study, and simply satisfy your curiosity.
In those latitudes, day turns into night very quickly, and in order to have more time with large distances between monuments, you will have to leave early in the morning and return dark.
- Banteay Srei Temple of Angkor
The next one is Banteay Srei from the X century. It’s also a temple, but not a royal one. It was built at the expense of one of the king's close associates. It is located outside of Angkor, but it would be a big omission not to visit it. The appearance and structure are in the tradition of Khmer sacred buildings, but so beautiful that the descendants named it the Citadel of Women. It’s small, but with the common three rows of walls and gopuras. Gopura is a passage in the wall, but not just a door or gate - it’s a little house in the role of a vestibule.
It is a house with a roof, or it can be a even tower, or it can have interior spaces. It’s like entrance, where the watchman sits in cabin with a kitchen and a bedroom, but there is no turnstile here, and no watchman. But the facade of the gopura is decorated with carvings, columns and other delights.
Banteay Srei gopuras are extraordinarily beautiful. They are name of pink sandstone and richly carved on the gables. In the second circle, there is a ditch with water and lotuses. And it is not clear whether it is for defense or beauty, or maybe it is such an exquisite defense.
Inside the third circle, there are five structures: a temple, two shrines, and two libraries. All the pediments are also richly decorated with carvings depicting scenes from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
And this is the same complex where the sculptures of guardian monkeys guard the sanctuaries.
On its own territory (the current protected area), there are ponds overgrown with lotuses and other water beauties where cranes live.
Here, every stone has its own history, every corner of the temple fascinates, and an unreal atmosphere of calm and tranquility reigns. But in fact, this is not the only temple, there are many less well-known, but also very beautiful buildings around it. For example, Bayon temple, or the Temple of a Thousand Faces, as tourists call it.
It has 54 tall towers, each with large stone faces on four sides. Whose faces are those is still unknown, perhaps this is one of the rulers of those times. Buddhists think these faces are watching you, just like the Buddha who knows everything. And along the perimeter, the temple is surrounded by a wall, where scenes from the life of the people are carved on stone - how they fought, hunted, tamed elephants and much more.