Legacies of the Angkorian civilisation have been left in the various ruins, starting some 7 kilometers from Siem Reap.
We purchased a three day pass for $40US and spent our first day around the temples of Angkor Thom, defined as the temples of the ‘Classical Age’. Angkor Thom was built by Jayavarman VII in the period 1181 – 1219 after the old city of Angkor was destroyed by the Champs.
Bayons purpose is still shrouded in mystery but it is a temple consisting of seemingly endless gothic tower depicting the eerily know -all face of Avalokiteshvara, though some say the resemblance is more of Jayavarman VII himself. The lower two levels are bas-relief carvings depicting stories of everyday Cambodian life in that era, of battles with the Thais and Vietnamese, and of Hindu legend. The third level is circular where the towers and their gothic faces surround you. It’s impossible to stand anywhere on this level, let alone the entire complex without having one of these faces staring through your soul.
All the temples we visited displayed common points of stacked arch systems where rocks are piled until they meet in the middle to form an arch. Irrigation systems are evident in most temples and many have columns reminiscent of Grecco-Roman architecture. Bayon has reminants of elegant pond systems and sophisticated stonework. In the immediate surrounding area are relics of public address podiums, prefaced by elaborate temple archways and podiums wide enough for a royal assembly. The grounds lined with temple structures used for tightrope performances and public trials. It’s not difficult to imagine and assembly of the Angkor empire.
Ta Phrom is a temple made famous by the Tomb Raider movie, but in it’s time served as a Buddhist monument to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is a square complex with a central sanctuary, several collapses corridors and dense jungle overgrowth. It’s intricately carved awning have gathered a green aged tinge and now shows it’s age under thick jungle overgrowth. Much of the smalled vegetation was cleared in the restoration process yet the larger trees have now become rooted in the foundations of Ta Phrom, their removal would cause more damage than if they were simply left. The temple is dabbled in awesome shadows and the roots of the trees entwining themselves over the stone, through archways, over doors and windows, their hundred of years of growth leaving a permanent legacy on the ancient temple.
We visited Baphuon, now in a hopeless state of restoration. The Khmer Rouge destroying all restoration blueprints leaving workers with the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle. Phimeanakas, a celestial palace. Steep steps to the three levels and topped with a spire, a representation of Mt Meru, home of Shiva, Hindu God of destruction. Our second day included many temples and sites in the surrounding areas, one of which was Preah Khan, build by Jayavarman VII, serving as his residence during the construction of Angkor Thom. The complex itself is surrounded by a 700m x 800m wall. The complex composed of shoulder hugging corridors, blocked arches and like most temples in the region, step-through doorways. Overgrowth has again engulfed some of this temple and many of the corridors are collapses or entwined with tree roots. Preah Khan has a fantastic two-storey columned structure who’s purpose is unknown.
The approach to Angkor Wat is unmistakable. An outer moat surrounds the complex, measuring 1.5 kilometers by 1.3 kilometers, being 190 meters wide. It is crossed on approach to Angkor Wat by a sandstone causeway, insects leaving radiating impressions on the water as we cross. The outer causeway is a tunnel section with a guards promenade across the face of the grounds. Emerging from the outer causeway, the three towers of Angkor Wat become visible, complete with palm trees. The first, most notable feature of the temple is its’ symmetry. What you find on one side of the picture you will find on the other.
We spent that afternoon on the first day just gazing at the temple from the outside, admiring the creative and technical genius of a former empire. The center tower is again Mt Meru with it’s surrounding two smaller peaks. The overall state of preservation of the monument is fantastic, despite the numbers of tourists, it’s not difficult to succumb to the atmosphere of being there at sunrise. Vast courtyards amid towering monuments, pools surrounded by column-windowed esplanades. The rising steps to Mt Meru too steep for some. The aged stone is complimented by morning shadows and finding a solemn, quiet place to simply sit and absorb the architecture of former empires is the only way to enjoy the legacy.