Angkor Day 1
Siem Reap Travel Blog› entry 21 of 49 › view all entries
Today we managed two temples, Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world, and Ta Prohm, the jungle-covered temple made famous in the movie Tomb Raider.
Angkor Wat, the appropriately named "City Temple", was built in the first half of the 12th century, both as a capital and the State Temple dedicated to Vishnu.
As with most of the temples in the Angkor area, Angkor Wat is a representation of the Hindu heaven on Earth. The main central tower represents Mount Meru, the Hindu Olympus and home to the gods. The four towers around it represent the mountains which surround Mount Meru; the outer galleries and surrounding land the human Earth; and the 190 meter wide moat, the oceans of the world.
Angkor Wat was more than just the temple we see now, it was a city.
Some 2000 apsaras--guardian spirits or angels--are carved into the structure. The outer galleries contain nearly 600 meters of bas relief carvings, 2 meters in height, that represent key events in Hindu mythology; from the churning of the sea of milk--representing the creation of the world--to mythological combats between the gods and demons.
As every tour book advises that you see Angkor Wat at sunset, we decided to go in the morning in the hopes that a few less people would allow it to have more of an impact.
Ta Prohm held far more interest for both of us. This temple-monastery was built after Angkor Wat, in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. This temple was chosen by its French 'discoverers' to be left in its natural state, as an example of what most of the area looked like when they uncovered it in the 19th century. Massive strangler figs and silk-cotton trees have infiltrated nearly every building, some of which have collapsed. The temple may still have plenty of wilderness to it, but it is groomed so that people can easily access it.
The most bizarre and fascinating thing about Ta Prohm for me is the existance of a carving located on the west wall of the 3rd gopura (gate). This carving is a pretty clear representation of a stegasaur. Though Hindu myth is filled with unique creatures I have never read anything refering to a dinosaur-like animal. It amazes me that the only line about it in the book I have is an off-hand remark stating: Stegosaur-like animal on the wall of Gopura III West. As if it was a perfectly normal thing to find. Why this hasn't blown people's mind is beyond me.
Though historically and theologically significant, Angkor Wat didn't do much for us. Ta Prohm, though, is a must-see.