The next morning, after breakfast we headed for the Southern entrance to Angkor Thom. Our plan was to visit Angkor Thom, Srah Srang, Bantei Kdei and Ta Prohm.
Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors.
At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride. It was not the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yashodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name. (Higham 138) The name of Angkor Thom (great city) was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato" which some thought to have been built by the Roman emperor Trajan .
Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.
The city lies on the right bank of the river Siem Reap, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru. Another gate (the Victory Gate) is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.
The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates take after those of the Bayon, and pose the same problems of interpretation.
They may represent the king himself, the bodhistava Avalokiteshvara, of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these. A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk . The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors. The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists.
The Bayon face
At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung "corner shrine" built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara.
These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east. Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.
Our group at the Bayon
Other than the Bayon, all the main sites are located west or east of the Victory Square. From south to north these are to the west Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants, Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace, the Terrace of the Leper King, Tep Pranam and Preah Palilay; to the east, the Prasats Suor Prat, the South Khleang, the North Khleang, and Preah Pithu.
Recently, it has been noticed that on one of the ruins, there appears to be a dinosaur carved into the wall. This is most intriguing considering the site is centuries old and that the dinosaur carving is surrounded by animals of today, such as elephants, snakes, horses and various other creatures.
João and I at the Bayon
The Bayon is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia. It was built in the 13th century as the state temple of king Jayavarman VII, and stands at the centre of his capital, Angkor Thom. Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of smiling faces on the towers which rise up to its central peak. It also possesses two sets of bas-reliefs, which depict an unusual combination of mythological, historical and mundane events.
The main current conservatory body, the JSA, has described the temple as "the most striking expression of the 'baroque' style", compared to the classical style of Angkor Wat.
Terrace of the Elephants
The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only one to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist temple (although various local deities were also worshipped there). It was the centerpiece of Jayavarman VII's building program, and the similarity of the 200 or so gigantic faces on the temple's towers to other statues of the king have led many scholars to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII himself. Others have said that the faces belong to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
The two hypotheses need not be regarded as mutually exclusive, since the Buddhist monarch may well have identified with the great bodhisattva and may have required that the portraits be designed accordingly.
Rute eating Amok
Under the reign of Jayavarman VII in the mid-13th century the temple was converted to Hinduism. In later centuries Theravada Buddhism became dominant, before the temple was eventually abandoned to the jungle. Current features which were not part of the original plan include the terrace to the east of the temple, the libraries, the square corners of the inner gallery, and the upper terrace.
In the first part of the 20th century conservation work was led by the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient, which restored the temple using the anastylosis technique. Since 1995 the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has been the main conservatory body, holding annual symposia.
The temple is orientated towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis. Because the temple sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom, roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city's cardinal points. The temple itself has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square km, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²).
Within the temple itself, there are two galleried enclosures and an upper terrace. The outer gallery features a series of historical and everyday scenes on its outer wall, but there is considerable uncertainty as to which historical events are portrayed and how, if at all, the different reliefs are related. From the east gopura clockwise, the subjects are: a marching Khmer army (including some Chinese soldiers), followed by wagons of provisions; domestic scenes; in the southeast corner, a temple scene; on the south wall, a battle on the Tonle Sap between Khmers and Chams, with more domestic scenes underneath; a naval display; palace scenes; Cham boats, followed by a land battle won by the Khmers, then the Khmer victory feast; a military procession (including both Khmers and Chams); on the west gallery, unfinished reliefs show an army marching through the forest, then arguments and battle between groups of Khmers; a royal procession; on the north gallery, again unfinished, royal entertainments and more battles, one showing Khmers defeated by the Chams; in the northeast corner another marching army; and on the east gallery, a land battle being won by the Khmers.
The little salesmen all around us
The outer gallery encloses a courtyard in which there are two libraries. 16 chapels formerly in this courtyard were demolished by Jayavarman VIII. The inner gallery is raised above ground level and has doubled corners, with the original redented cross-shape later filled out to a square. Its bas-reliefs, later additions of Jayavarman VIII, are in stark contrast to those of the outer: rather than set-piece battles and processions, the smaller canvases offered by the inner gallery are decorated for the most part with scenes from Hindu mythology. There is however no certainty as to what some of the panels depict, or as to their relationship with one another. One gallery just north of the eastern gopura, for example, shows two linked scenes which have been explained as the freeing of a goddess from inside a mountain (Glaize), or as an act of iconoclasm by Cham invaders. A nearby series of panels show a king fighting with a serpent and dying, and have been connected with the legend of the leper king. Less obscure are depictions of the construction of a Vishnuite temple and the Churning of the Sea of Milk.
Very little space is left between the inner gallery (left) and the upper terrace (right). The inner gallery is nearly filled by the upper terrace, raised one level higher again. On this level, the visitor is surrounded by face towers, each with two, three or four of the famous smiling faces. The towers are located along the inner gallery (at the corners and entrances), and on chapels on the upper terrace. Additional faces are carved on the central tower. Despite efforts to find significance in the number of towers and faces, the numbers varied from time to time as more towers were added: at one point there were up to 49 towers, although only 37 now remain. There are around 200 faces, but as some are only partially preserved there can be no definitive count. Like the inner gallery, the central massif was originally cruciform but was later filled out, this time making it circular. It rises 43 meters above the ground. The original Buddha image from the central shrine was removed and smashed by Jayavarman VIII, but has now been restored and is displayed in a pavilion to the northeast of the temple.
Little happy salesmen!
Next we headed for Srah Srang which is a baray at Angkor, Cambodia, located south of the East Baray and east of Banteay Kdei.
It was constructed in the mid-10th century, and modified in the 12th or 13th century. The landing stage at the west end of the baray, opposite the entrance to Banteay Kdei, is a popular site for viewing the sunrise.
Then we went to Banteay Kdei which is a temple located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom. Built in the late 12th to early 13th centuries, it is a Buddhist temple in the Bayon style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan.
After lunch in one of the many restaurants of Angkor, we headed for Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is a temple at Angkor built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
Located approximately 1 km east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati, it was built by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddist monastery and university. Unlike most of the other Angkor temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors.
Ta Prohm was one of the first temples begun in Jayavarman VII's massive building program.
The temple's modern name means "old Brahma", but the original name was Rajavihara (royal temple). It was centered on veneration of the king's family: the main image (of Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, installed in 1186) was modeled on his mother, while the two satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to his guru (north) and his elder brother (south). Expansions and additions continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 13th century. The temple's stele recorded that the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with a further 80,000 in surrounding villages helping to supply the institution. The temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls and silks.
After the fall of the Khmer empire, the temple fell into neglect for centuries.
When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 20th century, Ta Prohm was chosen by the École française d'Extrême-Orient to be left largely as it was found as a "concession to the general taste for the picturesque". Glaize writes that this temple was chosen because it was, "one of the most imposing and the one which had best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it - as but one specimen typical of a form of Khmer art of which there were already other models". Nevertheless much work has been done to stabilize the ruins and to permit access, in order to maintain "this condition of apparent neglect".
The basic layout of Ta Prohm is that of a typical "flat" Khmer temple, with five rectangular enclosing walls around a central sanctuary. Like most Khmer temples, Ta Prohm is oriented to the east, so the temple proper is set back to the west along an elongated east-west axis. The outer wall of 1000 by 650 metres encloses an area of 650,000 square meters that would have been a substantial town, but which is now largely forested. There are entrance gopuras at each of the cardinal points, although access today is now only possible from the east and west. Each gopura had face towers added during the 13th century, although some of these have collapsed.
There were moats inside and outside the fourth enclosure. The three inner enclosures of the temple proper are gallaried, while the corner towers of the first enclosure form a quincunx with the tower of the central sanctuary. This basic plan is complicated for the visitor by the circuitous access necessitated by the temple's partially collapsed state, as well as by the large number of other buildings, some being later additions. The most substantial of these other buildings are the libraries lin the southeast corners of the first and third enclosures; the satellite temples on the north and south sides of the third enclosure; the Hall od Dancers between the third and fourth eastern gopuras; and a House of Fire east of the fourth eastern gopura. It is magnificent.
Dinner at Pissa
The trees growing out of the ruins are the distinctive feature of the temple.
Some of these trees are Banyan, species Ficus microcarpa, while others belong to the species Tetrameles nudiflora or silk-cotton tree. Three prominent examples of the latter are on the west side of the fourth eastern gopura; northwest of the third eastern gopura; and along the east side of the southern half of the second enclosure's west wall.
Even while they are sleeping, they are selling!
The temple was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. Although the film took visual liberties with other Angkor temples, its scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance, and made use of its eerie qualities.
Cambodian good vibes
At the end of the day we all decided to have some Cambodian Massages (except Susana and Miguel) and eat some Western Food. We headed for the Siem Reap center and found a nice little Italian restaurant called Pissa. After dinner we headed back to the Hotel. The next day would be our last in Cambodia.