Monday, 26 January 2015

Day 7 - Angkor Thom Temple & More

Today we had an early start at 7am meeting Mr Pen our tuk tuk driver to show us the first of the temples that make Angkor so famous. I must say riding in a tuk tuk is great fun.

Our first stop is to see Angkor Thom a quadrangle of defensive walls totalling 12 kilometres that once protected the Khmer capital of the same name (Angkor Thom means 'Great City'). Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII, the walls are divided by two axes running north-south and east-west. A gateway lies at the end of each axis, four in total, facing the four cardinal directions.

The south gate of Angkor Thom is the best preserved. It is approached from outside via a causeway that extends about fifty meters across a moat. On each side of the causeway are railings fashioned with 54 stone figures engaged in the performance of a famous Hindu story: the myth of the Churning of the Ocean. On the left side of the moat, 54 'devas' (guardian gods) pull the head of the snake 'Shesha' while on the right side 54 'asuras' (demon gods) pull the snake's tail in the opposite direction. In this myth, the body of the snake is wrapped around the central mountain—Mt. Meru—perhaps corresponding here to the Bayon temple at the centre of the site. In any case, the myth relates that as the Devas pulled the snake in one direction and the gods pushed in the other, the ocean began to churn and precipitate the elements. By alternating back and forth, the ocean was 'milked', forming the earth and the cosmos anew.

The central tower of the stone gate is capped by three face-towers that face the four directions (the central tower faces both out and in). Below them at the base of the gate are two sets of elephant statues that flank the entrance on both sides. Sitting on each elephant is a figure of the god Indra carrying his usual weapon—the 'vadra' (a lightning bolt). The gate itself is shaped like an upside-down 'U' and is corbelled at the top (instead of arches, the builders of Angkor preferred to use corbelling to span distances). It is still possible to see where wooden doors once fitted to the gate through openings in the stone.

There is some debate as to the functionality of Angkor Thom as a whole. If it was a wall intended for defense, it was rather poorly designed, since there is nowhere along the wall for defenders to take refuge from incoming fire or shoot back from a shielded location. This is surprising since Angkor had been sacked in 1177 by Champa invaders, and one can readily imagine that its new King, Jayavarman VII would have been concerned with defense should the invaders return.
If not intended for defense, the walls may simply have been an additional enclosure around the Bayon temple, more for ceremony than for practical use.

The Bayon is best known for the massive stone faces carved into the sides of its towers. Although it’s unclear exactly how many there once were, it’s estimated there were about 200 of these faces. 
(Circa 1190) a Buddhist temple but retains elements of Hindu cosmology and imagery. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, it represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is known for its enigmatic smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and its extraordinary bas-reliefs.

The Baphuon is a tall temple with steep staircases on each side. It has been the subject of many years of restoration work but is now in a fairly good condition. From the top you get a great view over the ancient city of Angkor Thom, of which The Baphuon is a part.

Just north of the Bayon is the stalwart Baphuon, a temple built in 1066 that is in the process of being put back together in a way that gives visitors an idea of what original temple construction might have been like.

A three-tiered temple mountain built as the state temple of Udayadityavarman II dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. It is the archetype of the Baphuon style. The temple adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace and measures 120 metres east-west by 100 metres north-south at its base and stands 34 meters tall without its tower, which would have made it roughly 50 meters tall. In the late 15th century, the Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple. A 9 meter tall by 70 meter long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the west side's second level, which probably required the demolition of the 8 meter tower above, thus explaining its current absence. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size the site was unstable throughout its history. Large portions had probably already collapsed by the time the Buddha was added.

Phimeanakas is quite close to The Baphuon and is also a part of Angkor Thom. It’s not as large as The Baphuon but has a similar design with impressive laterite and sandstone construction, and once again there’s a steep staircase to climb if you want to go to the top. It was built at the end of the 10th century.

The tallest scalable temple in Angkor Thom, providing a nice view from the top. Located inside the ancient Royal Palace compound, Phimeanakas served as the king’s temple. Legend has it that the golden tower crowned the temple and was inhabited by a serpent, which would transform into a woman. The kings of Angkor were required to make love with the serpent every night, lest disaster befall him or the kingdom.

A gateway in the wall of Angkor Thom.

Preah Palilay is a picturesque sandstone and laterite tower in a cool, shaded forest setting, in the area behind the Terrace of the Leper King. The central tower is in rough condition but the eastern gopura displays some particularly nice Buddhist-themed carvings. The date of construction is a matter of some debate. Traditionally dated to the late 12th/early 13th century, but the Theravadan Buddhist themes of some of the carvings and some architectural features suggest a construction date in the late 13th or 14th century. The tower was rebuilt and modified in the post-Bayon period.

Terrace of the Leper King is at the north end of the Terrace of the Elephants.
The Terrace of the Leper King is a decorative platform topped by a statue surrounded by four lesser statues, each facing away from the central statue. The central figure is probably a Khmer ruler who allegedly died of leprosy, either Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII style.

Terrace of the Elephants is an impressive, two and a half-meter tall, 350 meter long terrace wall adorned with carved elephants and garudas spanning the front of Baphuon, Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace area at the heart of Angkor Thom. The northern section of the wall displays some particularly fine sculpture including the five headed horse and scenes of warriors and dancers. Constructed in part by Jayavarman VII and extended by his successor. 

Angkor's king Jayavarman VII used it as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. Most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. The terrace is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

Also used as a stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king's grand audience hall for royal parties and depicts elephants and garuda (mythical bird like creatures). It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square-three in the centre and one at each end. The middle section of the retaining wall is decorated with life size garuda and lions; towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants complete with their Khmer mahouts. 

Prasat Suor Prat twelve nearly identical laterite/sandstone towers that stand opposite and parallel to the Terrace of the Elephants. The artistic and architectural style of the towers is unique, defying easy classification and dating. Construction may have begun under Jayavarman VII, but the towers do not display the classic Bayon-style characteristics. It has been argued that they may be post-Bayon or perhaps much earlier, as early the 11th century. The original function of the towers is a matter of debate but in the 13th century classic, "Customs of Cambodia," Chinese emissary to Angkor, Zhou Daguan, gives a romantic but dubious first hand account of their function. He wrote that the towers were used to settle legal disputes and matters of criminal justice. The belligerent parties were kept in the towers for a few days. The one to emerge in ill health was declared the loser, guilty by divine decree. 

Thomman is a small temple with carved decorations. They are in a relatively good condition and give you a sense of how things would have looked at some of the less-preserved sites.

Thommanon stands in conjunction with Chau Say Tevoda across the street, but was built decades earlier. Thommanon is currently in much better condition than Chau Say Tevoda, in part because archaeologists heavily restored it in the 1960's. But even before restoration, Thommanon was in better shape due in part to the lack of the stone-enclosed wood beams in Thommanon’s super-structure that were used in Chau Say Tevoda’s construction. 

Built during the reign of Suryavarman II (from 1113–1150) at Angkor, located east of the Gate of Victory of Angkor Thom. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Some believe that the distinctive carvings of females, known as devatas indicate that they were built during the reign ofJayavarman VI (1080–1113 AD), some time at the end of the 11th century. However, there is greater agreement, especially given the scholarly studies that it was built by Suryavarman II around the time ofAngkor Wat and Beng Mealea from 1,113–1,150 AD 

In the 1960s, the temple underwent a full restoration, funded by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO). French archaeologists restored it and added concrete ceilings. The compound walls around the temple have all disappeared, leaving only the entry gates on the east and the west; the central tower is all that remains of the main temple. It is inferred that both Thommanon and Chau Say Thavoda were interlinked to the central tower under one large compound with large gates. The independent building separated from the main temple was the library. 

The Devatas, the female divine carved figurines are the centre of attraction in Thommanon. The devatas depict flower crowns,sampots (Cambodian skirts), necklaces, armbands, belts and ankle bands. The mudras displayed are complex. The devatas grip the flower very distinctively, holding the ring and middle fingers against the thumb, while the index and small finger are extended. One Angkor researcher calls this position the “devata mudra”, and notes it is also prominent at Angkor Wat. The sampots of the devatas though are divided into two distinct types of sampot, one type is the ancient pleated style, seen in the Bakheng period at Lolei and Phnom Bok (900 AD), and the other is a patterned fabric style with folds and “tail” seen at Angkor Wat

Chau Say Tevoda right across the road from Thommanon of similar size and has a similar design. A lot of restoration work has gone into improving Chau Say Tevoda and it’s easy to access. It’s best to consider both these temples together, to understand their position in the ancient city.

Chau Say Tevoda is a small temple of similar design and floor plan to Thommanon located across the street (except for additional gopuras and library). For years it looked like Thommanon’s neglected sister, languishing in significantly worse condition. In recent years Chau Say Tevoda has undergone an extensive restoration project, which is now largely complete.

Chau Say Tevoda seems to stand in partnership with Thommanon, but in fact was built much later in Suryavarman II’s rule. Chau Say Tevoda displays some well-executed carvings that are in still fair condition, especially those on the eastern gopura. Though most carvings are Hindu-themed, there are also some Buddhist-themed relief's. The eastern walkway from the temple leads to the Siem Reap River a few hundred meters away.

Ta Prohm is one of the most popular temples in the Angkor region because of the atmosphere created by the trees and plants which have been left to grow in it. Unlike many of the other large sites, which have been restored, this has been largely left to show the effects of time. It was used as a set for the Tomb Raider movie and that’s only increased its popularity. 

Construction on Ta Prohm began in 1186 AD. Originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII.
A rare inscription at Ta Prohm provides statistics on the temple's workers. Allowing for some exaggeration to honor the king, the inscription's report of around 80,000 workers, including 2700 officials and 615 dancers, is still astounding.

Sadly, Ta Prohm was looted quite heavily in recent years due to its relative isolation, and many of its ancient stone reliquaries have been lost.

The trees some as wide as oak trees and the vines at Ta Prohm cleave massive stones in two and spill over the top of temple ramparts. 

There are 39 towers at Ta Prohm, which are connected by numerous galleries. The exterior wall of the compound is 1km by 600m (1/2 mile by 1,969 feet) and the entrance gates have the classic Jayavarman face. 

Ta Prohm (Khmer, pronunciation: brasaeattaproh) is the modern name of the temple at Angkor, UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992. Ta Prohm formed a complementary pair with the temple monastery of Preah Khan, dedicated in 1191 A.D., the main image of which represented the Bodhisattva of compassion Lokesvara and was modelled on the king's father.

The temple's stele records that the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 800,000 souls in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies. The stele also notes that the temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls and silks. Expansions and additions to Ta Prohm continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 15th century.

The design of Ta Prohm is that of a typical "flat" Khmer temple (as opposed to a temple-pyramid or temple-mountain, the inner levels of which are higher than the outer). Five rectangular enclosing walls surround 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 metres that at one time would have been the site of a substantial town, but that is now largely forested. 

The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and "have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor." Two species predominate, but sources disagree on their identification: the larger is either the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) or thitpok Tetrameles nudiflora, and the smaller is either the strangler fig (Ficus gibbosa). or Gold Apple (Diospyros decandra). Indulging in what might be regarded as "descriptive excess," Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize observed, "On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants."

Ta Keo this is one of the oldest temples at Angkor and is believed to be the first built entirely of sandstone. It’s a five-tiered pyramid with steep staircases on each side. It would once have had a large moat around it but that no longer exists.

Towering but plainly decorated temple-mountain dedicated to Shiva. Known in its time as ‘the mountain with golden peaks.’ The first to be constructed wholly of sandstone, constructed under three kings, begun by Jayavarman V as his state-temple and continued under Jayaviravarman and Suryavarman I. When Jayavarman V first constructed Ta Keo, he parted ways with previous kings, placing his state temple outside of the capital area. Construction seems to have stopped particularly early in the decoration phase as evidenced by the lack of carvings.

Victory Gate is one of five identical gates to enter Angkor Thom, the capital City. The Victory Gate is on eastern wall of Angkor Thom and is the second most used gateway into the Royal Square.

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