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It is generally assumed that Siem Reap in Cambodia is visited exclusively for the sake of Angkor Wat. So, in general, it is, but with one correction: in fact, Angkor Wat is not quite the correct designation of the archaeological park. Angkor Wat (Angkor Wat) is simply the most famous and one of the most impressive temples out of a huge number of them in the temple complex "Angkor Archaeological Park". For convenience, we will continue to call the entire archaeological park simply "Angkor".
Angkor is not an independent resort place, and there are no hotels here. This is a tourist attraction, and hotels and other tourist infrastructure are located in Siem Reap. But despite this, we decided to create an independent subsection for the review of Angkor due to the large amount of information that will be useful and interesting when visiting this historical place.
The area of the entire temple complex is 400 square kilometers, and it is the largest religious building in the world and one of the most important historical monuments. This is the only object in Cambodia, protected by UNESCO.
Undoubtedly, the Angkor Archaeological Park is the most popular and one of the most mysterious sights not only in Cambodia, but also in Southeast Asia in general. And in the same way, there is no doubt that the majority of tourists visiting Cambodia are rushing to the temples of Angkor. Given the scale of this attraction, it is very difficult to inspect it without prior preparation or without the help of guides, and, most likely, a lot of time will be wasted, and a lot of interesting things will be unnoticed. We have prepared our own version of the guide to the temples of Angkor and highly recommend that you read it carefully before your trip, and maybe even print out the information and have it with you.
And for starters, a little history:
The history of the temples of Angkor
Angkor means "capital" in Khmer. This is the unique largest temple complex in the world, which has no analogues.
The temples of Angkor were built in the period from IX to XIV centuries A.D. There are about 100 temples in total, which form the center of the ancient Khmer civilization, which extended earlier on the territory of already modern states Vietnam, China, and from Vietnam west to the Bay of Bengal.
The construction of the Angkor complex required incredible efforts of the Khmer people, and all because of one single goal - to create a heavenly paradise on earth.
The period of the beginning of the Angkor civilization dates back to the reign of Jayavarman II (ruled 802-850). He installed the first phallic symbol of god, the lingam, on Mount Kulen (now the Phnom Kulen Park is located on this site). Lingams were considered sacred symbols of the god Shiva. Then "mountain temples" began to be built for him. Thus, the first temple appeared - Phnom Kulen. The temple was a copy of the five-headed stepped mount Meru, which is located in the center of the world, and on its top are the most important Hindu gods. At the intersection of the diagonals of the capitals, the main "temple-mountain" was erected with a lingam in the middle, which marked the axis of the universe.
Starting from the 10th century, previously isolated prasats (temple, tower) began to be surrounded by narrow long buildings forming rectangles around them. Later, these buildings took the form of closed quadrangular galleries. Towers rise at their corners. Thus, a temple complex was formed, which was closed by concentric fences with majestic gates.
The creation of the first basin (barai) belongs to the ruler Indravrman I (ruled 877-886/889), the area of the barai was 650 hectares and it was located in Roluos. In addition to irrigation of the lands around Angkor, barai also had religious significance, since Mount Meru, according to legend, is surrounded by lakes at the edges. Indravrman I also built the temple of Prea Ko.
Yasovarman I (ruled 889-900/915) - the son of Indravrman I, built a Lolei temple in the pool created by his father, and erected it on an artificial island. The temples of Phnom Bakeng, Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok also belong to his reign period. Yasovarman I connected the city of Bakeng with the city of Roluos by an embankment road and created another large pool (barai) - Eastern Barai.
During the reign of Rajendravarman (944-68), the Eastern Mebon and the Pre-Rup were built. His son Jayavarman V (ruled 968-1000/1001) built the temples of Ta Keo and Bantey Srei.
The next historical period was marked by wars and conquests. And, as a result, many temples were destroyed, and others were built in their place. Therefore, today the Angkor complex has been preserved in the form in which it was "updated" during this period.
Buddha statues began to appear during the reign of Suryavarman I (ruled 1002-1049), who adhered to Buddhism and contributed to its spread in Cambodia. As a result of their military campaigns, most of the territory was taken under the control of the city of Angkor Thailand and South Laos. His son Udayadityavarman II (ruled 1050-1066) expanded the Khmer Empire even more. In his reign, Bapuon and West Mebon were built.
One of the highest achievements of the Khmer civilization was the construction of the Angkor Wat temple during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-1150). Suryavarman II united Cambodia and began military operations against Vietnam, spread his influence to Malaya (Malaysia), Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. He was a follower of Hinduism, which was embodied in the creation of Angkor Wat.
The Chams (Chams) from South Vietnam, who were under the rule of the Khmer Empire, rebelled in 1177 and sacked Angkor. They burned the wooden city and seized its riches.
Four years later, Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1220) defeated the Tyams, drove them out of Cambodia and returned Angkor. Thanks to the king, a new religion appeared - Mahayana Buddhism, and Avaloketishvara, the Buddha of Compassion, became the symbol of worship. The reign of Jayavarman VII was marked by the rapid construction of temples, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals. He built the city Angkor Tom, the center of which was the Bayon temple–mountain, with carved stone faces. The temples Ta Prom, Banteay Kdei and Prea Kan were also built. In addition, large temple complexes such as Banteay Chmar and Prea Kan have been rebuilt.
After the death of Jayavaraman VII, the empire fell into decline. The state religion returned to Hinduism, and the Buddha statues that adorned Hindu temples were subjected to acts of vandalism. In 1351 and 1431, Siamese troops captured Angkor. During the last "raid" the city was looted and fell into disrepair. The local population, having left him, almost forgot about him. After that, the capital of the Khmer Empire settled in Phnom Penh.
Until 1850, the temple city remained hidden from the eyes of European explorers behind the veil of impenetrable jungles, until the French missionary Charles Emile Bouyevo came across its ruins, which served as the "first" discovery of the city of Angkor. However, Bujevo's report was completely ignored.
The Angkor complex was "rediscovered" in 1861 by the French traveler Henri Mouot, who in his report wrote about more than a hundred wats (temples). It was from this moment that Angkor became known to the entire European civilization, and French research expeditions were drawn here.
According to the results of the first expedition, which was led by Ernest Dudar de Lagre, the archaeological finds of Angkor were described.
The next expedition led by Louis Delaporte brought with them sketches and plans of temples, as well as dozens of archaeological specimens.
In 1901, the French School of the Far East began studying Angkor, sending another expedition to Bayon.
After 6 years (1907), Angkor was returned to Cambodia from Thai control. Work has begun on the restoration of Angkor. In the same year, the first tourists arrived here.
During the civil war (1975-1979), the Khmer Rouge troops led by Pol Pot destroyed part of the temples of the complex; prolonged unrest led to the suspension of restoration work. Temples were threatened with looting. The jungle began to "absorb" the city again.
In 1992, Angkor was taken under the protection of UNESCO. Today, the complex is the main tourist attraction of Cambodia.