Angkor – Steps in history – Angkor Wat – Siem Reap

Angkor Wat from outer causeway

View Angkor Wat across the moat

Siem Reap is considered the gateway to the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site. The many temples including Angkor Wat are visited by millions of tourists each year. Siem Reap has grown and now has many large comfortable hotels,motels,guesthouses and restaurants to accommodate tourists. Angkor Wat is about 6km north of Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world. Built for King  Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as a State temple for the capital, and a Hindu temple to the god Shiva.  In the late 12th century it gradually became a Buddhist temple. Later on it is thought that it became the funery temple of the King.

View-of-moat-from-outer-cau

Temple architecture

The design of the temple is at the pinnacle of temple architecture in Cambodia, combining the temple mountain and galleried temple architecture. The temple mountain represents Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology. The central arrangement of the five towers symbolise the five peaks of the mountain, the walls represent the surrounding mountain ranges and the moat represents the ocean.  Angkor Wat is a microcosm of the Hindu universe.

ViewfromOuterGopura

dancingAsparas

Gates and Spires

Angkor Wat is impressive. One must first cross the moat via the outer causeway leading to the western gate.If you stand in the doorway of the outer gopura it provides a  view across the causeway to the temple gates and spires of Angkor Wat (pity about the blue taups). Inside, on the walls of this first gopura are fine carvings of  very energetic dancing apsaras and animals.

Outer causeway - main gates and temple spires Angkor Wat

Outer causeway crossing – main gates and temple spires

 

Outer Causeway

The outer causeway dates about 100 years after the building of the  temple; identified by the use of round columns supporting the causeway.  The moat, a  large expanse of reflective water some 20m wide, 4 m deep with a perimeter of 5km.

 

InnerCausewayNaga balistrade angkor wat Siem reap

Inner causeway-Naga balustrade leading to main gates of Angkor Wat

Naga heads and Naga Balustrade

The inner causeway is a huge, wide stone causeway lined with a Naga balustrade either side leading to the entrance gates of Angkor Wat. There are six points along the causeway leading down steps to ground level. Here the balustrades turn and end in rearing Naga heads. Steps with guardian lions lead down to where the city streets once began.

Tourists on Causeway - Siem Reap Angkor Wat

Tourists on inner causeway – library building on left (click to enlarge)

You can see by the water on the causeway and either side that a fair amount of rain fell last night, today it has been very overcast again. Two ancient buildings referred to as libraries sit on either side of the inner causeway fronting overflowing ponds. The libraries each have four doorways at cardinal points and were probably shrines rather than libraries as we know them today. Near one of the libraries, a white horse with colored bridle and saddle cloth stands patiently waiting for the tourists.

Library&horse

Arriving at the three squarish entrance gates, in themselves impressive, there are two openings large enough to allow carts or an elephant through on either side. The wall, made of laterite blocks measure 1025m. by 802.m, the height precluding any inner view.

At last, down the steps and  inside the temple grounds. Angkor Wat is basically three rectangular galleries, each raised higher than the previous one by the use of stepped terraces. At ground level on the inner wall of the entrance gopura are fine carvings of  apsaras, so don’t miss these.

Inner wall of entrance gopur- carvings of apsaras Angkor Wat

Inside temple – carvings of apsaras.

Steps in history- apsaras- Siem Reap

Detail of carvings

Bas-reliefs – Steps in Khmer history 

Spectacular  bas-reliefs cover the walls of the galleries; with each gallery one steps into different scenes depicting the way of life of the Khmer people and the  Hindu mythology that guides their beliefs. Famous battles, a victorious military procession, depictions of heaven and hell, and the great Hindu creation myth “Churning of the sea of milk” are the main attractions. It is a good idea to read up on Hindu mythology so you have a better appreciation of the stories and myths depicted in the bas-reliefs before you visit Angkor Wat at Siem Reap.

Bas Reliefs-steps into history - Angkor Siem Reap

Battle of Kurukshetra

The dramatic  bas-reliefs in the southern section of the western gallery depict the last episode of the famous Indian epic, the Mahabharata, when the Pandava and Kaurava clans met in deadly combat in  the battle of Kurukshetra.

Heaven&Hell- steps in history Angkor Wat Siem Reap

Bas reliefs – Heaven (top) and Hell (lower section)

Bas reliefs in the western section of the southern gallery depict historical events during the reign of  King  Suryavarman II, an amazing procession with elephants and palanquins. Still in the southern gallery, eastern section, equally dramatic the Judgement of Yama depicting heaven and the torments of hell. The Churning of the Sea of Milk is viewed along the southern  half of the eastern Gallery. The carvings run for half a mile inside this enclosure and are steps along the way into an amazing journey through Khmer history and beliefs.

Ancient-steps-to-CentralTow

Ancient-steps-to-Central Tower

Ancient stone steps

The ancient stone steps to the central tower are very steep, almost perpendicular, weathered and worn, definitely like climbing a mountain and of course not safe to use anymore. The modern wooden steps with hand rails are a great asset for tourists, as the climb is still quite steep. IMG_9479

Steps to ascend and descend 

There are a separate set of steps  to ascend and descend safely to and from the central tower. Groups of 8-10 people are allowed to  climb the steps at any one time. Duration of visit to central tower is 15 minutes which is enough, and the line of people waiting moves fairly quickly.  The central tower is the heart  of the temple and symbolises the centre of the Khmer nation, ruled  over by the god Vishnu and the king.

Corridor

Corridor of central tower

Steps in history - Siem Reap

Looking down from the upper terrace

crusiformarea

This is so much to see and take in. In an ideal world a few more hours the next day at Angkor Wat would have been perfect plus a  flight in the yellow balloon for a bird’s-eye view over the complex.  Despite that, a fascinating journey through an extraordinary ancient temple complex. How wonderful that it still stands today after so many centuries concealed by jungle growth and vegetation.

CornerTower

Yellow-balloon View from Angkor Wat to Western Gate Entrance

View from Angkor Wat to Western Gate Entrance and yellow balloon

The Chinese who visited during this time left written accounts about the magnificent Temples of Angkor with gilded spires. One can imagine how awesome that must have looked as well as spectacular reflections in the moat. The gold leaf and treasures of Angkor Wat  had all been plundered long before the French arrived in 1934 to excavate the site.

 Angkor-Siem Reap-view-from-central-tower

View-from-central-tower

RearEntrance steps Naga -heads Angkor Wat

Rear exit – giant Naga heads guard entrance steps

Next – one last temple to visit today Beng Mealea jungle ruins – tomorrow exploring Siem Reap ….

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