Angkor-period architecture generally dates from Jayavarman II’s establishment of the Khmer capital near Roluos in the early 9th century AD. From then until the 15th century, art historians identify five main arch itectural styles. The earliest, Preah Ko, is rooted in the pre-Angkorian traditions of Sambor Prei Kuk to Angkor’s east and the 8th-century style of Kompong Preah, relics of which are found at Prasat Ak Yum by the West Baray. Khmer architecture reached its zenith during the construction of Angkor Wat, but began declining soon after.
Preah Ko (AD 875–890) Characterized by a relatively simple temple layout, with one or more square brick towers rising from a single laterite base, the Preah Ko style saw the first use of concentric enclo sures entered via the gopura or gateway tower. Another innovation was the library annex, which may have been used to protect sacred fire.
This well-preserved guardian figure is carved from sand stone and set in the brick outer wall of a sanctuary tower at the 9th-century Lolei Temple of the Roluos Group.
The eastern causeway of Bakong runs straight from the main gopura to the high central tower. This structure is raised on a square-based pyramid, rising to a symbolic temple-mountain.
Bakheng to Pre Rup (AD 890–965) The temple-mountain style, based on Mount Meru, evolved during the Bakheng period. Phnom Bakheng, Phnom Krom, and Phnom Bok all feature the classic layout of five towers arranged in a quincunx – a tower at each side, with a fifth at the center. The Pre Rup style developed during the reign of Rajendra- varman II (r.944–68). It continues the Bakheng style, but the towers are higher and steeper with more tiers.
Phnom Bakheng impressively exemplifies the Bakheng style. It was the state temple of the first Khmer capital at Angkor, and dates from the late 9th century. It rises majestically through a pyramid of square terraces to the main group of five sanctuary towers.
Pre Rup is distinguished by its size and the abrupt rise of its temple-mountain through several levels to the main sanctuary. The carved sandstone lintels are more finely detailed than in earlier styles. Archaeolo gists speculate that the structure may have served as a royal crematorium – pre rup means turn the body.
Banteay Srei to Baphuon (AD 965–1080) Represented by the delicate and refined Banteay Sre, this eponymous style is characterized by ornate carvings of sensuous apsaras (celestial dancing girls) and devadas (dancers). By the mid- 11th century, when Khmer architec ture was reaching its majestic apogee, this style had evolved into the Baphuon style, which is distinguished by vast proportions and vaulted galleries. The sculp- ture of the period shows increasing realism and narrative sequence.
Angkor Wat (AD 1080–1175) Art historians generally agree that the style of Angkor Wat represents the apex of Khmer architectural and sculptural genius. The greatest of all temple-mountains, it also boasts the finest bas-relief narratives. The art of lintel carving also reached its zenith during this period.
Bayon (AD 1175–1240) Considered a synthesis of previous styles, Bayon – the last great Angkor architectural style – is still magnificent, but also characterized by a detectable decline in quality. There is more use of laterite and less of sandstone, as well as more Buddhist imagery and, correspondingly, fewer Hindu themes.