Introducing Angkor

24

Nov
2021

Introducing Angkor

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The ancient capital of the great Khmer Empire, Angkor is, beyond doubt, one of the most magnificent wonders of the world and a site of immense archaeological significance. Located in dense jungle on the hot and torpid plains of western Cambodia, its awe-inspiring temples transport visitors into an enchan ting and mysterious world of brooding grandeur and past glory.

Situated in southwestern Indochina, the flat, low-lying country of Cambodia covers an area of about 69,500 sq miles (180,000 sq km), bordering Laos to the north, Thailand to both the north and west, and Vietnam to the east. Although Cambodia’s capital is now Phnom Penh, this title was once held by Angkor. For six centuries, between AD 802 and 1432, it was the political and religious center of the great Khmer Empire, which once extended from the South China Sea almost to the Bay of Bengal. The remains of the metropolis of Angkor now occupy 77 sq miles (200 sq km) of northwest Cambodia, and although its old wooden houses and palaces decayed centuries ago, the stunning array of stone temples erected by a succession of self-styled god-kings still stand. Set between two baray or reservoirs, Angkor today contains around 70 temples, tombs, and other ancient ruins. Among them is the stunning Angkor Wat, the world’s single largest religious complex.

Religion Ancient Cambodia was highly influenced by South Asia, and Hindu gods such as Vishnu and Shiva were revered. From the 10th century AD onward, Buddhism gradually began to spread throughout the Khmer Empire, receiving a significant boost during the reign of Angkor mo n arch Jayavarman VII (r.1181–1218). As the two religions flourished, Angkorian architecture incorporated elements from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Eventually, Theravada Buddhism or the Way of the Elders emerged as the predominant school, and replaced Hinduism as the national religion Religion

History The Khmer Empire was founded in the beginning of the 9th century AD, when Jayavarman II (r.802–850) proclaimed himself devaraja or the divine king of the land. A follower of Shiva, he built a gigantic, pyramidal temple-mountain representing Mount Meru, the sacred mythical abode of the Hindu gods. This structure laid the foundation of Angkor’s architecture. His successor, Indravarman I (r.877–89) expanded the empire, but it was Yasovarman I (r.889–910) who shifted the former capital at Roluos to Angkor. He established his new seat of power by constructing a magnificent temple on the hill of Phnom Bakheng and another one on the massive East Baray. Angkor’s grandest structures, Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II (r.1113–50), and Angkor Thom by Jayavarman VII. Following Jayavarman VII’s death, Angkor entered a long era of decline, lying forgotten as Thai invaders ravaged the land. It was not until the 19th century that spellbound European explorers stumbled upon Angkor. Following their “discovery,” the ancient city underwent a period of restoration until the mid-20th century, when it disappeared again behind a curtain of war. During the Vietnam War , Vietnamese communists used Cambodia as a staging  post, and the US responded with large- scale bombings, killing thousands of  Cambodians, and giving rise to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. This extreme Maoist party seized power in 1975, and by the time it was overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1979, it had killed an estimated two million Cambodians in one of the worst acts of genocide in history. in a nation so devastated by war, the great temple complexes have survived remarkably unscathed. Today, after painstaking clearance of unexploded ordinance and dense vegetation, restoration and conservation are once again in full swing. One of the most important archaeological sites in the world, Angkor attracts millions of visitors each year, providing a substantial boost to Cambodia’s economy.

Angkor Today Since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge in the early 1990s, Angkor has gradually reopened to the world. Miraculously,

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