Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat is an enormous 12th century temple complex in Cambodia and the best preserved of its kind.

Incredibly grand and ornately decorated, Angkor Wat’s sand-coloured buildings rise up to form five towers, representing the home of the Hindu deities. Friezes and sculptures are found throughout, depicting both day-to-day life from the time it was built and religious events.

Whilst the complex in Angkor is believed to have been founded circa 980 AD by Yasovarman I, king of the Khmer Dynasty, Angkor Wat itself is thought to date back to the twelfth century.

It was the Khmer king Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150. He dedicated it to the Hindu deity Vishnu and there are images of Suryavarman as Vishnu throughout Angkor Wat in the form of sculptures. It is also thought that Angkor Wat was the site of Suryavarman’s tomb.

Invaded by Thai raiders in 1431, Angkor and its temple then laid undiscovered until the 19th century.

Today Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites. There is an incredible amount to see and it’s a good (although relatively expensive) idea to get a licensed tour guide.

Angkor Wat has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

Khmer Empire

The Khmer Empire (Khmer: ចក្រភពខ្មែរ ), or the Angkorian Empire (Khmer: ចក្រភពអង្គរ ), are the terms that historians use to refer to Cambodia from the 9th century to the 15th century when the nation was a Hindu/Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. The empire referred to itself as Kambuja (Sanskrit: कम्बोज Old Khmer: កម្វុជ Khmer: កម្ពុជ ) or Kambujadeśa (Sanskrit: कम्बुजदेश Old Khmer: កម្វុជទេឝ Khmer: កម្ពុជទេស ) which were ancient terms for Cambodia. The empire grew out of the former civilizations of Funan and Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalised most of mainland Southeast Asia [3] and parts of Southern China, stretching from the tip of the Indochinese Peninsula northward to modern Yunnan province, China, and from Vietnam westward to Myanmar. [4] [5]

Perhaps its most notable legacy is the site of Angkor, in present-day Cambodia, the Khmer capital during the empire's zenith. The majestic monuments of Angkor, such as Angkor Wat and Bayon, bear testimony to the Khmer Empire's immense power and wealth, impressive art and culture, architectural technique, aesthetics achievements, and the variety of belief systems that it patronised over time. Satellite imaging has revealed that Angkor, during its peak in the 11th to 13th centuries, was the largest pre-industrial urban centre in the world. [6]

The beginning of the era of the Khmer Empire is conventionally dated to 802 when King Jayavarman II declared himself chakravartin ("universal ruler", title equivalent to "emperor") on Phnom Kulen. The empire ended with the fall of Angkor in the 15th century.


When the capital of the Khmer Empire moved from Angkor to Phnom Penh, the site was all but ignored. In the five hundred years since the Khmer Empire abandoned the establishment, Buddhist monks cared for the site, it was known to Khmer people and visited since the sixteenth century (Venerable, 2005). The first Westerner to describe Angkor Wat was Antionio da Madalena, a Portuguese monk, in 1586 (Hingham, 2001). He wrote that the site was “impossible to describe with pen”. However, Henri Mouhot is credited with the modern discovery of Angkor Wat (Venerable, 2005). Mouhot was born three hundred years after da Madalena’s first observation and was a French naturalist and explorer in the mid nineteenth century. What set Mouhot apart from the numerous others that had encountered Angkor Wat was is detailed sketches of the monument and his exhaustive written descriptions. He often juxtaposed Angkor Wat with that of the Pyramids or Michelangelo in his endeavor to explain its beauty and the immense travail that was put in to construct an entire city of this monstrosity. Although Mouhot is not, in fact, the true discoverer of the site, he is responsible for popularizing it in the West (“Lost City of Angkor Wat”, Nat Geo).

Twentieth century excavation and restoration had quite a job of removing the vegetation and accumulated earth. This was aided by the moat that actually protected a great deal from the encroaching jungle in the years that had passed (“Lost City of Angkor Wat”, Nat Geo). Excavations showed signs of a surrounding village that was made with unpreserved wood. The small buildings were wiped out with years of secondary succession. All that was left were faint outlines of streets. Research suggested that The Vietnam ethnic group, called the Chams, attacked and burned the city (“Lost City of Angkor Wat”, Nat Geo). When it was rebuilt, this is when the outer enclosing wall was built around it to safeguard the city and people in times of war. The Khmer people worked the land for five hundred years, under the supervision of twenty two kings, until it failed them. The rice harvests from the paddies started to drop, and the stone building of the temple was at a standstill. During the fifteenth century, the government of Siam made profitable raids to the monument which led to an epic battle around 1431 that eventually led to the end of Khmer empire in Angkor Wat (“Lost City of Angkor Wat”, Nat Geo).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat, translated from Khmer (the official language of Cambodia), literally means “City Temple.” As far as names go this is as generic as it gets. Angkor Wat was not the original name given to the temple when it was built in the twelfth century. We have little knowledge of how this temple was referred to during the time of its use, as there are no extant texts or inscriptions that mention the temple by name—this is quite incredible if we consider the fact that Angkor Wat is the greatest religious construction project in Southeast Asia.

A possible reason why the temple’s original name may have never been documented is that it was such an important and famous monument that there was no need to refer to it by its name. We have several references to the king who built the temple, King Suryavarman II (1113–1145/50 C.E.), and events that took place at the temple, but no mention of its name.

Historical context

Angkor Wat is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu who is one of the three principal gods in the Hindu pantheon (Shiva and Brahma are the others). Among them he is known as the “Protector.” The major patron of Angkor Wat was King Suryavarman II, whose name translates as the “protector of the sun.” Many scholars believe that Angkor Wat was not only a temple dedicated to Vishnu but that it was also intended to serve as the king’s mausoleum in death.

Angkor Wat. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 1116–1150 (photo: Benjamin Jakabek, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The construction of Angkor Wat likely began in the year 1116 C.E.—three years after King Suryavarman II came to the throne—with construction ending in 1150, shortly after the king’s death. Evidence for these dates comes in part from inscriptions, which are vague, but also from the architectural design and artistic style of the temple and its associated sculptures.

The building of temples by Khmer kings was a means of legitimizing their claim to political office and also to lay claim to the protection and powers of the gods. Hindu temples are not a place for religious congregation instead they are homes of the god. In order for a king to lay claim to his political office he had to prove that the gods did not support his predecessors or his enemies. To this end, the king had to build the grandest temple/palace for the gods, one that proved to be more lavish than any previous temples. In doing so, the king could make visible his ability to harness the energy and resources to construct the temple, and assert that his temple was the only place that a god would consider residing in on earth.

The building of Angkor Wat is likely to have necessitated some 300,000 workers, which included architects, construction workers, masons, sculptors and the servants to feed these workers. Construction of the site took over 30 years and was never completely finished. The site is built entirely out of stone, which is incredible as close examination of the temple demonstrates that almost every surface is treated and carved with narrative or decorative details.

Carved bas reliefs of Hindu narratives

There are 1,200 square meters of carved bas reliefs at Angkor Wat, representing eight different Hindu stories. Perhaps the most important narrative represented at Angkor Wat is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (below), which depicts a story about the beginning of time and the creation of the universe. It is also a story about the victory of good over evil. In the story, devas (gods) are fighting the asuras (demons) in order reclaim order and power for the gods who have lost it. In order to reclaim peace and order, the elixir of life (amrita) needs to be released from the earth however, the only way for the elixir to be released is for the gods and demons to first work together. To this end, both sides are aware that once the amrita is released there will be a battle to attain it.

Churning of the Ocean of Milk (detail), Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 1116–1150 (photo: John Brennan, CC BY-ND 2.0)

The relief depicts the moment when the two sides are churning the ocean of milk. In the detail above you can see that the gods and demons are playing a sort of tug-of-war with the Naga or serpent king as their divine rope. The Naga is being spun on Mt. Mandara represented by Vishnu (in the center). Several things happen while the churning of milk takes place. One event is that the foam from the churning produces apsaras or celestial maidens who are carved in relief throughout Angkor Wat (we see them here on either side of Vishnu, above the gods and demons). Once the elixir is released, Indra (the Vedic god who is considered the king of all the gods) is seen descending from heaven to catch it and save the world from the destruction of the demons.

Angkor Wat as temple mountain

Aerial view, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 1116–1150 (photo: Peter Garnhum, CC BY-NC 2.0)

An aerial view of Angkor Wat demonstrates that the temple is made up of an expansive enclosure wall, which separates the sacred temple grounds from the protective moat that surrounds the entire complex (the moat is visible in the photograph at the top of the page). The temple proper is comprised of three galleries (a passageway running along the length of the temple) with a central sanctuary, marked by five stone towers.

Gallery, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 1116–1150 (photo: fmpgoh, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The five stone towers are intended to mimic the five mountain ranges of Mt. Meru—the mythical home of the gods, for both Hindus and Buddhists. The temple mountain as an architectural design was invented in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian architects quite literally envisioned temples dedicated to Hindu gods on earth as a representation of Mt. Meru. The galleries and the empty spaces that they created between one another and the moat are envisioned as the mountain ranges and oceans that surround Mt. Meru. Mt. Meru is not only home to the gods, it is also considered an axis-mundi. An axis-mundi is a cosmic or world axis that connects heaven and earth. In designing Angkor Wat in this way, King Suryavarman II and his architects intended for the temple to serve as the supreme abode for Vishnu. Similarly, the symbolism of Angkor Wat serving as an axis mundi was intended to demonstrate the Angkor Kingdom’s and the king’s central place in the universe. In addition to envisioning Angkor Wat as Mt. Meru on earth, the temple’s architects, of whom we know nothing, also ingeniously designed the temple so that embedded in the temple’s construction is a map of the cosmos (mandala) as well as a historical record of the temple’s patron.

Angkor Wat as a mandala

According to ancient Sanskrit and Khmer texts, religious monuments and specifically temples must be organized in such a way that they are in harmony with the universe, meaning that the temple should be planned according to the rising sun and moon, in addition to symbolizing the recurrent time sequences of the days, months and years. The central axis of these temples should also be aligned with the planets, thus connecting the structure to the cosmos so that temples become spiritual, political, cosmological, astronomical and geo-physical centers. They are, in other words, intended to represent microcosms of the universe and are organized as mandalas—diagrams of the universe.

Angkor Wat today

Angkor Wat continues to play an important role in Cambodia even though most of the population is now Buddhist. Since the fifteenth century, Buddhists have used the temple and visitors today will see, among the thousands of visitors, Buddhist monks and nuns who worship at the site. Angkor Wat has also become an important symbol for the Cambodian nation. Today, the Cambodian flag has emblazoned on it the silhouette of Angkor Wat.

At the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, World Monuments Fund is restoring the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery. Rainwater and harmful salts have leaked through the roof of the gallery, which forms the south half of Angkor Wat’s prominent east façade, damaging the fragile surface of the frieze. Without treatment, the deterioration will increase at an alarming rate, risking the eventual loss of what most historians regard as the most ambitious and finely produced stone sculptures in Khmer art.

Additional resources:

Coedes, George. Angkor: An Introduction. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Freeman, Micheal and Claude Jacques. Ancient Angkor. Bangkok, Thailand: Riverbooks, 2003.

Jessup, Helen Ibbitson. Art and Architecture of Cambodia. New York: Thames & Hudson World

Rooney, Dawn. Angkor, Fourth Edition. Hong Kong: Airphoto International Ltd., 2002.

Zhou Daguan. A Record of Cambodia, The Land and Its People. Translated by Peter Harris.

Angkor Wat History - Rediscovery of Angkor Wat and its Architecture

Angkor Wat history depicts that it was rediscovered by the French explorer Henri Mouhot in the 1840s who knew the site was an architectural marvel and also described it as ‘grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.’ The temple’s design attributed the compliment as it was meant to represent the home of gods, Mount Meru, mentioned by the tenets of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. The five towers of Angkor Wat represent the five prominent peaks of magnificent Mount Meru. The surrounding walls and moat represent the gigantic mountain ranges and gushing sea.

The architectural style of Khmer reflects the exquisite usage of Sandstone. While exploring the Angkor Wat temple, it becomes evident that sandstone has been used to carve out this majestic temple. A 15-foot-high, sturdy wall, as well as a moat, is there. Together, they ensured that the temple remained safe from any form of invasion.

Angkor Wat - History

Ancient Temples have always fascinated me… how did they build them? How was it possible for the Great Wall of China to be so large it can be seen from Space? How did Machu Picchu perch itself in the sky? Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid of Giza… all built with such precision, planning and detail, in a Time void of Technology and yet they have least in discernable form, for Millennia. …. immensely powerful places all, built as much with Stone, as with historical importance, providing millions with a Place to glimpse something Bigger, over Generations.

It was no surprise from this growing sense of wonder throughout my Life, that one day I found myself at another mysterious and magical place, Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. ..Rich in Architectural splendour and fascinating Khmer history, it is actually the Largest Religious structure in the World and the 8th Wonder of the World…

Ta Prohm Temple, Angkpr Wat

Starting out from Kuala Lumpur, I booked a flight to Siem Reap International Airport, and once on the Ground, less than 20-minutes later, I was in the centre of Siem Reap itself, a gateway city for tourists, free to explore the historical UNESCO World Heritage Site of the former Khmer Empire or just enjoy the natural beauty of Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, ‘Tonlé Sap’ also known as Cambodia’s “Great Lake”.

Up until half a decade ago, Siem Reap was just a provincial town in Cambodia, then tourist inflows started to pour into the city, mainly in search of those magnificent Angkorian temples.

The Pub Street, Siem Reap
The accompanying Economic Boom for the Country and City in particular from that Boom transformed the Landscape and Society within it… Nowadays it is a place boasting expensive boutique and chain hotels, that have sprung up everywhere, along with budget hotels, to house such a vast and lucrative tourist industry.

Where there are Tourists, you usually have Nightlife…and The Pub Street area is for them, and famous for its vibrant atmosphere. Here you can find an abundance of Backpacker Party Pads or hip hotels in every side street and square… Siem Reap can claim a World-class dining experience too, with a large range of cuisines, sumptuous Spas, local shopping markets, all open 24/7, along with Eco-Tours to suit all types of Adventurers.

So, after the actual Menu…what’s on the Menu, in terms of Activities?Well, you could check out Cambodia’s leading Circus, or pay a visit to the Angkor Wat National Museum, for an even deeper insight into Angkor’s history, before starting your Temple explorations.

Since you’re in the area, try not to miss ‘Wat Preah Prohm Roth’, a traditional Buddhist temple in the heart of Siem Reap, right outside Pub Street area.

So to Angkor Wat itself…not too far off the city centre, where within a 7km radius you will discover one of the most iconic ancient Temple complexes in Cambodia: the ultimate expression of Khmer architectural genius – an awe-inspiring, Grand-scale complex, but still with stunning, intricate details everywhere.

The Angkor Archaeological Park is also a marvel: spreading over and area of more than 400 km²…It was popularised in the West by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot’s 1860 evocative writing ‘Travels in Siam, Cambodia and Laos‘ complete with detailed sketches, comparing Angkor to the Pyramids, he said:

At Ongcor, there are …ruins of such grandeur… that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilized, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works?

But the True history of Angkor Wat was pieced together much earlier than by Mouhot, or the French exploration… Recent discoveries have concluded that the Temples date back to between the early 9th to early 15th centuries, and represent the largest collective complex of Religious monuments on Earth. Originally built as a sacred dwelling dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat represented the King’s State Temple, the City capital of the Khmer Empire, eventually becoming a mausoleum for the King himself. Only towards the end of the 12th century, gradually, did it transform into a Buddhist shrine.

The birthplace of the Khmer Empire, that lasted for more than 600 years, would now cover modern-day Cambodia and Laos, as well as extensive parts of Vietnam and Thailand, and it was cared for by Buddhist monks, between the 15th and the 19th century. It is solely thanks to them that the complex it has been preserved so well, to this day.

Top 3 Must-see Temples at Angkor Wat

Built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat temple was designed to represent Mt. Meru, home of ‘Devas’ (Deities) in Hindu mythology, with a similar importance to Khmers, as Mt. Olympus was to Greeks…. Again, for it’s Time, it’s Architecturally ambitious, and resonates with spiritual Hindu devotion, helped by its unique Temple mountain shape.

There have been no other dwellings, houses or other settlements… including cooking utensils, weapons, or clothing found at the site….which sits with the evidence of the monuments themselves, possibly used by the High Priests and the King, alone. The remarkable bas-reliefs surrounding the Brahmanic funeral rituals, indicating that the temple was, indeed, intended to serve as some part of the King’s funeral arrangements, from the start…much like the Pyramids…

The Temple has drawn praise for its classic symmetrical proportions and intricately carved elements, with its’ Towers shaped like Lotus buds, leading to axial galleries and broad-chambered passageways, engraved with bas-reliefs of narrative scenes – dancing figures, prancing animals and devatas (deities), depicting episodes from the Hindu mythology – Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Virtually all surfaces, columns and roofs were carved in kilometres of reliefs illustrating scenes from the Indian literature.

The entire Complex has an outer wall, boxing off an area of around 800 sqm, along with the Western-facing Centre Structure. The second level of the enclosure is thought to have been originally flooded with water to represent the ocean around Mt Meru. Three sets of steps, one on each side, lead up to the Gopuras (Temple towers) of the inner gallery, while the very steep stairways and their height represent the difficulty of ascending to the Kingdom of the Gods.

The four small courtyards may have originally been filled with water. The Khmer Architects used sandstone as their main building material, with a binding agent that is still unknown. but they point towards natural resins or slaked lime. Some of the blocks were held together by mortise and tenon joints, and just Gravity in some cases, and must have been put in place by a combination of elephants, ropes, pulleys and bamboo scaffolding…as that was pretty much all they had to work with back then..… According to local legend, though… it was believed that the Temple was constructed in a single night, from the hand of a Divine architect.

Calculations have revealed that the Monument was probably made out of around 5 to 10 million sandstone blocks, with a maximum weight of 1.5 tonnes each….an Incredible amount of Material, in the middle of the Jungle… In fact, the entire city of Angkor uses up far greater amounts of stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, while occupying an area significantly greater than modern-day Paris!… Moreover, unlike the Pyramids, which used limestone blocks quarried from relatively close by, the city of Angkor was built with sandstone blocks..meaning they must have been brought from 40-90km away! That would mean a labour force required to quarry, transport, carve and set in place all the blocks and decorative elements, that must have numbered in the thousands…

Today, it has become a major UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts more than 2.5million people every year and approx. 60% of the foreign tourists entering Cambodia.

Covering hundreds of square kilometres, this site will surely keep many visitors busy for days.

Bayon Temple

As successive Khmer kings strived to overshadow their ancestors through more and more colossal constructions, with grander creative depictions of mythological events or Khmer history, during King Jayavarman VIIs’ rule, in the late 12th century, The Bayon Temple was constructed.

Apsaras, divine nymphs or celestial dancing girls, are characters from Indian mythology.

Surrounded by over 200 gigantic smiling faces of ‘Avalokiteshvara’, also known as the “Lord who looks down” – the Lord who created the Sun & Moon, Shiva, Brahma, the Earth and the Sky, signifying that Bayon was the first Angkor shrine dedicated to Buddha, incorporating a synergy of Hindu and Buddhist elements of cosmology.

Some have said that maybe King Jayavarman VII regarded himself as Devaraja or ‘god-king’ and identified with Buddha and the Bodhisattva, by portraying the faces as representations of his own self.

‘Ta Prohm’ is a Majestic Buddhist Temple in the heart of Angkor Thom. Built in 1186, it was originally known as ‘Rajavihara’ or the ‘Monastery of the King’ and the personification of wisdom, modelled after the King’s mother.

The sanctuary sheltered more than 12,000 people, supported by a population of 80,000 people who worked in nearby villages to provide food and supplies, all of which are depicted in the Temples’ inscriptions.

But what is truly fascinating about Ta Prohm, is its fascinating mixture between Chaos and Structure, what’s Organic and Man-made, what’s Wood and Stone. …This Temple, surrounded by hundreds of year old, setting for endless, tree trunks sprouting through the Ruins…. is setting for Indiana Jones or Alan Quartermain.… Silk-cotton and Strangler Fig trees snake their roots deep into the stones of the Temple itself, which was incredibly built entirely, without mortar.

In fact, the entire Sanctuary was recovered and rehabilitated from the Jungle itself, as Nature’s order had to be claimed back and re-established, over the centuries. This Temple state is purposely and delicately maintained, and by doing so, reveals an astonishing merger of Nature and Architecture.

Nature not only re-shaped Ta Prohm, but it has also lent a depth of mysticism and haunting charm, entwined in its bas-reliefs, carped with moss, lichen and other plants, casting a greenish pall over the whole scene.

To me: the entire Archaeological Park of Angkor is the epitome of strength and creative beauty, with an element that stands out the most and you simply cannot miss – Ta Prohm’s charming setting: You can almost feel the Roots of Adventure itself, burrowing into the Ground here.Ta Prohm Temple, Angkpr Wat

How to get there

Aside from the enchanting widely spread Ancient Ruins, I was surprised by the ease and safety of getting around and exploring areas, which not long ago, were, literally, uncharted Jungle territory. There is actually a multitude of options you can use to travel, but the most convenient way of discovering the countryside is by motor, horse, bicycle or tuk-tuk. Each will cost you between $10 and $15 for a whole day, and they are perfect if you’re planning Photography and Nature tours.

Having that in mind: I can say that Siem Reap is very safe, friendly and welcoming for all types of travellers, with a seemingly endless choice of Entertainment, Dining and Accommodation, It’s an embodiment of contrasts, that reminds me of some of Thailand’s most popular areas (Krabi, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai). In other places, it resembles the quiet, serene Life of, say, the Philippines’s, with small Communities sustaining themselves through farming and fishing.

What is my most memorable thought I have from my trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat? ..the level of complexity in Architecture, of sophistication in Art and precision, from Houses to handicraft. Majestic work that has lived through different Eras, centuries of wars and battles, not just with Mankind, but with Nature itself…Who knows, ultimately how they were built ..but one thing is for certain: they were, are, and always will be Masterpieces that will stand as the Cornerstones of Culture, for Generations to follow and Respect.

Angkor Wat (c.1115-1145) Architecture & Sculpture of Khmer Temple

Angkor Wat relief sculptures of
devatas (Hindu gods or spirits).

Along with the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at Khajuraho, Central India, and the Taj Mahal in northern India, the Cambodian Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat ranks among the greatest examples of religious architecture in the whole of Asia, comparable to the finest specimens of Gothic architecture or Baroque architecture in Europe. Situated some 4 miles (6 km) north of the modern town of Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia (Kampuchea), the temple was built about 1115-1145 in Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire, by King Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-1150), to serve as his mausoleum. Angkor Wat operated first as a Hindu shrine dedicated to Vishnu, then a Theravada Buddhist temple in the late 13th century. Today Angkor Wat is Cambodia's most famous site of religious art and its silhouette appears on the Cambodian national flag. The temple is renowned for its high classical style of Khmer architecture, as well as the staggering quantity of its relief sculpture and architectural carvings. Artifacts taken from the site and large sections cast from the temple buildings were exhibited in Paris in 1867, announcing a great and unknown civilization rivalling in sophistication the work of the greatest architects in the West. In 1992, along with a sister temple Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat was proclaimed a UN World Heritage Site.

The city of Angkor (ancient name: Yasodharapura) was the royal capital from which Khmer kings ruled one of the largest and most sophisticated kingdoms in the history of Southeast Asia. From 890, when King Yasovarman I moved his capital to Angkor, until about 1210, the kings of Angkor controlled an area that extended from the southern tip of the Indochina peninsula northward to Yunnan and from Vietnam westwards as far as the Bay of Bengal. During this era, these kings implemented a series of massive construction projects designed to glorify both themselves and their dynastic capital. After the death of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1215), the Angkor Empire went into decline, although as late as 1280 Angkor was still a thriving metropolis and one of the most magnificent cities in Asia. However, the great construction boom was over, Angkor Wat had been turned into a Buddhist shrine, and Thai armies were watching. In 1431 they sacked the city which was then abandoned.

From the early 15th century to the late 19th century, interest in Angkor was limited almost entirely to the Angkor Wat temple complex which, having been maintained by Buddhist monks, became one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Southeast Asia. In time, the complex fell into disrepair and all that remained were jungle-covered ruins of the ancient temples and the remnants of the once-magnificent series of waterways, although it was never completely abandoned and its moat helped to preserve it against total engulfment. After the French took over Cambodia in 1863, they instigated a thorough program of reconstruction, under which Angkor Wat's buildings, reservoirs, and canals were restored to something approaching their original grandeur. The political and military upheavals which took place in Cambodia during the period 1935-1990 put an end to this program, but otherwise caused no great headaches. The site's only serious problem remained the encroachment of the jungle.

Architecture and Construction

The Angkor Wat temple is made from 6-10 million blocks of sandstone, each of which has an average weight of 1.5 tons. The city of Angkor required more stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, and originally occupied an area considerably greater than modern-day Paris. Given the additional complexity of the overall building scheme, it is clear that Angkor was designed and managed by some of the finest architects in southeast Asia.

The temple was designed and built on the basis of religious and political ideas imported from India, albeit adapted to local conditions. From the time of King Yasovarman I, for whom the city (originally called Yasodharapura) was named, Angkor was designed as a symbolic universe modelled on traditional Indian cosmology, and its temples were built in order to provide a means whereby Khmer kings could be assured of immortality by becoming closely identified with Shaiva or one of the other important deities of the realm. Angkor Wat, for instance, was built by King Suryavarman II as a huge funerary temple and tomb to serve as a home for his earthly remains and to confirm his immortal and eternal identitification with Vishnu.

Angkor Wat defines what has come to be understood as the classical style of Angkorian architecture: other temples designed in this idiom include Banteay Samre and Thommanon in the area of Angkor, and Phimai in modern Thailand. It combines two basic features of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the galleried temple, founded on early Dravidian architecture, with key features including the "Jagati" - a raised platform or terrace upon which many buddhist and hindu temples were built. In addition to Angkor Wat, another famous shrine with a jagati is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, at Khajuraho.

Built on rising ground and surrounded by an artificial moat, the temple of Angkor Wat is laid out symmetrically on tiered platforms that ascend to the central tower (one of a quincunx), which rises to a height of 213 feet (65 metres). Long colonnades connect the towers at each stepped level in concentric rings of rectangular galleries, whose walls are lined with sculpture and relief carvings. The temple is approached across the moat, via a stone causeway lined with stone figures. The ascending towers represent the spiritual world and mountain homes of the gods and were probably built in homage to ancestral deities. The temple's structures are chiefly built in stone with detailed bas-reliefs carved into the walls the corbelled blockwork and pseudo-vaulted towers are covered with highly animated figures chiseled into the sandstone and volcanic rock.

The Angkor Wat temple is world famous for its stone sculpture which can be seen on almost all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and roofs. There are literally miles of reliefs, typically in the form of bas-relief friezes illustrating scenes from Indian mythology, and featuring a bewildering array of animal and human figures, as well as abstract motifs like lotus rosettes and garlands. They include: devatas (Hindu gods or spirits), griffins, unicorns, lions, garudas, snakes, winged dragons, dancing girls and warriors. Khmer sculptors - surely some of the greatest sculptors in southeast Asia - paid meticulous attention to the headdresses, hair, garments, posture and jewellery of the deities and human figures. In addition to reliefs, Angkor Wat contains numerous statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Carved pediments and lintels decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. While the inner walls of the outer gallery, for example, are decorated with a series of large-scale scenes depicting episodes from Hindu sagas like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. On the southern gallery walls there is a representation of the 37 heavens and 32 hells of Hindu mythology, while the eastern gallery houses one of the most celebrated friezes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, featuring Vishnu showing 88 devas and 92 asuras.

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Key Facts & Information

Historical Background

  • Angkor Wat, built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in Yaśodharapura (present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, was his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire and gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
  • The temple became known to the Western world after one of the first Western visitors, Portugal’s António da Madalena, visited Angkor Wat in 1586.
  • Madalena’s description of Angkor Wat inspired the awe of many Europeans. He explained that the temple’s extraordinary construction could not be described by a pen and that it was a monument of unparalleled beauty.
  • Another visit by a European also encouraged a wave of expeditions to Cambodia. French naturalist Henri Mouhot wrote extensive descriptions of the temple that were published after his death.
  • Mouhot, who visited Angkor Wat in the middle of the 19th century, described the monument as grander than any architectural legacy of the Greeks or Romans.
  • Since that time, Angkor Wat has been the subject of significant research. Expeditions from various countries have attempted to discover the secrets of the temple complex, and millions of tourists have flocked to Cambodia from all corners of the globe. Thus, Angkor Wat continues to fascinate and inspire awe up to the present day.
  • It was built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5 B.C.). The temple has been estimated to have taken 30 years to construct. While Suryavarman II may have planned Angkor Wat as his funerary temple, or mausoleum, he was never buried there as he died in battle during a failed expedition to subdue the Dai Viet (Vietnamese). The work appeared to have ended shortly after the king’s death, leaving some of the bas-relief decorations unfinished.
  • The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat is built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts, requiring the labor of thousands. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants, yet it remains uncompleted.

Legends of Angkor Wat

  • Several legends are associated with the building of the monument, and towards the 12th century, Angkor Wat became a center of Buddhist worship.
  • According to legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son, Precha Ket Mealea.
  • According to the 13th-century Chinese traveler, Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.
  • From a distance, Angkor Wat appears to be a colossal mass of stone on one level with a long causeway leading to the center, but close up it is a series of elevated towers, covered galleries, chambers, porches and courtyards on different levels linked by stairways.
  • The height of Angkor Wat from the ground to the top of the central tower is greater than it might appear: 213 meters (699 feet) achieved by three rectangular or square levels (1-3). Each one is progressively smaller and higher than the one below, starting from the outer limits of the temple.
  • Covered galleries with columns define the boundaries of the first and second levels. The third level supports five towers – four in the corners and one in the middle – and these are the most prominent architectural feature of Angkor Wat.
  • The central tower rises from the center of the monument symbolizing the mythical mountain, Meru, situated at the center of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall corresponds to the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat, the oceans beyond.
  • While pictures of the temple are beautiful and show it’s grandeur, it must be seen to be fully understood and appreciated.
  • The Angkor Wat Gallery of bas-reliefs, surrounding the first level of Angkor Wat, contains 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet) of sandstone carvings. The reliefs cover most of the inner wall of all four sides of the gallery and extend two meters (seven feet) high from top to bottom.
  • The reliefs are meant to be seen in a counter-clockwise direction. Each section of the bas-relief depicts a story and most of them are about battles between gods and demons.

Temple Etiquette

  • Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly. It is not permissible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without the upper arms and knees covered.
  • Local authorities have recently released visitor ‘code of conduct’ guidelines and a video to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch or sit on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.
  • Angkor Wat has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.
  • Angkor Wat means “City of Temples” or simply “City Temple”.
  • Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia.
  • Wat is the Khmer name for temple, which was probably added to “Angkor” when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the sixteenth century.
  • The temple is mostly constructed of sandstone as the main building material. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime has been suggested.
  • The temple contains more than 1,800 carved apsara and hundreds of meters of bas-reliefs.
  • It is the only Khmerian temple that has been in continuous use since its construction.

Angkor Wat Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Angkor Wat across 28 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Angkor Wat worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Angkor Wat which is the largest religious monument in the world, measuring 162.6 hectares. It is the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride. As it is the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its creation.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • Angkor Wat Facts
  • Angkor Wat the Magnificent
  • Thumbs Up or Down?
  • Decorum
  • “WAT” is that Picture?
  • The Explorer!
  • Wat a Relief!
  • Search for the Right Words
  • Unscramble it!
  • Color Me Happy!
  • Make the Right Choice!

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Use With Any Curriculum

These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.

ANGKOR WAT: History, Architecture and Style

It seems like Cambodia is quickly becoming one of the hottest places on earth for tourists to select for where they will spend their vacation. We are not just talking about hot as in temperature, but are instead talking about making this the place to go.

There are beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife to see, and unbelievable waters to snorkel, swim and scuba dive in. Some of the most unusual species of animals exist in this country. In fact, in Ream National Park, a nature preserve located in the southwest portion of Cambodia, there is the largest number of threatened and endangered species of animals, plants, and insects on the planet Earth. This makes it so that tourists and visitors can see wildlife that they would find nowhere else on earth.

While Cambodia is known for all of these incredible attractions and sites that are drawing tourists and visitors to them, this ancient land also holds a large number of historical sites that make it a truly spectacular place to visit. None of these is more impressive than Angkor Wat.

Tell Us More About Angkor Wat

For those who are unfamiliar with this incredible location, this is a beautiful temple built nearly 900 years ago. This is such a majestic and beautiful site that it has been deemed as one of the seven Wonders of the World. Clearly this designation says a whole lot about how incredibly beautiful this temple is.

The Angkor Wat is not only the largest temple in Cambodia, but is actually the largest religious monument in the entire world. The temple monument covers 1,600,000 square meters and was originally built as a Hindu monument during the Khmer Empire. In less than 100 years this temple site would be transformed into the largest Buddhist monument on the planet, and still exists in this fashion today.

The site of the monument seems odd to many tourists and visitors because it is deeper within the Cambodian nation, however it needs to be understood that in the early 12th century Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire. The work on this temple began under King Suryavarman II, but he would die long before the project was completed. It would later be finished under King Jayavarman VII.

This incredible monument began as to showpiece for the Khmer Empire, but is now become one of the most important monuments in all of Cambodia. Millions of people come to see this site each year, and it is used in much of the tourist literature to attract visitors to the nation. Beaches and scuba diving may be a key factor of why so many people want to come to this country on vacation, but Angkor Wat is the real highlight for any vacationer.

History of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is located about 3.5 miles away from the modern city of Seam Reap. The location was selected because Angkor Wat was to become the new capital of the Khmer Empire. Several other ancient temple structures are built in small regions near the site, but this was to be the granddaddy of them all.

The purpose of the temple was to become the new palace for PrechaKetMeelea, the son of Indra. According to the Chinese traveler Daguan Zhou, the temple was supposed to have been built in one single night as part of the divine intervention of the Hindu gods. This same traveler also proposed a story of the temple being built for the King son.

According to historical records the temple began to be constructed during the reign of Suryavarman II around the year 1113. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and was built to be the kings personal temple and headquarters for his new capital city.

Much of the early history related to Angkor Wat has come from word-of-mouth or documents from other civilizations speaking about the temple. There are no legal documents remaining from the early decades when the construction began, with the exception of references being made about it being dedicated to Vishnu.

From what historians have been able to surmise, construction of the temple area ended shortly after the death of Suryavarman. This may have been due to the city being sacked by the enemies of the Khmer, the Chams, which left the Empire in disarray for quite some time.

For nearly 27 years the temple complex remained dormant, as construction completely ended in the Empire was looking to try to regain its prior prominence. When King Jayavarman came to power he rebuilt the Khmer Empire, but decided to move his temple and capital city a few miles north from Angkor Wat. This led to the construction of Angkor Thom, however, he did decide to complete the building of the temple. This led to the final appearance of Angkor Wat, to include its decoration, carvings, and statues.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that the temple had been completed, there was still no real use for it within the Hindu faith of the region. With the new temple being built in Angkor Thom the one in Angkor Wat became virtually unnecessary. This allowed for it to move from a center of Hindu worship into one used by Buddhists. This is still true today.

For centuries after its completion, it was used as a Buddhist temple, but not one that was widely known about. This meant that a small number of monks maintained the structure, but large numbers of people did not flock to the temple for prayer or meditation.

Despite its massive size, the world was quite oblivious to the 12th century temple complex, that is until 1586. In that year, Antonio da Madalena, a monk from the nation of Portugal, came to Cambodia and became the first known westerner to lay his eyes on the complex. He was truly captivated by grandeur of the complex, and documented his discovery. Of the temple complex he wrote, “it is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

His description did not inspire many to come to see this beautiful complex, and so for nearly 100 years Angkor Wat was a temple used by Buddhists, but was largely abandoned for the most part. The temple seemed destined to become one of the greatest man-made inventions that no one knew about. That is until 1632.

In that year a group of Buddhists from the country of Japan came to visit the historic site. They chose to celebrate the Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat making it the largest celebration at the temple complex in over 400 years.

In the 1800s the cat was finally out of the bag. The great French explorer Henri Mouhot came to the site and published a series of notes and drawings depicting how spectacular the temple site was. Within 10 years of his discovery photographers came capturing images for the entire world. It had been wondered if this beautiful wonder of the world would lay unrecognized by most of the world, but that rapidly came to an end with the pictures drawn by Mouhot.

As an interesting side note, it was his discovery that led the French government to determine that they wanted to make Cambodia one of their protectorates. The government found this site to be of such universal importance that they wanted to prevent invading armies and thieves from Siam from taking the treasures or destroying the temple area. On August 11, 1863, the French named Cambodia as one of their protectorates nations, and dispatched an armed garrison to protect the temple complex and its treasures. A French colonial flag flew over the temple for over 90 years before Cambodia gained its independence from France on November 9, 1953.

A Description of the Site and Its Architecture

Angkor Wat is located in a mountainous area of Cambodia. In fact, the primary temple of the complex is located at the peak and is intended to honor Mount Meru, the mythical temple of the Hindu gods. The central geometric pattern was to symbolize the five peaks of this mount, while the walls in the moat surrounding the temple complex were to represent mountain ranges in the ocean where the gods lived.

During the early years that the temple existed all were welcome to enjoy the entire complex and to pray or meditate anywhere within the complex itself. It was built with the idea that all would be welcome despite the fact that the king chose to build this complex as a way to please the gods and to leave a long lasting legacy to himself. Over the years, certain portions of the complex, especially the upper areas of the temple have been restricted so that only the highest members of the Buddhist faith were allowed in while the laity were only allowed in the lower levels.

One of the interesting aspects of this temple is the fact that it is a variant it to the West rather than to the east. Many have believed that this was due to the fact that Suryavarman built the complex as a funerary temple. Support for this idea has come from the fact that the normal process by which the temple and its artifacts would appear, known as the bas-reliefs, is in a counterclockwise direction, the reverse of what would be normally true in Hindu temples. Others summarize that the Western orientation is because it is dedicated to the god Vishnu, who was associated with the West.

The Style of Angkor Wat

This incredible religious site is a prime example of the Khmer architecture. In fact, this style has become so synonymous with the temple area that the classical style is now referred to as Angkor Wat style. The architects of the time were quite skilled in using sandstone, thus the majority of the structure is built out of this material. As a biding agent they used natural resins and slaked lime.

From an architectural standpoint, the building uses a wide variety of different structures, including such things as redented towers that looks very much like lotus buds, half galleries that brought them into passageways, axial galleries that were used to connect various enclosures, and cruciform terraces which are built along the main axis of the temple. Angkor Wat is a truly spectacular architectural innovation, making it easy to see why it is considered one of the great Wonders of the World.

Key Features of Angkor Wat

There is a great deal to like about this beautiful complex. It starts with the outer wall, which has dimensions of over 1000 m by over 800 m wide, with a wall that is over 15 feet high. Stretching out from the outer wall is a moat that is 620 feet wide and in circles around the beautiful complex. Wooden bridges are placed strategically across the mode at several places allowing tourists the opportunity to enter the temple area and view the true majesty of this complex.

There are beautiful galleries that run between the towers. The access to these galleries is provided by large gates, referred to as the elephant dates, which were large enough to allow animals to be able to enter the complex. The ceiling of the temple is decorated with lotus rosettes, and the West face of the wall with a series of dancing figurines. On the east face of the wall are spectacular and enormous windows, decorated with dancing male figures on prancing animals.

The central area of the temple stands on a terrace that raises the level of the temple higher than the city itself. Constructed of three rectangular galleries which rise to display the central tower, the architects design this so that each level is higher than the previous. The Hindu gods Brahma and Vishnu are centrally displayed in the central tower and are important figures within the Hindu faith. Interestingly enough, when Buddhist monks took over the temple area they did not find it necessary to remove these depictions or statues from the Hindu faith.

The Great Tourist Attraction

Since the early 1990s Angkor Wat has been one of the most sought after tourist destinations for people around the world. Is incredible as this temple is it is easy to see why so many would find it an incredible place to visit. There were not only Buddhists who wish to take a pilgrimage to this historic landmark, but people who just want to see the beautiful structure that is existed for over 800 years.

Tourism to the site really began to pick up following 2004. In 1993 the government of Cambodia castoff the Khmer Rouge tyranny and a new democratic legacy began in the southeast Asian nation. In that year 7,650 visitors sought visas to come to the site. Just 10 years later that number increased to over 500,000 people coming from foreign countries to visit the spectacular landmark. Just four years later over 1 billion people have come to Cambodia to see the spectacular temple.

The increased traffic flow to Angkor Wat has created issues. The large number of people have led to destruction and graffiti in areas of the temple, as well as natural wear and tear from so many people visiting the site. Consider that for centuries very few people even knew about Angkor Wat and now millions of people are coming to it each and every year it’s a population explosion the temple appears not to of been ready for.

Fortunately, the government of Cambodia has been quick to ensure that its national treasure is being properly cared for. The government has made it so that 28% of ticket revenue used to reach the Angkor site is given directly to the restoration and protection of the religious temple. This has insured that the sanctity and beauty of this spectacular landmark has been well maintained and kept safe from those seeking to do what harm.

Planning a Trip to See This Incredible Landmark

Clearly, this is a location that everyone should have the opportunity to see some point in their lifetime. It is such a beautiful look at the history of this nation that has been so well-maintained that you will not believe that this is survived nearly intact for over 800 years.

If you wish to get here the most sensible thing to do is to plan a trip to the city of Seam Reap. There you will find incredible hotel accommodations or resorts to stay in that are very reasonably priced. Once there you can buy tickets to come tour Angkor Wat. The cost ranges from $25-$50, depending on the sites you wish to see in the duration of time you wish to spend their, and often includes your travel from the city out to Angkor Wat to spend the day. The moment you step off the bus and take a look at this ancient city you will find that the prices well worth it.

Tips About Visiting Angkor Wat Temple Cambodia


There isn’t a strict dress code on what to wear unlike other Buddhist temples in South East Asia. Although, since Angkor Wat is still a temple, holy to the local people cover yourself appropriately. Wear loose and comfortable clothes since humidity will be at its peak, no matter when you go.

I will recommend knee-length shorts, skirts or dresses along with light knit t-shirts. Cover your shoulders, apart from the culture, to avoid sunburn. Do not wear heels or even wedges. The terrain will be rough and I will recommend only wearing sneakers, sports shoes or sandals here. Also, carry a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from scorching heat.

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Do not go climbing on the Bayon faces or posing inappropriately around the temple. Trust me, you will see a lot of them doing so. But it’s not cool and the locals do not appreciate it. It is a holy site for millions of people and getting a sexy Instagram photo with out-of-context behaviour will not be largely appreciated.


You will find many monks in the area. Be extremely respectful to them. Do not touch them, especially females since it will break their holy vows. If you want to take a picture of them, ask them first and politely. Don’t try to get too overfriendly suddenly.


Even though there are a few eateries inside the complex, take snacks and water along with you. It may take a while exploring one of these places and eateries are far from each other. Apart from that, take your trash home. Even if you cannot find a dustbin in the vicinity, take your trash home.


Scams are common in Cambodia. Sometimes it’s your luggage, other times it’s just a dollar. But don’t let anyone take your passport or your mobile phone or it can be used against you. Even if someone offers you to give an interesting tip about a place, change notes for you or take a photograph, they will probably ask for money for the exchange.


For the sake of the animals, don’t. The elephants are not treated well and often abused. Don’t support the people running it, even if others do.

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