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Highlight of some temples:


Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei temple is located in Banteay Srei village, Banteay Srei commune, Banteay Srei district, about 37 kilometers from Siem Reap city. The temple was built in the second half of the 10th century during the reign of King Rejendravarman and King Jayavarman V, dedicated to Brahmanish.

The special charm of this temple lies in its remarkable state of preservation, small size and excellence of decoration. Some unanimous archaeologists say that Banteay Srei is a precious gem and a jewel in Khmer art.

Banteay Srei, as known by locals, was originally called Isvarapura, according to inscription. It was built by a Brahmin of royal descent who was spiritual teacher to King Jayavarman V. A special feature of the exquisite decoration was the use of the hard pink sandstone (quartz arenite) which enabled the technique of sandalwood carving.

Architectural and decorative feature of Banteay Srei are unique and exceptionally fine. A tapestry-like background of foliage covers the walls of the structures in the central group as if a deliberate attempt has been made to leave no space undecorated.

The architecture is distinguished by triple superimposed frontons with relief narrative scenes carved in the tympanums, terminal motifs on the frames of the arches, and standing figure in the niches. Panels are decorated with scenes inspired by epic Ramayana and its execution has a liveliness not seen in the more formal decoration of earlier temples. Compared to the rest of Angkor, this is in miniature. The doors of the central towers are narrow and barely one and a half meters high. The quality of architecture and decoration make up for any shortcomings in size.

The temple is rectangular in plan and enclosed by three ramparts and a moat. Only two of the ramparts are visible. The central area of the temple is the most important and most beautiful. It is surrounded by a brick rampart that has almost entirely collapsed. However, there are remnants on either side of the east gopura. There are two libraries on each side of the walkway in the central courtyard opening to the west.

The three shrines arranged side by side in a north to south line standing on a common, low platform and opening to the east. The principle shrine in the central contained Shiva lingam; the shrine on the south was dedicated to Brahma, whereas the one on the north honors Vishnu. All three central shrines are of a simple form with a superstructure comprising four tiers, decorated with miniature replicas of the main shrine which symbolize the dwelling of the gods. The shrines are guared by sculptures of mythical figure with human torsos and animal heads kneeling at the base of the stairs leading to the entrance. Most of these figures are copies; the originals have been removed for safe-keeping.

Bayon


The Bayon temple is located in the center of Angkor Thom. The temple is one of the most popular sites in the Angkor complex. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII . The architectural composition of the Bayon exudes grandness in every aspect. Over 200 large faces caved on the 54 towers give this temple its majestic character, which at that time represents the 54 provinces in Cambodia. The iconography of the four  faces has been widely debated by scholars and some think they represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, in keeping with the Buddhist . character of the temple, it is generally accepted that the four  faces on each of the towers are images of  King Jayavarman VII and signify the omnipresence of the King. The plan of  the Bayon is presented on three separate levels. The first and second levels contain galleries featuring the bas-reliefs. A 16-sided central sanctuary dominates the third level, which is cruciform in plan. Despite this seemingly simple plan, the layout of the Bayon is complex due to later additions, a maze of galleries , passages and ateps, connected in a way that makes the levels practically indistinguishable and creates dim lighting, narrow walkways and ceiling.

Besides the architecture and the smiling faces, the highlight of Bayon is undoubtedly the bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs on the inner gallery are mainly mythical scenes, whereas those on the outer gallery are a marked departure from anything  previously seen at Angkor. They are unique and contain genre scenes of everyday life-markets, fishing, festivals with cockfights and jugglers and so on-and historical scenes with battles and processions. The bas-reliefs are more deeply carved than at Angkor Wat, but the representation is less stylized. The scenes are presented mostly in two or three horizontas panels. The lower one, with an unawareness of the laws of perspective, shows the foreground, whereas the upper tier presents scenes of the horizon. They both exhibit a wealth of creativity. Descriptions of the bas-reliefs in this guide follow the normal route for viewing the Bayon. They begin in the middle of the east gallery and continue clockwise. Visitors should keep the monument on their right.


Angkor Wat

Noted for its architectural and artistic perfection, not to mention its sheer size, Angkor Wat is the most famous and no doubt the most remarkable of all of Cambodia’s ancient temples. Combining great technical mastery on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary architectural and artistic innovations, Angkor Wat has a unique place in the long ancient Khmer tradition of the royal “Temple-Mountain”. Built in the 12th century in the reign of King Suryavarman II, this was the residence of Vishnu, the divine palace in which the King himself was to reside after death. The construction is thought to have taken some thirty years of intensive labor.

In the “Middle Period”, notably in the 16th century, Angkor Wat, then known as Preah Pisnulok (the posthumous name of its royal founder), became a site of Buddhist pilgrimage not only for the Khmer people but for much of Southeast Asia, and indeed for other more distant Asian peoples. Today, the Khmer people see in “Little Angkor” (the familiar name of Angkor Wat), the symbol of their nation.

Angkor Wat, forming a rectangle of about 1,500 by 1,300 meters, covers an area including its 190 metre wide moats – of nearly 200 hectares. The external enclosure wall defines an expanse of 1,025 meters by 800, or 82 hectares. It is the largest monument of the Angkor group.

Site

Constructed to the south of the capital (Angkor Thom), Angkor Wat is sited in the southeast corner of the ancient city of Yashodhara built by Yashovarman I and centred on Phnom Bakheng.

The westward orientation of Angkor Wat is opposite to the orientation of sanctuaries dedicated to divinities. In Brahmanic funerary rituals, the rites are performed in reverse of the normal order – the ritual procession does not follow “pradakshina” (keeping the monument to one’s right), but rather in the opposite direction, the “prasavya?”. Hence, the bas-reliefs are to be viewed in an anti-clockwise direction.

Exterior

The moats surrounding the external enclosure of the monument are bordered by steps with a moulded sandstone perimeter, and are five and a half kilometers in overall length.

They are crossed only at two places – to the east by a simple bank of earth, and to the west by a 200 meter-long and 12 meter-wide sandstone-paved causeway, lined with columns along its sides. A cruciform terrace decorated with lions, precedes this causeway and is bordered by naga balustrades.

The temple enclosure, formed by a high laterite wall incorporates a colonnade of 235 meters composed of a three-part gopura – the towers of which are cruciform in plan and galleries that link with two pavilions at either extremity which served as passageways for elephants.

Kuk Ta Reach

Kuk Ta Reach, the “Sanctuary of the Royal Ancestor” is the traditional name of the series of porticoes in this colonnade leading into the interior of Angkor Wat. Of the many divinities and spirits worshiped here, ‘Ta Reach’ is by far the most important. Embodied in a colossal four-armed statue worshipped in the portico to the south of the main entrance, Ta Reach’s protective powers are known throughout the Angkor region. Over the past decades, local caretakers have restored parts of the Ta Reach statue with cement. In 2003, the cement replica head was replaced by the original that had been stored for safekeeping at the National Museum of Cambodia.

 Bas-Relief Galleries

The bas-reliefs cover the inner walls of the galleries of the lower enclosure and comprise of panels two meters in height with a total area of more than 1,000 square meters excluding the corner pavilions. Limited to the zone that would have been accessible to the public, they represent legendary and historic scenes for the enlightenment of the faithful.

These galleries, which are open to the exterior and form the temple’s third enclosure wall, are sculpted in bas-reliefs representing historical and epic scenes. The friezes were, for the most part, executed during, or shortly after, the reign of Suryavarman II. Only the northeastern corner – the northern section of the eastern gallery and the eastern section of the northern gallery were left bare at that time, to be sculpted later, in the 16th century. These late reliefs are notably inferior in quality of conception and execution, due most probably to a rupture in the artistic tradition between the fall of the capital at Angkor in the 15th century and the 16th-century restoration. The scenes represented are as follows:


Ta Promh


Ta Prohm  is the modern name of a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors.


Preah Khan


Preah Khan Temple is located 2 kilometers north-east of Angkor Thom city. The temple was built in 12th century (1191) by King Jayavarman VII, dedicated to his father Dharanindravarman. The Buddhist complex cover 56 hectares served as the nucleus of a group that includes Neak Pean and Ta Som, located 4 kilometers long Jayatataka Baray – the last of the great reservoirs to be built in Angkor. The inscription indicates that Preah Khan was built on the battle site where King Jayavarman VII finally defeated the Chams. In those days it was known as Nagarajayacri which mean the city of Preah Khan.

Four concentric ramparts subdivide Preah Khan. The outer or fourth wall, which is encircled by a wide moad, today encloses a large tract of jungle, formerly the living quarters of the monks, students and attendants of Preah Khan. The second rampart delineated the principle religious compound of about foru hectares within which there is a dense concentration of temple and shrines. The contral complex is Buddhist. The northern and western sectors are dedicated to Bishnu (west) and Shiva (north), whilst the southern sector is a place of ancestor worship. The eastern sector forms the grand entrance to the central shrine.

A place for a king located near Preah Khan temple is call Veak Reachea or Preah Reachea Dak. It is 1500 meters long and 1200 meter wide. Nearby about 700 meters north of Preah Khan temple along the road to Angkor Thom district is another small temple called Ptu. The temple was made of laterite.

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean lies 50 kilometers northeast of Siem Reap city (18 km from Banteay Srei). It takes 1 hour from Siem Reap.

The original river of thousand Lingas, Kbal Spean is an intricately carved riverbed deep in the foothills of the Cambodian jungle. Lingas are phallic representations sacred to Brahmanism as symbols of fertility, and hundreds of them are carved into the rock here, as are serveral carvings of gods and animals above the small waterfall. The area was rediscovered in 1969, when French researcher Jean Boulbet was shown the carvings by a local hermit.

A visit to Kbal Spean, a reference to the natural rock bridge, is one of the easiest ways to take a short jungle trek in the Angkor Area. It is a 30-minute walk to the carving through steamy foerest and some curious rock formations. It is best visit from July to December, because at other times of the year the river rapidly dries up. The access to the trail is not permitted after 3:30 pm. Food and drinks are available at the base of the trail.

Kulen mountain:


Phnom Kulen is in Svay Leu and Varin district, about 60 kilometers from Siem Reap city or 25 kilometers Banteay Srei. Phnom Kulen, originally called Mount Mahendraparvata, is the holy mountain where, when King Jayavarman II (802-850) proclaimed independence from Java in 802, the Angkorian Empire was born.

This mountain plateau served as the capital of the first Khmer Empire for more than half a century before it relocated south to Hariharalaya, known today as Roluos. As many as 20 minor temples, the first pyramid built by an Angkorian King, but many of them are difficult to reach. Numerous important sites lie scattered across the mountaintop, which is accessible by foot or by car.


Koh Ker


Koh Ker is an Angkorian site in northern Cambodia. 100 km northeast of Angkor itself, it was briefly the capital of the Khmer empire between 928 and 944 under king Jayavarman IV and his son Hasavarman II.After the Khmer empire had been established in the Angkor area (Roluos), Jayavarman IV moved the capital in 928 almost 100km northeast to Koh Ker. Here a vast number of temples were built under his reign, until his successor returned to the Angkor area about twenty years later. The Koh Ker site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30 meter tall temple mountain raising high above the plain and the surrounding forest. Great views await the visitor at the end of an adventurous climb. Garuda, carved into the stone blocks, still guard the very top, although they are partially covered now. Across the site of Koh Ker there are many prasat or tower sanctuaries. A couple still feature an enormous linga on a yoni that provides space for several people. The outlet for the water that was sanctified by running it over the linga can be seen in the outside wall of one of them. In other cases, three prasat stand next to each other, dedicated to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Most of them are surrounded by libraries and enclosures, many also had moats. At that time, the roofs were still made of wood. Today, only the holes for the beams remain in the stone structures.The site is still 3 hours away from Siem Reap, the area has been demined only recently and basic visitors' facilities are just being built. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partially overgrown by the forest and inhabited only by birds, calling to each other from the trees above.


Beng Mealea


It was built as hinduist temple, but there are some carvings depicting buddhist motifs. Its primary material is sandstone and it is largely unrestored, with trees and thick brush thriving amidst its towers and courtyards and many of its stones lying in great heaps. For years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the site, as it is 77 km from Siem Reap by road. The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style, identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century[1]. Smaller in size than Angkor Wat, the king's main monument, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire's larger temples: the gallery which forms the outer enclosure of the temple is 181 m by 152 m[2]. It was the center of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025 m by 875 m large and 45 m wide.

Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with "cruciform cloisters", like Angkor Wat. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east. There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.It was built mostly of sandstone: Beng Mealea is only 7 km far from the angkorian sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen, as the crow flies. Presumably sandstone blocks used for Angkor were transported along artificial water canals and passed from here[1]. Despite of lack of information, the quality of architecture and decorations has drown the attention of French scholars just from its discovery.


Preah Vihea


The Preah Vihear Temple or Prasat Preah Vihear (Khmer:  Prasat Preah Vihear) is a Khmer temple situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia and near the border of the Kantharalak district (amphoe) in the Sisaket province of eastern Thailand. In 1962, following a significant dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership of the temple, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague awarded the ownership to Cambodia.

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province, through which the temple is most easily accessible. On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Sambo Prey Kuk


The ancient city where monuments of Sambo Prei Kuk are found today was identified as ISANAPURA, the capital of Chenla in 7th century. Chenla was a former vassal of the Funan kingdom that was one of the first state in Southeast Asia, but it gradually gained its power and eventually King Citrasena Mahendravarman of Funan in the early 7th century.Main archaeological features in these groups of monuments are said to have been founded by king ISANAVARMAN I, the son of king Citrasena.


Many decorative details in Khmer architecture and sculpture are classified as Sambor style: the name was derived from these monuments dated in the first half of the 7th century. Henceforth this kingdom was the leading state and comprised the whole of Cambodia proper. Furthermore, several successions of kings’ reign might have maintained these monuments as their capital city. The century following the death of JAYAVARMAN I who is the last known king of this kingdom in the second half of the 7th century is a dark period in the history of Chenla. According to a Chinese accounts, in the 8th century, the country of Chenla was divided into land and water Chenlas. The obscurity prevails and this monument might be neglected thereafter. The history. However, is traced again with the accession of JAYAVARMAN II, who founded a new polity that is now referred as Angkor in the beginning of 9th century. Decorative details of Prasat Tao (Central Group) are similar to the style of the remains belong to the period of the king JAYAVARMAN II, Particularly, characteristic lion statues resembles the statues found in Phnom Penh. From these reasons this architectural complex is said to be constructed in this period.

Furthermore some inscriptions in Prasat Sambor (Northern Group) are dated in the 10th century under the reign of the king RAJENDRA VARMANII. And Robang Romeas group that is located about 2km northward from main temple area, contains other inscriptions of the king SURYAVARMAN I period. Some other decorative details and statues belong to the late Angkor period styles were confirmed from these temples. These historical evidences suggest that these monuments must have belonged to the important provincial principle city after Pre Angkor period.

From above historical perspective, this group of monuments is extremely significant not only for Cambodia but also for the entire area of Southeast Asia, for they are the only remaining sound architectural constructions that exemplify the architecture and sculpture of the early period in sizable quantity.

Bakan or Preah Khan Kampong Svay

The Bakan temples are located in Ta Siang village, Ronakse commune, Sangkum Thmei district, about 105 kilometers southwest of the provincial town. on a plain that was a former worship place of the king. The temple is surrounded by two ramparts-inside and outside rampart. Inside each rampart, there are many other temples such as Neang Peou and Dangkao Baodos temples.The temple was likely a royal palace and worship place. According to historians, the site used to be a hiding place of King Jayavarman VII before he ascended to the throne in AD 1181 because the style of some construction is similar to the style of Bayon and Ta Prohm temples.

Outside the rampart, there are many other temples such as Preah Damrei, Preah Thkaol, Ta Prohm, Muk Buon and Preah Stung temples.Looking through into the large area beyond the wall of Prasat Bakan (Bakan Temple) in Preah Vihear province, laterite stone refracts the bright sunshine, enveloping the temple in a heavenly light. The towers of the temple have long since collapsed and the hundreds of pieces of stone which once made up Bakan are now a less-than-glorious pile of rubble. Even in this sad state destroyed in part by war, and in part by greed the fallen Bakan can still provide us with evidence of the once important place this temple held in the history of the Angkor period, but looters have other plans. In 2003 after a botched robbery, the central area collapsed and apsara and Buddha statues were stolen.

Prasat Bakan is off National Route 6, 75km north of the Kompong Thom town, Stoung. According to the director of the Department of Culture and Fine Arts Ros Samphal, in ancient times, Prasat Bakan, or Preah Khan Kompong Svay temple as it sometimes called, was originally named after a victorious and well-loved general: Jey Srey. This general, was a man renowned for defeating the Cham and forcing them out of the Angkor capital. “Jey Srey is better known as Jayavarman VII,” Ros says. “Angkor?s mighty architect and warrior king.”He says that while the Angkor capital was occupied by Cham soldiers, one of the then Angkorian king?s sons, Jey Srey, fled the country to live in the Champa Kingdom (now central Vietnam). While living there, he studied this neighboring Kingdom, and in particular Cham military tactics. After 14 years, he returned to his beloved Angkor and created his own army, training them in secrecy in the jungle.

“While living in the jungle,” Ros says, “he completed Prasat Bakan. He also built an iron foundry where swords, knives, axes and other weapons were made by the thousands.””Each day, more and more soldiers were enlisted for military training.” “Once trained,” Ros continues, “Jey Srey led his army through Kompong Svay province [now part of Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces] direct to the Angkor capital, where he fought and defeated the Cham soldiers for the liberty of his father’s kingdom.””Jey Srey’s name held great meaning. Jey means victory and successor;Srey means happiness, harmony and good luck.”Deputy director of the Preah Vihear Provincial Tourism Department Kit Chanthy says Prasat Bakan was the second capital of the Angkor kingdom during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. “King Suryavarman I began the construction of the Hindu temple Bakan between 1002 and 1050. The temple was completed by King Jayavarman VII,” Kit explains. Prasat Bakan is situated in Ta Seng village, Sangkum Thmey district, Preah Vihear province.”

Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts H.E. Khim Sarith says since the beginning of 2006 the Ministry has been cooperating with provincial authorities to set up a team to protect the temple. “However what makes this difficult are the current road conditions leading to the temple. During the rainy season we can?t even get into the area,” Khim says. The main group of temples were built in the 12th century when Preah Khan was home to both King Suryavarman II and later, the future King Jayavarman VII, before the latter defeated the invading Chams, claimed the throne and moved his capital back to Angkor in 1181. The story of his victories are celebrated in bas-relief carvings on the walls of the Bayon and Banteay Chhmar.

Located 100 kilometres east of Angkor, the site was studied in the 1870s by Louis Delaporte, who shamefully looted and carried off a number of substantial carvings that are now housed in the Guimet Museum in Paris. However, one masterpiece remains in the National Museum in Phnom Penh and that’s a finely sculpted head, believed to be of Jayavarman VII. A millennium celebration at Preah Khan attracted hundreds of locals and vegetation was cleared from the site for the occasion, but it remains a complex very much in its natural state, inundated with trees, scrubs and dense foliage throughout. With the re-emergence of Cambodia’s remotest areas from years of inaccessibility.

Banteay Chhmar

This enormous complex, which was a temple city, is one of the most intriguing in the Khmer empire, both for it’s scale and it’s remote location. Never excavated, Banteay Chhmar fits the picture of a lost Khmer city with its ruined face-towers, carvings, forest surroundings and bird life flying through the temple.  It has a romantic and discovery feel to it.

Banteay ChhmarBanteay Chhmar dates from the late 12th to the early 13thcentury and it means Narrow Fortress. It is thought to have been built by Jayarvarman II. It was later rebuilt by Jayarvarman VII as a funerary temple for his sons and four generals who had been killed in a battle repelling a Cham invasion in 1177.

Like Preah Khan, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Banteay Chhmar originally enclosed a city with the temple at the heart. No traces of the city that surrounded the temple remain.

The temple area covers 2km by 2 and a half km. It contains the main temple complex and a number of other religious structures and a baray to its east. A mote filled with water and a huge wall inside of that encloses the center of the temple. This mote is still used to present day by locals for fishing and daily chores. A bustling small market and village bounds the east and south east and perhaps there has been continuous habitation there since the founding of the temple.

Inside the mote, a stone rest house and chapel can be seen. The highlight of Banteay Chhmar is the bas-reliefs, which are comparable with the Bayon. They depict battle against the Chams, religious scenes and a host of daily activities. In parts, the outer wall has collapsed. On the west side a spectacular multi-armed Lekesvara can be seen. The temples central complex is a jumble of towers, galleries, vegetation and fallen stones. Beautiful carvings can be seen throughout.



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