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To the southeast of the original capital a new temple complex, Angkor Wat [Angkor temple], was created under Suryavarman II (r. 1113–50). Planned as a sepulcher and a monument to the divinity of the monarch and measuring about 1 sq mi (2.6 sq km), it is probably the largest religious structure in the world. Surrounded by a vast moat, the carved gray sandstone temple is approached by means of an extensive causeway bordered on either side by balustrades in the form of giant Nagas (divine serpents). This avenue leads to a magnificent entrance gate. The temple proper is reached through three series of galleries separated by paved courts. The middle series has four corner towers; above it, the highest series also has four corner towers and is joined to the central sanctuary by colonnades. Angkor Wat's rising series of towers and courtyards culminate in a 213-ft (65-m) lotus blossom-shaped central tower. The whole mass has been interpreted as representing the Hindu cosmos.
The architecture of Angkor Wat, derived from the stupa form, is enormously impressive, but the most remarkable feature of the temple compound is its sculptural ornament, covering thousands of feet of wall space. The decoration is in the form of low relief of impeccable craftsmanship, illustrating scenes from the legends of Vishnu and Krishna, with some historical events from the life of the king. More delicate in proportions than their Indian prototypes, many of the figures bear a resemblance to modern Cambodian dancers in their elegance of gesture and stateliness of pose. In 1177 Angkor was sacked by the Chams, and Angkor Wat fell into ruin.
Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–c.1218) established a new capital, Angkor Thom [the great Angkor], north of Phnom Bak Kheng. The buildings of an already existing city were used as residential palaces and governmental buildings; an excellent system of moats and canals was constructed. At the four entrances of the capital, there are gateways; they open onto four avenues that meet at the Bayon, the temple in the center of the city. Before each gateway is a bridge decorated with a balustrade in the shape of a giant Naga, supported on each side by 27 carved figures. Above the gates are carved imposing stone faces, generally thought to symbolize the Bodhisattva Lokesvara.
Jayavarman VII erected the Bayon as a Buddhist sanctuary, but it underwent alterations during a later Hindu period. The central tower bears a giant image of Buddha, which has been interpreted as the incarnation of Jayavarman VII. Surrounding the main structure is a forest of more than 50 smaller towers studded with multiple heads of the king as a Buddhist god. The buildings are covered with elaborate decoration, more spontaneously and realistically rendered than that at Angkor Wat and again illustrating historical episodes from the king's life.
Abandonment and Restoration
See M. Giteau, Khmer Sculpture and the Angkor Civilization (1966); B. Groslier and J. Arthaud, The Arts and Civilization of Angkor (rev. ed. 1966); J. Myrdal and G. Kessle, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism (1971); J. Audric, Angkor and the Khmer Empire (1972); E. F. Gardner, ed., Angkor (1986); E. Mannikka, Angkor Wat: Time, Space and Kingship (1996); H. I. Jessup and T. Zephir, ed., Sculpture of Ankor and Ancient Cambodia (1997); D. Rooney, Angkor: An Introduction to the Temples (1998); C. Jacques, Angkor: Cities and Temples (1998) and Angkor (1999).
a medieval Hindu temple in Cambodia near Angkor Thom. One of the largest religious buildings in the world. Constructed in the 12th century during the reign of Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat was dedicated to the god Vishnu and was later used by the Buddhists. A silhouette of the towers of Angkor Wat is depicted on the national emblem of Cambodia. The temple may have been the tomb of Suryavarman II; it ceased functioning in the 15th century. It is part of the architectural complex of Angkor.