Angkor Thom is undeniably an expression of
the highest genius. It is, in three dimensions and on a scale worthy of an
entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas
that only great painters would dare to portray.
Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire, was a fortified cit enclosing
residences of priest, officials of the palace and military, as well as buildings
for administering the kingdom. These structures were built of wood and have
perished but the remaining stone monuments testify that Angkor Thom was indeed a
"Great City" as its name implies. Temples inside the walls of the city described
in this book are. Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace
of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat.
The Royal Palace situated within the city of Angkor Thom is of an earlier date
and belonged to kings of the tenth and first half of the tenth and first half of
the eleventh centuries. Although the foundations and an enclosing wall around
the palace with entry towers have been identified, little evidence remains of
the layout of the buildings inside the enclosure. This absence of archaeological
evidence of the royal buildings suggests that they were constructed of wood and
have perished. The French ascertained a general plan of the Royal Palace (see
map opposite). It included the temple-mountain of Phimeanakas and surrounding
pools together with residences and buildings for administering the capital,
which were probably at the back of the enclosure. Jayavarman VII reconstructed
the original site of the Royal Palace Palace to erect the city of Angkor Thom,
which was centered on the temple of Bayon and surrounded by a wall. Zhou Daguan
the Chinese emissary, who provided the only first-hand account o f the Khmer,
described the splendor of Angkor Thom.
At the center of the Kingdom rises a Golden tower Bayon flanked by more than
twenty lesser towers and several hundred stone chambers. On the eastern side is
a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with eight
golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers. North of the Golden Tower of
Bronze [Baphuon], higher even than the Golden tower. a truly astonishing
spectacle. With more than ten chambers at its base. A quarter of a mile further
north is the residence of the King rising above his private apartments is
another tower of gold, These are the monuments which have caused merchants from
overseas to speak so often of "Cambodia the rich and noble "
Symbolically, Angkor Thom is a microcosm of the universe, divided into four
parts by the main axes. The temple of the Bayon is situated at the exact center
of the axes and stands as the symbolical link between heaven and earth. The wall
enclosing the city of Angkor Thom represents the stonewall around the universe
and the mountain ranges around Meru. The surrounding moat (now dry) symbolizes
the cosmic ocean.
The city of Angkor Thom consists of a square, each side of which is about three
kilometers (1.9 miles) long a laterite wall 8 meters (26 feet) in height around
the city encloses an are of 145.8 hectares (360 acres). A moat with a width of
100meters (328 feet) surrounds the outer wall. An entry tower and along causeway
bisect each side of the wall except on the east where are two entrances. The
additional one, called the "Gate of Victory "is aligned with the causeway
leading to the Terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King. A small temple
known as "Prasat Chrung' stands at each corner of the wall around the city of
Angkor Thom. An earth embankment 25 meters (82 feet) wide supports the inner
side of the wall and serves as a road around the city.
CAUSEWAY WITH STONE FIGURES
A long causeway leading to each entry tower is flanked by a row of 54 stone
figures on each side – demons on the right and gods on the left-to make a total
of 108 mythical beings guarding the city of Angkor Thom. The demons have a
grimacing expression and wear a military headdress whereas the gods look serene
with their almond-shaped eyes and wear a conical headdress. (Some of the heads
on these figures are copies; the original ones have been removed and are at the
Angkor Conservancy in Siem Reap).
A serpent spreads its nine heads in the shape of a fan at the beginning of the
causeway. Its body extends the length of the causeway and is held by the gods
and demons forming a serpent-like railing. It may symbolize the rainbow uniting
the worlds of man and the gods. This representation is reinforced by the
presence of Indra.
A small sandstone temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara occupies
each corner of the wall enclosing the city of Angkor Thom. An inscription at the
temple names Jayavarman VII as the builder and gives the charter of the
foundation of the wall and moat of the city. Each temple is in the shape of a
cross opens to the east with a porch on each side, and is crowned with a
lotus-shaped top. Abase with two tiers supports the temple. Female figures in
niches and false windows typical of the period decorate the exterior. The upper
half of the window is sealed with laterite blocks in emulation of an awning; the
lower half contains balusters.
Through here all comers to the city had to pass, and in honor of this function
it has been built in a style grandiose and elegant, forming a whole,
incomparable in its strength and expression.
The five entry towers are among the most photographed of all the ancient
Cambodian ruins. Each sandstone tower rises 23 meters (75 feet) to the sky and
is crowned with four heads, one facing each cardinal direction. The faces may
represent the rulers of the four cardinal points at the summit of mount Meru.
The lower half of each gate is modeled like an elephant with three heads. Their
trunks,, which serve as pillars, are plucking lotus flowers. The Hindu god Indra
sits at the center of the elephant with an Apsara on each side. He holds a
thunderbolt in his lower left hand.
Looking through the tower one can see a corbel arch, a hallmark of Khmer
architecture. Inside, wooden crossbeams are visible and a sentry box stands on
Source: Ministry of
Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia