The Cardamom Sanctuary
Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivaled. Its
mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp and a luxury surpassing that of a
Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an
artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal.
Angkor Wat is located about six kilometers (four miles) north of Siem Reap,
south of Angkor Thom. Entry and exit to Angkor Wat can only be access from its
Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5BC). Estimated
construction time of the temple is 30 years by King Suryavarman II, dedicated to
Vishnu (Hindu), replica of Angkor Thom style of art.
Angkor Wat, the largest monument of the Angkor group and the best preserved, is
an architectural masterpiece. Its perfection in composition, balance,
proportions, relief's and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the
world. Wat is the Thai name for temple (the French spelling is "vat "), which
was probably added to "Angkor "when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument,
most likely in the sixteenth century (for the etymology of the name 'Angkor' see
page 17) After 1432 when the capital moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared
for by Buddhist monks.
It is generally accepted that Angkor Wat was a funerary temple for King
Suryavarman II and oriented to the west to conform to the symbolism between the
setting sun and death. The bas-reliefs, designed for viewing from left to right
in the order of Hindu funereal ritual, support this function.
The plan of Angkor Wat is difficult to grasp when walking through the monument
because of the vastness. Its complexity and beauty both attract and distract
one's attention. 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 with 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 is the most prominent architectural feature of Angkor Wat. This
arrangement is sometimes called a quincunx. Graduated tiers, one rising above
the other, give the towers a conical shape and, near the top, rows of lotuses
taper to a point. The overall profile imitates a lotus bud,
Several architectural lines stand out in the profile of the monument. The eye is
drawn left and right to the horizontal aspect of the levels and upward to the
soaring height of the towers. The ingenious plan of Angkor Wat only allows a
view of all five towers from certain angles. They are not visible, for example,
from the entrance. Many of the structures and courtyards are in the shape of a
cross. The. Visitor should study the plan on page 86 and become familiar with
this dominant layout. A curved sloping roof on galleries, chambers and aisles is
a hallmark of Angkor Wat. From a distance it looks like a series of long narrow
ridges but close up from identifies itself. It is a roof made of gracefully
arched stone rectangles placed end to end. Each row of tiles is capped with an
end tile at right angles the ridge of the roof. The scheme culminates in
decorated tympanums with elaborate frames.
Steps provide access to the various levels. Helen Churchill Candee, who visited
Angkor in the 1920s, thought their usefulness surpassed their architectural
purpose. The steps to Angkor Wat are made to force a halt at beauteous
obstruction that the mind may be prepared for the atmosphere of sanctity, she
In order to become familiar with the composition of Angkor Wat the visitor
should learn to recognize the repetitive elements in the architecture. Galleries
with columns, towers, curved roofs, tympanums, steps and the cross-shaped plan
occur again and again. It was by combining two or more of these aspects that a
sense of height was achieved. This arrangement was used to link one part of the
monument to another. Roofs were frequently layered to add height, length or
dimension. A smaller replica of the central towers was repeated at the limits of
two prominent areas-the galleries and the entry pavilions. The long causeway at
the entrance reappears on the other side of the entry pavilion.
Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an
earthly model of the cosmic world. 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.
Even though Angkor Wat is the most photographed Khmer monument, nothing
approaches the actual experience of seeing this temple. Frank Vincent grasped
this sensation over 100 years ago. The general appearance of the wonder of the
temple is beautiful and romantic as well as impressive and grand it must be seen
to be understood and appreciated. One can never look upon the ensemble of the
vat without a thrill, a pause, a feeling of being caught up onto the heavens.
Perhaps it is the most impressive sight in the world of edifices.
Angkor Wat occupies a rectangular area of about 208 hectares (500 acres) defined
by a laetrile wall (4). The first evidence of the site is a moat with a long
sandstone causeway (length 250 meters, 820 feet; width 12 meters, 39 feet)
crossing it and serving as the main access to the monument (5). The moat is 200
meters (656 feel) wide with a perimeter of 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles).
The west entrance begins with steps leading to a raised sandstone terrace (6) in
the shape of a cross at the foot of the long causeway. Giant stone lions on each
side of the terrace guard the monument.
Looking straight ahead, one can see at the end of the causeway the entry gate
with three towers of varying heights and with collapsed upper portion (7). This
entry tower hides the full view of the five towers of the central group. A long
covered failure with square columns and a curved roof extends along the moat to
the left and right of the entry tower. This is the majestic facade of Angkor Wat
and a fine example of classical Khmer architecture. Helen Churchill candee must
have been standing on this terrace almost 70 years ago when she wrote. Any
architect would thrill at the harmony of the fasade, an unbroken stretch of
repeated pillars leading from the far angles of the structure to the central
opening, which is dominated, by three imposing towers with broken summits.
This facade originally had another row of pillars with a roof. Evidence of this
remains in a series of round holes set in square based in front of the standing
pillars. Tip Before proceeding along the causeway turns right, go down the steps
of the terrace and walk along the path a few meters for a view of all five
towers of Angkor Wat. Return to the center of the terrace and walk down the
causeway towards the main part of the temple. T