Aerial view of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

All About Angkor Wat (Facts, History & More)

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Angkor Wat, the world’s biggest religious structure is a prime example of classical Khmer-style architecture. Captivating generations with its sprawling construction and beautiful ruins, Angkor Wat is a masterpiece constructed by humankind. Renowned for the multiple architectural designs incorporated within it, like the Hindu-Khmer style, this temple features brilliant and intricate works of art. 

Though Angkor Wat is a temple by nature, the monuments at Angkor are collectively referred to as Angkor Wat, which is incorrect. Located in Siam Reap in Cambodia, our blog explains the interesting facts about Angkor Wat, provides snippets of information about its architecture, history, significance, and everything else we could find, and includes images so you can get a glimpse of this unparalleled beauty.

All About Angkor Wat, Cambodia 

1. Who Built & When?

King Suryavarman || at Angkor Wat
The King Suryavarman ||

Angkor Wat, built by King Suryavarman II from 1122 to 1150 CE, was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It took about 28 years to construct, but work stopped after the king’s death in 1150. Later, in the 16th century, King Ang Chan tasked his artists with completing the unfinished carvings. However, these carvings didn’t quite match the grandeur of the original 12th-century artwork.

Suryavarman II was one of the greatest kings in Khmer history and was credited with building numerous temples, including Banteay Samre, Beng Mealea, Preah Pithu, Chausay Tevoda, Thommanon, and parts of Preah Khan Kompong Svay. His most notable achievement was the construction of Angkor Wat, the largest monument in the Angkor group.

Back in the day, Cambodia had a huge territory under its belt. It stretched north to the Chi basin in Northeastern Thailand, eastward to the sea, westward to Lopburi province in Central Thailand, and even down to the Malay Peninsula. Plus, to cozy up to China, they sent royal folks from Angkor on diplomatic missions in 1116 and 1120 AD.

After his death, he received the posthumous name of Paramavishnuloka, associating him with the god Vishnu. You can see him on the Angkor Wat walls, leading a military parade on his elephant. Another carving shows him relaxing with his ministers.

2. The Great Khmer Empire

The Khmer Empire thrived from 802 to 1431 AD, starting with Hindu beliefs and later adopting Buddhism. This period saw the construction of magnificent temples, reaching its peak during Suryavarman II’s reign until 1150 and later under Jayavarman VII in the 12th–13th centuries. Some of the empire’s notable kings include

  • Jayavarman Ⅱ (802 – 850 AD)
  • Indravarman Ⅰ (877 – 889 AD)
  • Yasovarman Ⅰ (889 – 910 AD)
  • Jayavarman Ⅳ (921 – 941 AD)
  • Rajendravarman (944 – 968 AD)
  • Suryavarman Ⅰ (1002 – 1050 AD)
  • Udayadityavarman ⅠⅠ (1050 – 1066 AD)
  • Suryavarman ⅠⅠ (1113 – 1150 AD)
  • Jayavarman Ⅶ (1181 – 1218 AD) 

The monuments you see today at Angkor were built mostly during the reigns of Suryavarman Ⅱ and Jayavarman Ⅶ, the two most significant kings in Khmer history.

The kings erected massive monuments, extended the city’s borders, and established their main building as the state capital. For example, Angkor Thom, also known as Bayon Temple, served as the state capital under King Jayavarman VII. Around Angkor Thom, you can find schools, libraries, palaces, and event terraces.

3. Temple Architecture

The view of huge causeway of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat sits on a large rectangular site spanning 1,300 by 1,500 meters. It features central tower structures, galleries, and a long causeway connecting to an outer wall surrounded by a moat.

Guarding walls of Angkor Wat temple

The outer wall is 15 feet tall and surrounds a moat that is 5 kilometers long and 190 meters wide. Naga balustrades line the path, leading to the temple’s main entrance through a 350-meter causeway. Along the way, galleries flank either side, and a pond nestles between the library and the temple.

The temple stands on raised ground, featuring three rectangular galleries ascending towards the central tower, each progressively taller than the last. Four large towers surround the central shrine at its cardinal corners: NE, SE, NW, and SW. The tower above the central shrine reaches a height of 65 meters, standing 43 meters above the ground.

Carvings of apsaras on the temple walls
The carvings of apsaras

The temple’s interior is adorned with various decorative elements such as devatas or apsaras, bas-reliefs, pediments, extensive garlands, and narrative scenes. Originally, the central shrine housed a statue known as Ta Reach, an eight-armed representation of Lord Vishnu, which has since been replaced with Buddhas.

Theravada Buddhism was deeply honored at Angkor Wat. The second-level gallery was transformed into a hall of thousand Buddhas, and the four doorways to the central sanctuary were blocked with stone walls adorned with Buddha images.

You are allowed to go inside Angkor Wat’s central shrine and look around. The aerial views of the surroundings show how massive the temple is.

4. The Bas Relief Carvings at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Bas Relief carvings

Indian legends and myths from Hindu texts are depicted in Angkor Wat in the relief of the 3rd enclosure. The bas-reliefs are divided into eight sections.

The carved walls stretch 600 meters in length and 2 meters in height. Inside, the corner pavilions boast intricate carvings. These bas-reliefs depict scenes from Hindu scriptures like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, found mainly on the West, North, and East galleries and the two corner pavilions.

Depiction of scenes from the hell
Depiction of scenes from hell

The West and East parts of the south gallery depict the historical processions of Suryavarman II and scenes of Heaven and Hell. Only 6 of the 8 panels were sculpted in the 12th century. The northeast wall surfaces remained unfinished until the 16th century when King Ang Chan ordered the completion of the Vishnu-related mythology carvings. However, these carvings were less impressive than those from the 12th century.

West Gallery

Carving of the ten headed Ravana from the Hindu epic Ramayana
Carving of the ten-headed Ravana from the Hindu epic Ramayana
  • 1. Battle of Kurukshetra, Mahabharatha
  • Battle of Lanka, Ramayana

South Gallery

Possession of the King Suryavarman
Possession of the King Suryavarman
  • Procession of Suryavarman II
  • Judgment by Rama (Heaven and Hell)

East Gallery

Churning the ocean of milk carving at Angkor Wat
Churning the ocean of milk carving
  • Churning of the Ocean of Milk
  • Victory of Vishnu over the Demons

North Gallery

  • The victory of Krishna over Bana
  • The battle between the Gods and the Demons

A short note about the narratives on the bas-relief structures is written on all sides to help visitors understand the carvings. You can also hire a guide at the entrance to help you understand better.

5. Guinness Book of World Records

Cambodia flag with Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is proudly the largest religious monument in the world. It occupies a space of over 400 sq Km, with reservoirs, forests, connecting roads, surrounding outer walls, etc. This massive temple attracts millions of tourists every year from all over the world.

6. Hindu-Buddhist Temple

Angkor Wat backside entrance view

Most temples built by King Suryavarman II in the 10th and 11th centuries are dedicated to Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva, while those constructed by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century or later are Buddhist. Both religions coexisted during Jayavarman’s reign despite his personal preference for Buddhism.

Numerous Hindu sculptures were replaced with Buddhist ones, yet the wall carvings depicting Hindu mythology were left intact and are visible today. Some Hindu statues still exist and can be found at the Angkor National Museum.

7. Oriented to the West direction

Angkor Wat entrance with causeway - full view

Unlike other Khmer temples that face east, Angkor Wat is oriented towards the west, leading scholars to believe it was intended as Suryavarman’s funerary temple. The counter-clockwise direction of the bas-reliefs supports this, mirroring the reverse order of Brahminic funeral rituals. It is thought to be dedicated to Vishnu, the god of the West.

7. Pride of Cambodia

A symbol of pride for Cambodia, the Angkor Wat temple has been included in the national flag since the introduction of the first version in 1863. You can spot the Angkor Wat temple in many brands, including water bottles and beers.

Historians have divided the history of Cambodia into three major periods:

  • Pre-Angkorian – 1st to 8th Centuries
  • Angkorian – 9th to 13th Centuries
  • Post-Angkorian – 14th to 20th Centuries

8. The Angkor Wat Equinox

Angkor Wat Sunrise, Cambodia

When day and night are equal, the equinox occurs twice a year: on March 21st (spring equinox) and September 23rd (autumn equinox). During the spring equinox, the sun rises directly over the central lotus tower of Angkor Wat. Many designs of Angkor Wat were influenced by the equinox, such as the bas-relief depicting the churning of the ocean of milk, where the churning pivot aligns with the equinox position. The 91 asuras in the south represent the 91 days from the equinox to the winter solstice, while the 88 devas in the north represent the 88 days from the equinox to the summer solstice. Isn’t that fascinating?

10. Other Facts

Angkor Wat main central tower view
  • All the monuments in Angkor Park have both a modern name and an original name. While the original names are more complex, people usually use modern ones. Take Angkor Wat for example. Its modern name combines “Angkor,” meaning city or capital, with “Wat,” meaning temple, so it’s known as the “city of temples.” But originally, it was called “Vishnuloka,” the sacred dwelling of lord Vishnu. An inscription at Angkor Wat’s central tower from the 16th century confirms its original name as “Preah Bishnulo-ka or Vishnuloka.”
  • The temple is believed to represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods according to Hindu mythology. The five towers, resembling the Lotus buds, symbolize the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat stand for the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.
  • The monuments and the temples of Angkor Wat were painted centuries back. You can see a few green and red paintings in many places today.
  • All the temples in Angkor Park are hidden deep in the vast jungles. Some temples make you wonder about their strategic location.
  • When you visit the popular monuments in Angkor Park, you can see physically challenged people playing Khmer music to welcome the visitors. You can appreciate and help them by making a small donation. 
  • The construction materials used in the Khmer Empire include sandstone, brick, laterite, stucco, and wood.
  • There is little to no information found about a few temples.  and stories available due to the lack of evidence, the history of many temples in Angkor Park is only speculation. Many mysteries remain unsolved even today.
  • Many countries, including Germany, India, Japan, China, and the United States of America, have been working with the government of Cambodia on archaeological sites for many years, and it is still a work in progress. You can see the before-and-after pictures of the work that they have done.

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