Country Profile - Cambodia - Temples Part One

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Situated between the Tonle Sap Lake and the Kulen Mountains in Cambodia, Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire. Angkor served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries.

The hundreds of temples surviving today are but the sacred skeleton of the vast political, religious and social centre of the ancient empire. At its zenith the city boasted a population of one million people, one of the largest preindustrial city in the world.

After the fall of the Khmer empire the Angkor temples were abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle for centuries. Situated amid dense rainforest and rice paddies, many of the temples at Angkor have now been restored and welcome over two million tourists each year.

This is the first of a three part series on the beautiful temples of this country.

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Baksei Chamkrong

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Baksei Chamkrong is easy to find as it is located close to the Angkor main road, just outside the South Gate of Angkor Thom and at the basis of Phnom Bakheng.

The name "Baksei Chamkrong", as in the case of most Angkor temple names used nowadays, is not the original one. The modern name means "bird with sheltering wings". It refers to a legend of a Khmer king, who had to flee when Angkor was once attacked. But when a large bird swooped down and spread its wings in order to shelter him, he was saved from being caught by his enemies.

There is no doubt, Baksei Chamkrong was a Shiva temple, like most other Khmer ancestor temples. There is some speculation that its location at the north-west corner of the Bakheng hill reflects the situation of Shiva's abode Mt. Kailash, as the Kailash is, according to some Hindu traditions, believed to be north-west of the mythical mountain of the universe called Meru. There is no doubt that the Bakheng symbolizes Mt. Meru. So the Baksei Chamkrong could indicate Mt. Kailash.

Baksei Chamkrong is well proportioned and impresses more by its elegance than by its size. Baksei Chamkrong is a four-tiered pyramid of 27 square metres at the basis and rises 13 metres. The total height including the brick Prasat on the top is 23 metres. Baksei Chamkrong is crowned by only one single Prasat tower, in contrast to the quincunx of five sandstone Prasats on top of Yashovarman's much larger state temple Bakheng. Baksei Chamkrong is the first Khmer step pyramid made of laterite blocks.



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The modern name "Thommanon" is derived from "Dhamma", which is the Buddhist teaching, and "nanda", meaning "supreme wisdom". "Thommanon" is stressed on the first and on the last syllable.

The temple is located just north of the Small Circuit road running from the Royal Palace in Angkor Thom to the east. Thommanon is outside Angkor Thom, close to the west bank of the Siem Reap River. It was built in the early twelfth century, in the early phase of the style of Angkor Wat.

Thommanon is often paired with the nearby Chau Say Tevoda just across the Small Circuit road, as both were built by Suryavarman II, and appear almost similar in style.


Phnom Krom

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Phnom Krom is the name of both a 137 metres high hill and the temple on top of it, the ancient structure is also called Prasat Phnom Krom. It is situated approximately 12 kilometres south of Siem Reap close to the "Great Lake" Tonle Sap and the port for ships to the floating village Chong Kneas.

The temple Prasat Phnom Krom was built about 900 AD by Yashovarman I. Phnom Kroms three Prasats, in the sculptural art style of Bakheng, are dedicated to the Trimurti. The slightly larger central tower is dedicated to Shiva, while the northern Prasat to Vishnu and the southern one to Brahma. Its foundation shows a frieze of lotus petals and of Hamsas, which is Brahma's mount, the sacred goose.



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Phimeanakas or Prasat Phimean Akas is a relatively small temple pyramid, 35 m long and 28 m wide and 12 m high, within the compound of the Royal Palace in Angkor Thom. It was built in the tenth century in the Khleang style.

Phimeanakas means "Aerial Palace" or "Celestial temple". It is sometimes transcribed "Pimeanakas" or "Vimeanakas". The name is a deformation of the Sanskrit words "Vimana" and "Akasha", meaning "god palace" and "sky" respectively.

This modern name refers to a legend of a king who had to sleep with a goddess on top of a temple mountain in order secure fertility. Similar religious practices are known from different cultures. Phimeanakas was started by King Rajendravarman II (944-69), but subsequent kings made alterations to it, the long-reigning Suryavarman I (1006-1050) in particular.


Preah Vihear Temple

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Situated on the edge of a plateau that dominates the plain of Cambodia, the Temple of Preah Vihear is dedicated to Shiva. The Temple is composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800 metre long axis and dates back to the first half of the 11th century AD.

Nevertheless, its complex history can be traced to the 9th century, when the hermitage was founded. This site is particularly well preserved, mainly due to its remote location. The site is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple, as well as for the exceptional quality of its carved stone ornamentation.