Country Profile - Cambodia - Temples Part Two

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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 second of a three part series on the beautiful temples of this country.

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Banteay Samray

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Banteay Samray in its present condition is Angkor’s most significant flat temple from the Hindu period and the second most important example of the classical style of Angkor Wat.

Like Angkor Wat, Banteay Samray is approached by a long, raised causeway, leading to a cruciform terrace. Probably it is of a later date, because the design of the cylindrical columns is of the Bayon style, though lion statues are very similar to those of the Angkor Wat.

Unlike Angkor Wat, Banteay Samray is oriented to the east. But there is a second causeway at the back side in the west connecting the temple to the south-east corner of the former reservoir East Baray.


Ta Keo

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"Takaeoo", means "tower of crystal". In contemporary inscriptions it is mentioned as Hemagiri or Hemasringagiri, meaning "mountain with golden peaks". Ta Keo was the state temple of Jayavarman V (968-1001). He began building it about 975 AD.

The temple is dedicated to Shiva and enshrined a Lingam as symbol of divine and royal power and was built as a temple-mountain with Prasat Towers on top of a step pyramid.

Ta Keo introduced the combination of three classical characteristics of imperial Khmer architecture: rising levels, enclosures with galleries, and five Prasat towers arranged in a quincunx.


Banteay Kdei

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Banteay Kdei is easy to find as its eastern main gate is very close to the junction where the Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit meet. On the opposite side of the road is the huge Srah Srang reservoir, which supposedly was integrated in the plan of Banteay Kdei, maybe in connection with worshipping the Buddha of the East.

Banteay Kdei is the first huge temple built by Jayavarman VII, the Buddhist ruler of whom there are nearly as many monuments as built by all his Hindu predecessors together.

You can see four colossal Buddha faces looking into the four directions at each of the four entrance Gopurams of Banteay Kdei’s exterior enclosure, they are located at the four cardinal points, as usual. But the Buddha faces are not quite as large as the famous ones of the Angkor Thom city gates and the numerous of the Bayon temple.

Banteay Kdei is a kind of first example in a negative sense, too. The construction work was hastily done, not as precise as at the Angkor Wat any more. And the sandstone was of poorer quality. Inaccuracy in construction led to much of the deterioration visible today.


Pre Rup

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Pre Rup, completed in 961, is the most significant legacy of Rajendravarman II (941-968), who is one of the "big names" among Angkor kings. Pre Rup is architecturally and artistically of superior interest. The art of this era is called Pre Rup style. It marks the transition of the pre-classic to the classic period of Angkor art. Some tourists climb this pyramid also for the nice view of the surrounding countryside.

King Rajendravarman II can be regarded as the "Angkor-restorer", as he was the one who decided that the capital was returned to Angkor, after a period of political turmoil and of dominance of Koh Ker, where Jayavarman IV had resided.

The Lingam venerated at Pre Rup is called Rajendrabhadreshvara. "Rajendreshvara" combines the king’s name with "Ishvara", Shiva as "Lord of the World". Instead of Ishvara Pre Rup’s "Rajendrabhadreshvara" includes the name of Bhadreshvara, who was a local mountain God.

The foundations of Pre Rup are sandstone. But the warm reddish tone of laterite dominates this monument, as enclosure walls and pyramidal tiers are built from this porous volcanic stone. Only Prasat towers and central sections of the Gopuram gates are made of bricks.


Preah Khan

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This temple complex is Angkor's largest flat temple (all structures on ground level, no pyramid). Thus it is even bigger than the similar flat temple Ta Prohm, which is Angkor's most famous "jungle temple". As in the case of Ta Prohm, archaeologists decided wisely not to remove the big trees unless it becomes unavoidable in favour of visitors' security or heritage conservation.

Preah Khan is huge, unbelievable huge. It seems to be an endless labyrinth of rectangle courtyards and dark aisles. Outside Cambodia you will not find a wooded area of closely packed ruins as vast as Preah Khan.

Preah Khan was not only a temple. It was a Buddhist monastery, an ensemble of shrines for 430 Hindu gods, a Mahayana university with over 1000 teachers, an agricultural administration head office, and a whole city. Preah Khan covered 56 hectares and had 100,000 inhabitants.

Preah Khan's original Sanskrit name was "Nagarashrijaya" meaning "city of glorious victory", a reminder that Jayavarman VII had repulsed the foreign invaders and defeated the arch enemy, the Cham from present-day central Vietnam.

The interior of the central sanctuary, as well as the walls of the inner enclosure gallery are covered with holes. They served for fixing bronze plates covering the walls. 1500 tons of bronze are claimed to have been used at Preah Khan.