The Temples of Angkor (Cambodia) A treasure of stone hidden in the jungles

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In the north-east of Cambodia, 300 km from its capital Phnom Penh, can be found the capital of the ancient Khmer empire, Angkor. Hidden during centuries in the middle of the jungle, it was totally isolated from the rest of the world until the year 1860 when French missionaries discovered it.

The origin of this city is placed in the reign of Jayavarman ll. (810-850 AD), founder of the Khmer Empire, who initiated the cult of the Hindu deities, and the splendour lasted till approximately the year 1225. The architectural complex, which occupies an extension of 400 km2, is composed of monumental temples built during this period and are a jewel of Indian art. In 1992 the UNESCO named the entire monumental complex of Angkor as forming the Patrimony of Mankind.

The main temples temple groups are Angkor Thom, Ta Prom and Angkor Wat. The oldest ones were built with bricks, in the subsequent ones laterite was used, a coloured mud stone, and the most recent are of sandstone.

What is most striking about the Temple of Ta Prom, the only one that has not been restored, is that nature has been gaining territory and the trees, their enormous roots have invaded the monuments, forming a part of the sculpture complex. In Angkor Thom the temple Bayon is found, which was built in the X11 century under the reign of Jayavarman V11, it has a moat of 100 metres depth and an extension of 12 km, which protected a population of around one million persons.

Its tower of 45 m height is crowned by four enormous sculpted heads and surrounded by 54 minor towers, each of them with four smiling heads that, supposedly, represent the king himself.

The most representative temple of the entire complex is the so called Angkor Wat, dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, ordered to be built by the king Suryavarnam II, who reigned between the years 1131 and 1150 AD It is calculated that for the construction of this temple the same quantity of stone was used as for the construction of the big Egyptian pyramid of Cheops, in Gizeh. Thirty years were needed for the construction. This temple is oriented towards the West, contrary to the other temples, which are oriented towards the East. Five towers of perfect symmetry that represent the five hills of the mountain Meru, the house of the gods and the centre of the Hindu universe form it. A moat and three galleries surround the five central sanctuaries. It has the biggest relieves of the world, which narrate histories from the Hindu mythology. The whole complex occupies two square kilometres and is the biggest religious temple in the world.