The Angkor complex is one of the world’s greatest ruins known to mankind. Found near modern-day Siem Reap, Cambodia, the Angkor area covers well over 400 square kilometres. Also known as the Angkor Archaeological Park, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Here’s a guide to the Angkor complex, covering its history in brief. 

When did this area begin? 

Angkor temple
Photo by William Zhang on Unsplash

The roots of the Angkor complex began to come to life as early as 802AD. It was the capital of the Cambodian Khmer empire for about 600 years, ruling over neighbouring countries like Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The Khmer empire was extremely powerful thanks to strong trade links within Southeast Asia, using the Mekong River to trade items like rice and fish. 

What was the Angkor area?  

Angkor was built to be a bustling city. Within its 400 square kilometres area, it is said that Angkor may have had between 750,000 – 1 million inhabitants at its height. It was famous for being ahead of its engineering times with its extensive hydraulic system. This featured structures like reservoirs and canals, used for stabilising, storing and dispersing water throughout the area.  

What does the word ‘Angkor’ mean?  

The word ‘Angkor’ can be derived from both the Khmer language and Sanskrit. In Khmer, it means ‘kingdom’; and in Sanskrit, it means ‘city’. Both of which are highly relevant to its history! 

Who built Angkor Wat?  

Bas relief sculptures
Bas relief carvings
Photo by Graphic Node on Unsplash

Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II between 1113 – 1150. Suryavarman II built this temple dedicated to the Indian god, Vishnu, so you can see Hindu cosmology throughout Angkor Wat’s design. Its central towers are said to represent Mount Meru (the home of the gods) with its outer walls being the mountains that protect this world, and the moat being the ocean. There is also bas-relief (a type of carving) that depict Suryavarman II’s time in power. Angkor Wat is now regarded as the world’s largest religious structure – no mean feat, especially given its early construction. 

Who was the greatest King of Angkor?  

Ta Prohm temple
Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

Despite building Angkor Wat, King Suryavarman II was not the greatest ruler of Angkor. In fact, his successor, King Jayavarman VII is regarded as the most prolific. During his time as King, he oversaw the construction of several sites and temples that play an integral part in Angkor’s history. This includes the walled city of Angkor Thom with Bayon temple at its geographic and spiritual heart; and Ta Prohm and Preah Khan who he dedicated to his parents. Jayavarman VII was also a devout Buddhist, so he decided to change the state religion from Hinduism to (Mahayana) Buddhism. Temples that were constructed prior to this had alterations to include images of the Buddha. 

How many temples are found here?  

There are approximately 72 major temples and sacred sites found within the borders of the Angkor Archaeological Park. There are also hundreds of minor temple sites found beyond these borders.  

What is the Angkor complex like nowadays? 

Monk in Cambodia

While there are no Kings who live here now, the Angkor Archaeological Park is still home to locals (including some who have descendants from the Khmer empire). The start of reconstruction of these beloved sites began in the early 1900’s and continues today. Over 2.5 million tourists visit Angkor Wat alone each year, so you can imagine the need for constant care to preserve this sacred area.  

A visit to the Angkor complex is a surreal, yet mind blowing, experience. Add it to your bucket list today with Avalon Waterways, or on a Globus or Cosmos tour.  

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