Angkor Wat (Khmer: or "Capital Temple") is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres). It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (Khmer: present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum.

Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometers (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next.

At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

Etymology

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "Temple City" or "City of Temples" in Khmer; Angkor, meaning "City" or "Capital City", is a vernacular form of the word Nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word Nagara ,Wat is the Khmer word for "Temple Grounds", also derived from Sanskrit Vāṭa, meaning "enclosure".

The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka (Sanskrit) or Brah Bisnulōk (Local variant) which means the sacred dwelling of Vishnu.

History

Angkor Wat lies 5.5 kilometers (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centered at Baphuon. In an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures, it is the outhernmost of Angkor's main sites.

According to legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to the 13th-century Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.

Architecture

1. Site and plan

Angkor Wat, located at 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E, is a unique combination of the temple mountain (the standard design for the empire's state temples) and the later plan of concentric galleries. The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolizes the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat symbolize the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

2. Style

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name.

3. Features

  • Outer enclosure

The outer wall, 1,024 m (3,360 ft) by 802 m (2,631 ft) and 4.5 m (15 ft) high, is surrounded by a 30 m (98 ft) apron of open ground and a moat 190 m (620 ft) wide. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge.

  • Central structure

The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. Mannikka interprets these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu.

  • Decoration

The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle Avatar Kurma below, Asuras and Devas to left and right, and Apsaras and Indra above.

Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief friezes.

Angkor Wat today

  • Restoration and conservation

As with most other ancient temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat has faced extensive damage and deterioration by a combination of plant overgrowth, fungi, ground movements, war damage and theft. The war damage to Angkor Wat's temples however has been very limited, compared to the rest of Cambodia's temple ruins, and it has also received the most attentive restoration.

The restoration of Angkor Wat in the modern era began with the establishment of the Conservation d'Angkor (Angkor Conservancy) by the École française dExtreme-Orient (EFEO) in 1908; before that date, activities at the site were primarily concerned with exploration.

The Conservation d'Angkor was responsible for the research, conservation, restoration activities carried out at Angkor until the early 1970s, and a major restoration of Angkor was undertaken in the 1960s. However, work on Angkor was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge era and the Conservation d'Angkor was disbanded in 1975.

  • Tourism

Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. In 1993, there were only 7,650 visitors to the site; by 2004, government figures show that 561,000 foreign visitors had arrived in Siem Reap province that year, approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia. The number reached over a million in 2007, and over two million by 2012. Most visited Angkor Wat, which received over two million foreign tourists in 2013. The site has been managed by the private SOKIMEX group since 1990, which rented it from the Cambodian government.

The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little damage, other than some graffiti; ropes and wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and floors, respectively. Tourism has also provided some additional funds for maintenance—as of 2000; approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site were spent on the temples—although teams sponsored by foreign governments rather than by the Cambodian authorities carry out most work.