Sunday, November 1, 2009

Temples of Angkor

The stone ruins surrounding the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia testify to
an empire that dominated southeast Asia for over 600 years, from 802
to 1432 CE. At its zenith, the Khmer empire had over a million
inhabitants. Angkor Wat was the world's largest temple and Angkor Thom
a nearby walled city.

The Angkorian period began when king Jayavarman II, who first
consolidated Cambodia's competing kingdoms in 802 CE. He declared
himself a god-king, an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.

Many of the temples at Angkor have bas-relief carvings depicting
classical Hindu stories. However, by the late 12th century, ongoing
development shows a clear Buddhist influence, as Jayavarman VII builds
images of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The scale of stone temples at Angkor is quite amazing. While huge,
many are covered with intricately carved detail. After the decline of
the Khmer empire, the temples were completely hidden by the
encroaching jungle.

The ruins were "rediscovered" by the French in the 1860s, but it took
many decades before significant archeology or restoration took place.
In 1992, Angkor was declared a World Heritage Site by the UN.

Today there are areas which are still largely piles of rubble
completely overgrown by tree roots. We were struck by how effective
the jungle is in reducing human works of stone into rock piles.

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