Angkor Wat is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.
As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation - first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. It is the world's largest religious building. 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, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (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 (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.
The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "City Temple"; Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara meaning capital or city. Wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of its founder, Suryavarman II.
Angkor Wat lies 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred at Baphuon. It is in an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures. It is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites.
The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 - c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as Vrah Vishnulok after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished.
In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.
In the late 13th century, King Jayavarman VIII, who was Hindu, was deposed by his son in law, Srindravarman. Srindravarman had spent the previous 10 years in Sri Lanka becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk. Hence, the new King decided to convert the official religion of the empire from Hindu to Buddhist. Given the constant political corruption of the time, citizens were quick to follow a faith founded on tranquility without a need for material gain and power. This made the conversion relatively easy.
Hence, Angkor Wat was converted from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of". However, the temple was popularized in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes.
The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.
There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of the monuments themselves.
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.
The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia's diplomatic relations with its neighbor Thailand, France and the United States. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863.
The splendid artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on August 11, 1863. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Thai control since the Thai invasion of 1431 AD. Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time.
During the midst of the Vietnam War, Chief of State Norodom Sihanouk hosted Jacqueline Kennedy in Cambodia to fulfill her "lifelong dream of seeing Angkor Wat."
In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumor circulated that a Thai soap opera actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand. Read more ...
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Lasers uncover hidden secrets of Cambodia's ancient cities PhysOrg - June 14, 2016
Unprecedented new details of medieval cities hidden under jungle in Cambodia near Angkor Wat have been revealed using lasers, archaeologists said, shedding new light on the civilization behind the world's largest religious complex. While the research has been going on for several years, the new findings uncover the sheer scale of the Khmer Empire's urban sprawl and temple complexes to be significantly bigger than was previously thought. The research, drawing on airborne laser scanning technology known as lidar, will be unveiled next Monday in London.
Angkor Wat Yields Astounding Buried Towers & Spiral Structure Live Science - December 9, 2015
Eight buried towers and the remains of a massive spiral structure created from sand have been discovered at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The massive structure - almost a mile long - contains a spiral design, with several rectangular spirals that form a giant structure, archaeologists say. This structure, which has dimensions of more than 1,500 metres x 600 metres (about 1 mile by 1,970 feet) is the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date. Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world.
Hidden Paintings Revealed at Ancient Temple of Angkor Wat Live Science - May 28, 2014
New, digitally enhanced images from Angkor Wat revealed amazingly detailed murals of elephants, gods, boats, musical instruments and horses. The wall paintings are invisible to the naked eye. Each year, millions of visitors flock to Angkor Wat, an ancient temple in modern-day Cambodia. There, they marvel at the 900-year-old towers, a giant moat and the shallow relief sculptures of Hindu gods. But what they can't see are 200 hidden paintings on the temple walls. New, digitally enhanced images reveal detailed murals at Angkor Wat showing elephants, deities, boats, orchestral ensembles and people riding horses - all invisible to the naked eye. Many of the faded markings could be graffiti left behind by pilgrims after Angkor Wat was abandoned in the 15th century. But the more elaborate paintings may be relics of the earliest attempts to restore the temple.
'Lost' Medieval City Discovered Beneath Cambodian Jungle Live Science - June 19, 2013
A lost city known only from inscriptions that existed some 1,200 years ago near Angkor in what is now Cambodia has been uncovered using airborne laser scanning. The previously undocumented cityscape, called Mahendraparvata, is hidden beneath a dense forest on the holy mountain Phnom Kulen, which means "Mountain of the Lychees." The cityscape came into clear view, along with a vast expanse of ancient urban spaces that made up Greater Angkor, the large area where one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed - Angkor Wat, meaning "temple city" - was built between A.D. 1113 and 1150.
The lost city of Mahendraparvata revealed in a shaded relief map of terrain beneath the vegetation in the Phnom Kulen acquisition area. Green denotes previously documented archaeological features; areas shaded red contain newly documented features indicative of an extensive urban layout.
Sprawling Angkor Brought Down By Overpopulation, Study Suggests National Geographic - August 13, 2007
Cambodia's long-lost temple complex of Angkor is the world's largest known preindustrial settlement, reveals a new radar study that found 74 new temples and more than a thousand manmade ponds at the site. Now a new archaeological map created using jungle-penetrating radar has revealed traces of vast suburban sprawl surrounding the many temples and the walled central city of Angkor Thom. Extensive waterworks threaded through the low-density development, channeling the flow of three rivers through agricultural fields, homes, and local temples. In the end, residents of greater Angkor likely struggled with the ecological consequences of transforming the landscape. The new survey found breached spillways and canals clogged with silt, suggesting that environmental degradation made the infrastructure increasingly difficult to maintain.
Photo Gallery National Geographic - August 14, 2007
The largest religious complex in the world, Cambodia's Angkor Wat is the jewel in the vast Angkor archaeological site. The lost city was an ancient wonder of urban sprawl, according to a new survey that uncovered 74 temples and more than a thousand artificial ponds in Angkor's "suburbs." The Khmer Empire's King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat between A.D. 1113 and 1150 to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. Carved from soft sandstone, the temple complex's statues crumbled and toppled in the wake of Angkor's decline. Still guarded by a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) moat, the restored Angkor Wat today fuels a booming tourist trade at the modern town of Siem Reap.
Map reveals ancient urban sprawl BBC - August 14, 2007
The great medieval temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was once at the centre of a sprawling urban settlement, according to a new, detailed map of the area. Using radar, an international team have discovered at least 74 new temples and complex irrigation systems. The map, published in the journal PNAS, extends the known settlement by 1000 sq km, about the size of Los Angeles. Analysis also lends weight to the theory that Angkor's residents were architects of the city's demise. The large-scale city engineered its own downfall by disrupting its local environment by expanding continuously into the surrounding forests
Long-lost community found around Angkor NBC - August 13, 2007
Archaeologists have published a new map showing an extensive ancient settlement surrounding Cambodia's Angkor Wat that supported large numbers of inhabitants before and after the famous temple was built. Now obscured by vegetation and low-lying clouds, the ruins spread over nearly 390 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) and were made up of thousands of houses, roads, human-made ponds and canals, researchers from Australia, Cambodia and France said in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vanishing remnants of 74 village temples were found in the countryside surrounding the monumental, world-famous temple complex at Angkor Wat.
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