Angkor Wat Foundation


Angkor, the capital city of Cambodia from the 9th to the 15th century. Its ruins are one of the world’s great architectural monuments. Located near Siemreab in north-western Cambodia, Angkor was founded early in the 9th century and became the country’s capital under King Yasovarman I (reigned 889-900), who called it Yasodharapura. The original city was built around the Phnom Bakheng, a temple on a hill symbolizing the mountain that stands in the centre of the world according to Hindu cosmology. Successive kings enlarged the city, building other temples devoted to various Hindu deities and large reservoirs used for irrigation, which also symbolized the ocean surrounding the Holy central mountain. The greatest of the Angkor temple complexes is Angkor Wat, constructed under King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150) to celebrate the king as the incarnation of the god Vishnu. An immense rectangle, measuring about 850 by 1,000 m (2,800 by 3,300 ft), Angkor Wat contains concentric walled courtyards surrounding a central structure with five graceful lotus-shaped towers. Its galleries are decorated with sculptures depicting legends of Vishnu. King Jayavarman VII (c. 1130-1219) built the Angkor Thom complex, which contains the Bayon, a Buddhist temple embellished with huge stone heads of the king.

Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple

In the 13th century, Angkor covered about 100 Qs km (39 qs mi) and was one of the largest cities in the world. Shortly thereafter, it began to decline. Threatened by attacks from the neighbouring Thais, the Cambodians left Angkor about 1430, moving their capital south for greater security. Angkor Wat survived for a time as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, but the rest of the city was covered by the jungle until French archaeologists began to excavate it in the 1860s. A major restoration project was begun in 1987. Angkor, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, was simultaneously inscribed on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Preservation work continued through the 1990s and included a temple restoration, funded by the Italian government (1998), and the first phase of the Japanese-funded ‘Safeguarding Angkor’ programme (1999); the second phase of the programme was completed by 2005; the third phase, taking place from 2005 to 2009, will concentrate on the Bayon Temple. In 2004 the preservation of the temple complex at Angkor was considered to be secure enough for the site to be removed from the Danger list.

The Cambodian salutation. Image credited: Sokun Nisa, Cambodian actress, and singer