Angkor Wat is the world's single, largest religious complex, andCambodia's epitome claim to fame. As a prized archaeological site, it is as spectacularly impressive as Jordan's Petra or Peru's Machu Picchu: this is the kind of man-made wonder one travels half way across the world to see. In order to see it, you'll need to travel toSiem Reap in north-western Cambodia, where you'll have not just one, but thousands of temples to explore.
Angkor Wat is the main highlight of the humongous Angkor Archaeological Park, which starts just outside Siem Reap town, stretches for over 1000 square kilometres and is literally bursting at the seams with hundreds upon hundreds of temples. Being the largest, boasting a breathtaking location and being wonderfully restored (for the most part at least), Angkor Wat is by far the most popular of all.
Angkor Wat. . Photo by Scott Oves
History – A Step Back in Time
Interior - Angkor Wat. Photo by José Eduardo Silva
Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century by order of King Suryavarman II and was, as opposed to many others within theAngkor Archaeological Park, built in honour of the Hindu God,Vishnu . the main difference is that Angkor Wat's entrance was built facing West, whereas all other Angkor temples face the East. The complex took 35 years to complete and, by the time it was completed, was a lot more than just a temple. It was an entire citadel.
It quickly ascended to being the capital of the Kingdom and the most revered Royal temple. Soon after the King's death, Angkor Wat was pillaged by the Chams , the Vietnamese arch-rivals of the Khmers, and was left in state of dramatic disrepair. When the Khmer Kings returned to power, they built a new capital at Angkor Thom andBayon, and slowly converted Angkor Wat's use to suit Theravada Buddhism instead of Hinduism.
The astonishing aspect of Angkor Wat, aside its architectural splendour, is that unlike most other temples in the Angkor region, this temple was never left unoccupied, throughout its entire existence. In 1992, UNESCO simultaneously included it in its World Heritage list and proclaimed it a World Heritage in Danger site. After extensive restoration, the latter listing was removed in 2004. At present, UNESCO remains a part of the artistic treasure’s future as it works hand in hand with the Cambodian government to make sure that its development, and public access for tourism, does not put the cultural riches in great jeopardy.
In terms of architecture, Angkor Wat is considered the most outstanding creation ever built by the Khmer Empire.