Angkor Wat is perhaps the greatest of all tourist attractions in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is the world's largest temple, and is one among the two prominent ancient temple complexes in South-East Asia, another being Bagan in Burma.
Located amid the jungles of Angkor in Siem Reap province, Angkor Wat stands as a classic example of the incredible Khmer architecture. Sprawling over an area of about 205 acres, the temple complex was built during the onset of 12th century for the King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire (1113 AD to 1150 AD) to use it as the state temple. The temple was first dedicated to the Lord Vishnu and then later to Lord Buddha.
The Khmer kings used and worshipped it until they left the city in 1432. After sometimes, this temple complex was occupied by some Buddhists monks. After that, it remained unnoticed till 1860, when Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, recognized its prominence. Later, during the 1900s, the temple underwent restoration works, and in 1992, the UNESCO declared the temple as well as the whole of the Angkor area as a World Heritage Site.
The temple now holds the rare distinction of being the only religious complex in the world that has been best preserved at its original condition. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the temple is the largest of all religious structures in the world. Further, the temple has now become the symbol of the country, and even appears on its national flag.
One of the prime features that set apart Angkor Wat from other temples is its incredible construction style, which has been built with sandstone and bricks to produce unique as well as intricate designs. Additionally, in contrast to other Khmer temples, Angkor Wat's entrance faces towards the west, since it is devoted to Lord Vishnu.
As you enter the temple, you would first go through an entrance causeway that takes you across a moat, which is about 200 meters wide. An entrance pavilion that measures about 230 meters can be seen on the opposite shore. Further, as you pass through the entrance gate, you also come along a long causeway of about 300 meters that is graced with naga - the mythical snake.
Bounded by a moat as well as an exterior wall that measure up to 1300 meters x 1500 meters, Angkor Wat is an enormous three-tiered pyramid-like structure topped by five towers that take after lotus and rising up to a height of about 68 meters from the ground level. Both the interior and exterior walls are graced with magnificent bas reliefs and superb carvings. It is estimated that there are more than 2000 uniquely carved figures of apsaras, all of which in turn are finest among the apsara carvings in Angkorian era art.
Perhaps, the most astounding among the artworks are those that are found on the exterior walls of the lower level, which are adorned with bas-reliefs that depict stories as well as characters related to the Hindu Mythology, apart from the Suryavarman II's historical wars. Prominent among the bas-relief highlights are the Battle of Kuru and Churning of the Ocean by the Gods and Asuras. One could easily interpret and understand the importance of each bas relief and carving, if accompanied with a guide. In fact, both artistically and architecturally, the temple is breathtaking.
Al though the interiors of the temple is not as decorated as the exteriors, it contains some best carvings of apsaras as well as different scenes from the Hindu mythology. Found on the third level of the temple is the central tower with four Buddha statues. According to beliefs, it is considered auspicious to pay all of these Buddha images prior to departing the destination.
A gorgeous pool can be seen in front of the temple, which is a much famed sunrise location. A visit to the temple early morning would be a great experience, as you could witness the magnificent views of the sun rising from behind the temple.
Angkor is also home to such magnificent temples as Bakong, Banteai Srei, the Baphuon, the Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Ta Keo.
In short, a tour to Angkor would be an unforgettable experience for lovers of history, art, culture, architecture, and photography.
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