Where is the Ankor Vat Temple located
Houses of worship for eternity
Why so many spectacular temples and shrines in a relatively small area? Because the rulers of the Khmer Empire had several capitals built one after the other, each with a large main temple in the center and many smaller temples and shrines. The magnificent buildings were financed by the surpluses generated by the ingenious system of rice cultivation.
In contrast to the wooden houses of the people, the temples were built as dwellings of the gods for eternity and therefore of stone - mostly sandstone. The majority of the temple complexes in Angkor were dedicated to Hindu gods, most of them Shiva.
Each individual temple is reflected in a water basin, which on the one hand served as a water reservoir, but also had a symbolic meaning: It was supposed to represent the primordial ocean.
The Khmer kings believed that they owed their power to divinity and that they themselves were part of it. Their ideas and exploits are found in temple inscriptions, which are a valuable source for exploring the Khmer world.
In addition to the temples in Angkor, there are numerous reliefs depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology, but also from everyday life: a relief in the Bayon temple complex shows the life of the people in the Angkor region in an extremely vivid way, in the temples, wooden buildings and bamboo huts as well as markets were evenly arranged like on a chessboard.
Angkor Wat - national symbol
The most famous and largest structure in Angkor - the entire ruins of the region have been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1992 - is the Angkor Wat temple complex, which most of the tourists who come to the country pay a visit.
It took 37 years to build under King Suryamvarman II. The king dedicated the complex to the Hindu god Vishnu, with whom he identified himself. After the Khmer turned to Buddhism in the 13th century, the Vishnu sanctuary was converted into a Buddhist "wat", which means monastery.
Angkor Wat exemplifies the architectural style of the Angkor period: the sanctuary has exact symmetry and the central and tallest of the five towers embodies Mount Meru, the center of the world. This central tower is the most important architectural commonality of all Angkor temples. In addition, each individual building is divided into four squares in the ground plan, which is related to the number four (absolute perfection), which is important in Hinduism.
Angkor Wat functions today as an outstanding national symbol: it is representative of the culture of the Khmer and the present day Cambodian people. Accordingly, one often finds images of Angkor Wat - also on the Cambodian national flag.
Art theft by organized gangs
In contrast to the other Hindu Khmer buildings, Angkor Wat is oriented not to the east, but to the west. This can be explained in different ways: The temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu - and according to Hindu mythology, this god ruled the western quadrant.
In addition, the temple served as a tomb for its builder, King Suryamvarman II, and therefore had to point towards the realm of the dead in the west. In addition, the temple complex was integrated into the already existing city of Yashodharapura and, with an eastern orientation, would have turned its back on the old parts of the city, which was considered unlucky.
The stone buildings of Angkor Wat, which only cover part of the two square kilometer complex, are well preserved - in contrast to the structures made of wood and other materials, of which nothing is left. It is estimated that up to 20,000 people lived within Angkor Wat: the king and his court as well as the temple staff.
Amazingly, the cultural treasures of Angkor were far less destroyed by the Khmer Rouge than assumed. Well-organized gangs of the international antique mafia cause the greatest damage. For a long time they were interested in a poorly guarded hall in the city of Siem Reap, in which hundreds of statues and works of art from the Angkor period were stored. Many of these were stolen with the help of guards.
In the meantime there are only a few works of art in their original place because of the robbers. The most valuable statues are now in archaeological archives or in the State Museum in Phnom Penh.
Tourism - the industry of the future
Buddhist monks still visit Angkor Wat every day - along with numerous tourists. More than a million people come to the Angkor region every year.
Since the country was democratized in the early 1990s, the number of tourists has increased sharply. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was one of the few countries that barely experienced a drop in visitors. Accordingly, tourism is becoming an increasingly important factor in the Cambodian economy.
The signs for a further increase in the number of tourists are good: attacks on tourists are a thing of the past, the domestic political situation is more stable than ever. The infrastructure - especially the road system 0 - is constantly being improved so that even remote regions can be reached by tourists. But Cambodia is not (yet) a country for package holidaymakers. Fortunately, think the individual travelers and adventurers who come to the land of the Khmer precisely because of the originality that still exists.
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