Angkor Wat is an enormous Buddhist temple complex located in northern Cambodia. It was originally built in the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple.
Spread across more than 400 acres, Angkor Wat is said to be the largest religious monument in the world. Its name, which translates to “temple city” in the Khmer language of the region, references the fact it was built by Emperor Suryavarman II, who ruled the region from 1113 to 1150, as the state temple and political centre of his empire.
Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century.
Although it is no longer an active temple, it serves as an important tourist attraction in Cambodia, despite the fact it sustained significant damage during the autocratic rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and in earlier regional conflicts.
Angkor Wat is located roughly five miles north of the modern Cambodian city of Siem Reap, which has a population of more than 200,000 people.
However, when it was built, it served as the capital of the Khmer empire, which ruled the region at the time. The word “Angkor” means “capital city” in the Khmer language, while the word “Wat” means “temple.”
Initially, Angkor Wat was designed as a Hindu temple, as that was the religion of the region’s ruler at the time, Suryavarman II. However, by the end of the 12th century, it was considered a Buddhist site.
As Angkor Wat’s significance within the Buddhist religion of the region increased, so too did the legend surrounding the site. Many Buddhists believe the temple’s construction was ordered by the god Indra, and that the work was accomplished in one night.
However, scholars now know it took several decades to build Angkor Wat, from the design phase to completion.
Although Angkor Wat was no longer a site of political, cultural or commercial significance by the 13th century, it remained an important monument for the Buddhist religion into the 1800s.
Indeed, unlike many historical sites, Angkor Wat was never truly abandoned. Rather, it fell gradually into disuse and disrepair.
Nonetheless, it remained an architectural marvel unlike anything else. It was “rediscovered” in 1840s by the French explorer Henri Mouhot, who wrote that the site was “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
The compliment can likely be attributed to the temple’s design, which is supposed to represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods, according to tenets of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Its five towers are intended to recreate the five peaks of Mount Meru, while the walls and moat below honour the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea.
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