The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap city in Siem Reap Province.
Ta Prohm is 1 of over 1,000 ancient temples in Siem Reap Province in northern Cambodia. The temple ruins are what remains of Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which ruled the region from the 9th to the late 14th century.
Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple originally known as Rajavihara, the Monastery of the King. Many of Angkor’s temples have been restored, but Ta Prohm, with its 39 towers, has long been overtaken by jungle.
The woman’s face that peers through the strangling tree roots may be that of a minor female Buddhist deity. Many faces are sculpted into Ta Prohm’s stone walls and columns. Some are meditating monks; others are temple guardians.
A Sandstone Building
Stone rubble is scattered throughout this former monastery, but many walls and columns in the complex of gray sandstone buildings still stand. In the 1200s, more than 80,000 high priests, attendants, and temple dancers walked these halls.
Ta Prohm is sometimes called the “Jungle Temple” because the massive roots of banyan and kapok trees have draped themselves over the stone structures. The trees’ branches and leaves form a canopy, casting the temple walls and towers into shade.
Faces of Bayon
The towering temple of Bayon rises in the exact center of Angkor Thom, or “Great City.” During a period of war and upheaval in the 12th century, Angkor was sacked by Chams invading from what is now Vietnam.
King Jayavarman VII defeated the Chams and built this new capital city. Dedicated to Buddhism, Bayon was the state temple. More than 2,000 bas-reliefs are carved into Bayon’s walls, including more than 200 massive faces.
Surrounding the central tower on the upper terrace of Bayon are 54 columns of varying heights. Each has 4 sculpted faces that gaze out toward east, south, west, and north.
The highest point of Bayon is its central tower. The tower’s circular base is an unusual feature in Khmer architecture and is enclosed in a cross. A statue of a meditating Buddha once sat in the sanctuary inside the tower.
Faces on the Columns
With lowered eyelids, broad noses, and slightly upturned lips, the column faces of Bayon smile silently and mysteriously. They may be images of King Jayavarman VII depicted as Avalokitesvara, a Buddhist bodhisattva, or enlightened being.
Towers of Angkor Wat
The great temple of Angkor Wat is a step pyramid built of stone by Khmer ruler Suryavarman II in the 1100s. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it remains the largest religious monument in the world.
Five massive towers rise from its uppermost level and represent the five peaks of sacred Mount Meru, which Hindus believe is the center of both the physical and spiritual universes.
This large, elegant tower is the principal sanctuary of Angkor Wat. Intricate carvings decorate its surface, and a lotus shape crowns its peak. The central tower rises 65m above the surrounding land.
Sandstone blocks were used on the outside of the walls because they can be easily sculpted into designs. For the foundation, sand and rocks were covered with laterite soil, and then cut into blocks that were hardened in the sun.
Colonnaded arcades connect gateways with the four outer towers and with the central tower. The art of carving lintels, the horizontal supports between columns, reached its peak at Angkor Wat.
Statue of Vishnu
Vishnu is one of the main gods of Hinduism. He is the preserver and protector of humanity, who sometimes comes to earth in 1 of his avatars, or physical forms.
Angkor Wat was dedicated to this important god. Statues of Vishnu appeared throughout the temple, including one in the central tower.
This 8-armed statue of Vishnu, in the right tower of Angkor Wat’s western gate, was carved from a single block of sandstone. A bright garment is draped over its shoulder, and pilgrims leave flowers and other offerings of gratitude.
Angkor Wat is famous for the carvings on almost all of its surfaces—walls, columns, lintels, roofs. These small pillars, as well as the sides of this opening, are ornately decorated with carvings.
A 200-meter-wide moat surrounds Angkor Wat. You must cross over on a causeway to visit the temple. The water represents the cosmic ocean. Angkor Wat itself is a model of the Hindu universe.
The Churning of the Ocean of Milk
This spectacular bas-relief—4 meters high and 48 meters long— is carved into the east gallery of Angkor Wat.
It tells the ancient Indian story of how Lord Vishnu persuaded both gods and demons to work together to stir the cosmic ocean in order to produce an elixir, a drink that provides immortality. They used a huge five-headed snake wrapped around a mountain as a pivot to churn the waters.
To the left of Vishnu are demons called asuras. Although their postures may lead you to think they are “winning,” this isn’t a tug of war. The sides are taking turns pulling to turn the mountain and churn the ocean.
The Large Central Figure
Lord Vishnu is at the center of the relief, sitting atop the mountain. Here he is represented as a 4-armed god: 2 arms carry weapons, while 2 arms grab hold of the snake on either side.
To the right of Vishnu as you face the mural are the devas, benevolent divine beings. Below them in the waters, crocodiles and fish swim. Above the devas in the sky are lovely apsaras, supernatural dancers.