Travel Tips » LAOS - CAMBODIA » Angkor
Angkor Wat is just one of a hundred or so monuments that remain scattered over an area of about 300 square kilometres in northern Cambodia - the religious remains of a series of cities, built by a succession of kings from around the 7th to the 13th centuries. All civic and domestic buildings were built in timber and have long since disappeared, so not much is known about the lives of the civilians - though some 1,200 inscriptions found throughout the region and the remains of a vast irrigation system indicate the scale and complexity of the civilisation. Water draining from the Kulen hills across the Angkor plain to the Tonle Sap lake provided the potential for tremendous rice production which in turn sustained an extraordinary culture.
8th - 9th century
The earliest known settlements were built to the west of the plain, but the Angkorian period as such began when king Jayavarman II returned from Java at the beginning of the 9th century, unified the country and settled at Hariharalaya or Roluos to the east. He then moved north to the Kulen hills, where he introduced the cult of the God King. Returning again to the plain, he died at Hariharalaya in 850. This area was adopted by his son and then his nephew, Indravarman I, who built Bakong, the first major sandstone temple-pyramid. The temple mountain was symbolic of Mount Meru of Hindu mythology - the five tiered mountain at the centre of the universe (the temple) was said to be encircled by seven chains of mountains (the enclosure walls) which were surrounded in turn by the sea (the moats).
9th - 10th century
The next major settlement was formed as a city of five kilometres square that was enclosed within a double embankment and centred on Phnom Bakheng, one of the three peaks that dominated the plain. The temple was built by King Yasovarman, the son of Indravarman I, on top of the hill - its base was hewn from the bedrock. This king also built temples on the other two peaks - Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok.
In 921 the capital moved briefly to Koh Ker, a hundred kilometres to the north east.
10 - 11th century
King Rajendravarman, Yasovarman's nephew, returned to the region in 944. He "restored the holy city that had long remained empty", building the temples of the Eastern Mebon and Pre Rup. He also excavated the Eastern Baray, a vast reservoir of some 8 by 2 kilometres. During his reign the temples of Banteay Srei, Ta Keo and the Kleang were also built, with probably the first of the Royal Palaces located in what was later to develop into Angkor Thom.
11th - 12th century
The first half of the 12th century was dominated by one of the principal kings of Cambodia, - Suryavarman I. The capital became established in the centre of Angkor Thom with various monuments surrounding a royal palace. This period represents the height of the artistic culture. Monuments include the Baphuon, Angkor Wat and Banteay Samre. The Western Baray, another vast reservoir, was also excavated.
12th - 13th century
In 1177, a surprise attack by the Chams resulted in the sacking of Angkor. The throne was regained in 1181 by King Jayavarman VII, a socially minded king and a prolific builder. He converted his people to Buddhism and centred his kingdom on the Bayon, in the middle of Angkor Thom. He built the temples of Prah Kahn, dedicated to his father, and Ta Prohm, dedicated to his mother, as well as numerous other temples, hospitals, roads and bridges. Following a period of decadence, Angkor exhausted itself and fell into decline.