Many people mistakenly believe that Angkor is a single temple since Angkor Wat itself is the grandest and most popular amongst hundreds of Khmer temples scattered across the plains of north-western Cambodia.
Angkor’s God-kings sought to surpass their ancestors with the construction of grandeur and opulence temples and cities. The incredible Temple of Angkor Wat, built by Surayavarman II during the same period when the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was under construction, is an architectural undertaking of unbelievable complexity and beauty. The five central towers represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Hindu Gods. The entire temple is thought to be a replica of the universe in stones. The size, complexity, artistic perfection and staggering beauty of Angkor Wat earn the monument its place as the grandest of the Angkor Temples. The epic tales described by the carved bas-relief on the temple’s gallery walls are perhaps the finest artistic achievement of all of Angkor.
Angkor Thom – the “Great City” – was the last capital of the Angkor Kingdoms and was the work of Angkor’s most prolific and best-known monarch, King Jayavarman VII. The walled city covers the largest area of any of the Angkor monuments and contains some of the site’s best known attractions. For example, the King’s serene face gazes out to the city’s cardinal points at the four gates. Meanwhile, the grand city’s entrances allow visitors to glimpse at a city once populated by as many as 1 million god-king and his subjects.
The Bayon is a stunning temple, and is memorable for its eerie atmosphere and the contrasting down-to-earth quality of the bas-relief within its galleries. King Jayavarman’s face is carved in immense proportions exceeding 200 times its life-size figure on 54 towers. The enigmatic smiling face of the King is one of Angkor’s best-known icons, and remains etched in each visitor’s memory. The bas-relief at the Bayon depicts scenes of normal life in the mighty City of Angkor Thom, and many scenes are repeated to this day in the surrounding countryside of the temples.