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Angkor Temples 4

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October, 2004

Baksei Chamkrong 10th Century Koh Ker Style Hashavarman I
Angkor photo.
Baksei Chamkrong

"This little temple with its four square tiers of laterite, crowned by a brick sanctuary, might serve for a model in miniature of some of its giant neighbours, and is almost as perfect as the day it was built ... "

— H.W. Ponder, 1936

Baksei Chamkrong is a temple mountain built of laterite with a brick tower containing a sanctuary at the top. The sanctuary is decorated with carved sandstone (see the photo at left). The temple is 12 meters (40 feet) tall with a steep climb to the top. Even so, the surrounding jungle is considerably taller. We expected a grand view from the top of the temple, but could see only the trees.

The pyramid is built of laterite with little adornment. This portion of the temple is in very good condition; the laterite walls of the pyramid are still straight and level.


Phimeanakas 10th Century •• Banteay Srei Style Jayarvarman V
Angkor photo.

Phimeanakas was the royal temple where the Khmer kings worshiped (see the photo at left). The royal temple is situated in a small moat, and there are two nearby ponds known as the Royal Baths. The temple was described in the 13th century by a chinese visitor, Zhou Daguan, as a "tower of gold". The gold, of course, is long gone, as are most of the sandstone carvings that once decorated the temple. The stairway on each face of the pyramid was flanked by lions and there were sandstone elephants on each corner of each level. There is very little left.

There is a famous legend of a serpent-spirit with nine heads that inhabited the temple. The serpent appeared to the king as a beautiful woman, and the king was required to sleep with her each night. If he failed to do so, he would die.


Banteay Srei 10th Century ••• Banteay Srei Style Jayarvarman V
Angkor photo.
Banteay Srei

"Banteai Srei is an exquisite miniature; a fairy place in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest; the very thing that Grimm delighted to imagine ... and here it is, in the Cambodian forest at Banteai Srei, carved not out of the stuff that dreams are made of, but of solid sandstone."

— H.W. Ponder, 1936

Banteay Srei may be the most beautiful of the Angkor temples. It is small, in good condition, and has beautiful carvings in a hard, fine-grained pink sandstone. The sandstone at Banteay Srei has withstood the effects of time and weather better than the grey sandstone at all the other Angkor temples. It is still crisp and clear, with easily recognized figures. The other Angkor temple carvings would have looked like these when they were new. The temple is covered in these exquisite carvings, giving it a fairy-tale appearance. It is surrounded by laterite walls and a shallow moat. We visited Dy Proeung, a sculpter in Siam Reap. He has made a scale model of this temple as it would have appeared in the 10th century (see the model photo at left).

This was the first Angkor temple to be restored by the French. They established the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient (EFEO) in 1898 to study and protect the ancient archaeological sites in Cambodia, and began clearing Banteay Srei from the jungle in 1924. It was restored using the anastylosis method of complete dismantling and rebuilding. The conservation work continues with archaeologists documenting the existing state of the temple, and reassembling the many stone blocks that have not yet been restored to their original positions.

Here are some more photos of Banteay Srei:

sanctuary  | pediments  | carving  | pediment  | detail  | pillars


Ta Keo 10th Century Khleang Style Jayarvarman V
Angkor photo.
Ta Keo

"Ta Keo's lack of ornament makes it distinctive among the works of the Khmers, who were so prodigal of decoration. Its rocky masses, rising above the tops of the coconut palms, convey the impression that it only recently emerged from some cavern underground, carrying the forest with it in its rocketing ascent."

— R.J. Casey, 1929

Ta Keo was the first of the Angkor temples to be constructed entirely from a particularly hard type of sandstone. It is a temple mountain surrounded by 2 enclosure walls and topped with five towers (see the photo at left). The second platform is enclosed by a covered gallery. The view from the top is worth the strenuous climb up the narrow, steep stairs.

The Angkor temples were built of unadorned stone that was then decorated in place. This process is quite clear in many of the temples, with carvings that cross over adjacent stones. In a number of temples, it is apparent that the carving was never finished, probably because the king who commissioned the temple died before it was finished. At Ta Keo, it seems that the decorative carving never really got started. The result is a structure with great simplicity of design, even if the simplicity was accidental.

The five towers at the top of the temple are four-sided with a porch on each side, something first seen at Ta Keo. The central tower is raised above the others on a pyramid of its own.


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