"We stand before it stunned. It is like nothing else in the land."
Helen Churchill Candee, 1925
The Bayon is a Buddhist temple at the geographical center of the city of Angkor Thom. All the roads from the entry gates lead directly to the temple. It is original in design and ornament, and a favorite with visitors. (We returned to see it three different times, under different lighting conditions.) Much of the architecture of the Bayon is unusual, and it was obviously modified and expanded several times during its life. It is best known for its 54 massive towers (see photo #1, at left), each bearing four large, smiling faces.
There have been great debates over the meaning of the faces, and whom they represent. The generally accepted current theory is that they are the image of the king, Jayarvarman VII (photo #2). The faces are interesting both for their size and for their beauty. Once you climb to the third level, the faces are everywhere you turn. They are at different heights, seen against a backdrop of trees, or silhouetted against the sky. The temple is so massive and so packed with towers and galleries that it is difficult to get a feel for its design. The sandstone is stained with mildew and colored with moss. This camouflages the shapes and adds to the difficulty of recognition.
The second major attraction of the Bayon is the bas-reliefs that cover the walls of two galleries that encircle the temple. The beautiful carvings in the outer galleries include scenes from daily life, great battles on land and at sea, and triumphal processions (photo #3). The outer galleries were probably open to all worshippers, while the inner portions of the temple would have been reserved for the priests and the king. The inner galleries are covered with mythical, religious scenes that may have been used to instruct young novices learning the tenets of Buddhism.
The Bayon is filled with tourists early in the morning, when the tour buses arrive. They all go on to Angkor Wat in the afternoon, leaving the Bayon nearly empty. Even in the morning, the temple is so large that one can easily find a private spot from which to enjoy the view (photo #4). We found this temple to be particularly difficult to photograph as a whole structure, but the details are beautiful.
Here are ten more photos of details of the Bayon:
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