Unkgor Wat in Cambodia — 8 Wonder of the World
Unkgor Wat is one of the 100 Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a city shrouded in many mysteries and contradictions. All of the above refers to a huge temple complex located in the jungle of Cambodia. Angkor Wat, whose territory is occupied by buildings of a sacred nature, is located 240 kilometers from Phnom Penh. And from the city of Siamreap to this area just five kilometers.
The Hindu temples of Angkor are today the hallmark of Cambodia, the country’s most recognizable landmark. The ancient builders tried from the heart. Angkor is huge and majestic, and the scrupulous accuracy of its buildings and a large number of carved images only reinforces the feeling of admiration for its creators.
People or gods
Angkor has an incredible impression on our contemporaries. What to say about the people who lived in the Middle Ages? It is not surprising that the construction of the temple complex was attributed to higher forces.
According to legend, the ruler of the kingdom of heaven, Indra, called to him the heir to the great emperor, named Preah Ket Mealea (Divine Radiance). The young man was handsome, and the character had a fit. Heavenly castle incredibly liked the prince.
The central part of the palace consisted of 5 tall towers, decorated with various precious stones. The interior of the temples is not inferior to the beauty of the external walls. The premises were draped with expensive multi-color fabrics, the furniture is made of gold and silver.
Music was heard, graceful girls circled in the dance. The prince wanted to stay in the heavenly palace, but Indra’s entourage was against it. The earthly man confused them and made them think of a different, divine life. And as a heavenly master, Preah Ket did not like, but it was decided to send the heir to the empire home.
In return, Indra ordered to build for the prince a similar palace on earth. For the construction were recruited people of many nationalities who lived in different countries. They began to build walls, galleries, halls for receptions, bookstores, swimming pools, nine high-rise towers were built, decorated with beautiful carvings. The entrance to the palace was guarded by mythical seven-headed snakes and huge lions.
That is the legend. And it is not surprising that, until recently, many Cambodians were convinced of the heavenly origin of Angkor. The very poor indigenous people of the country could not believe that such skillful buildings were erected by the Khmer.
Yes, and the history of the country since ancient times was unknown to most peasants. The Indologists, Hendrik Kern, Etienne Eamonie and many others who, at the end of the 19th century, began to decipher inscriptions in Khmer temples helped to learn the past of Cambodia, to get acquainted with the monuments of architecture.
City and temples
In the center of the country Khmer was a majestic city. His true name did not reach us. But later he got the name Angkor. The indigenous people called this place “Nagara” — a city, later converted into “Angkor”. The city had a considerable territory — more than 400 square kilometers.
Researchers suggest that at least a million people lived here. Angkor was the main city of the empire from the 9th to the 14th century. They built a lot and beautiful. The preserved historical monuments: pyramids, tombs, palaces and other buildings speak of its rather high level of development. On the territory of the city there were several temple complexes: Ta-Prom, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srey and others. One of them, Angkor Wat, was distinguished by its large size and grandeur.
It is believed that the construction of a future wonder of the world was attended to by the emperor-warrior Suryavarman II, who did a lot to unite and centralize Cambodia. His state stretched for many kilometers, and the main business of life was the erection of the temple of Angkor Vata.
For this, the ruler, who lived at the turn of the XI and XII centuries, from our contemporaries received the title of «Michelangelo of the East.» The inhabitants of the empire worshiped Suryavarman and called him the incarnation of the god Vishnu. Angkor became the earthly home of the emperor and his last refuge, the tomb. Completed the complex after the death of the ruler.
According to some reports, the construction required a huge amount of stone, almost five million tons. They mined it from the quarries on the Kulen Plateau, which is forty kilometers from this place. Delivered materials on the Siem Reap River. They did not use the mortar to fasten the walls, tightly fitting the plates to each other and using special clamps for stones. Strengthens the impression of Angkor and a huge number of images that adorn many surfaces, columns and even roofs of buildings.
Today, Angkor Wat remains the most magnificent religious building on earth. From all sides the complex is fenced with a rectangular moat filled with water. The width of the water obstacle is 200 meters, in the old days it contained crocodiles. The length of the moat on each side is approximately 1500 meters, and it limits the territory of the complex to 21 hectares. The complex is also surrounded by a four meter laterite wall.
Angkor Wat rests on three terraces facing each other. In fact, such a structure resembles a large three-tier pyramid, each floor of which is surrounded by galleries along the perimeter, and tall towers at the corners. The first terrace rises above the ground at 3.5 meters, the second rises already at 7 meters, and the third — at 13 meters. Such a construction symbolically depicts the Meru or World, Sacred Mountain. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it was the center of the entire universe. The gods lived on the upper level of the mountain, the people inhabited the middle, and the lower was given to demons.
You can get into Angkor through the central entrance, located on the west side. Here is a wide sandy block pavement. Further, the road goes through the western Gopuru — gate tower. Such towers are located on four sides of the complex. The galleries of the gate buildings are rather high, it is not for nothing that they are also called “gate for elephants”. The facades and columns are decorated with figures of dancing girls, men jumping on animals and various divine beings.
Passing the gopur, the road leads to the main towers of the complex. Its length is 350 meters, and on the railing in a fighting pose the figures of Nagas, seven-headed snakes, froze. To the left and right of the sidewalk are two similar buildings. These are the North and South libraries. They made four exits to all sides of the world, and the roof is supported by rectangular columns. Unlike modern libraries, manuscripts and scrolls were not stored in these buildings. These were peculiar sanctuaries.
Second and third tiers
On these tiers there are many steep stairs, and along the perimeter there are galleries. Part of the walls is decorated with high bas-reliefs, on which there are scenes not only from the myths of the ancient Khmer, but also various household pictures. Striking and a huge number of dancers, carved out of stone. Two thousand female figures stuck in the dance, each in her own movement, clothes and ornaments. Even the facial expressions of stone maidens are different.
A steep staircase leads to the upper terrace, almost under 60 °. Here at the top is the heart of the whole complex — five towers resembling huge fir cones. Four of them were built at the corners of the terrace, and in the center rises the highest, 42 meters high, tower. Its full height together with the terraces is 65 meters. The central tower at the last level contained the abode of the god Vishnu. Here was his statue, later transferred to the entrance of the western gopura. In the southern part of the temple there is a reclining Buddha, to which even believers come today.
The channel system created around Angkor is also amazing. They helped the inhabitants of the ancient city to stock up on water during dry periods and avoid flooding during the rainy season. To create the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat, more than a million cubic meters of earth have been removed. In addition, this system helped to maintain groundwater at the right level. Therefore, rain and drought did not threaten the buildings.
The second life of Angkor
Henri Muo was the very traveler who discovered Angkor for the world. Although before him there were other Europeans who visited the city lost in the jungle. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Spanish missionary Marcelo Ribandeiro during his journey saw an unusual temple among the jungle.
Mysterious buildings destroyed all the existing knowledge about the Khmer living in these places and not possessing the skills of such construction. Yes, and the natives kept their mouths, not wanting to devote a stranger to the secrets of their gods. Therefore, Ribandeyro came to the conclusion that the temple was built by some ancient civilization that had nothing to do with the Khmers. Asia was far away, Europe had enough of its problems, so Angkor was safely forgotten.
There were still travelers from Portugal, the traveler Diogo du Couto and the monk António da Madalena, who had visited Angkor earlier in the 16th century and described their travels. But it was the Frenchman Henri Muo who got into a wave of growing interest in everything eastern and unusual.
The naturalist and traveler did not expect that one of his wanderings through the wilds of Southeast Asia would receive such wide publicity. There is even a date when a group of Henri Muo saw a mysterious city among the jungle. This happened on January 22, 1861. For several weeks, the traveler has been researching the complex. After Muo’s death, a book was published with notes and drawings depicting a city standing in the middle of the jungle.
The following fact also speaks about the significance and majesty of the temple complex: in 1863, Cambodia adopted a French protectorate, and a white image of Angkor Vata appeared on the country’s red and blue flag. For some time its outlines were also present on the state emblem.
The study of Angkor began at the end of the XIX century. In the footsteps of Henri Muo, scientists and photographers set off for the jungle. So, in 1866, Briton John Thomson made the first photographic photographs of the temple complex. This only heightened interest in Asian wonder. Several expeditions were undertaken to study in detail the monuments of the ancient city. In 1878, an exhibition was held in Paris, where photographs, some Khmer sculptures, and casts of gypsum from part of the bas-reliefs were presented to the amazed public. Scientists engaged in the translation of ancient inscriptions in the modern language.
At the end of the 19th century, the French School of the Far East was even opened in Europe, which began to study the heritage of part of the Asian states and provide measures to preserve the cultural heritage of these states. At the same time begins a systematic study of Angkor. But to do something to save this monument of Khmer culture at that time was impossible for political reasons. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first guide to the ancient city was published.
For many European researchers, Angkor has become a matter of life. And today, the temple complex looks quite impressive, although for many years the local buildings were not spared by neither nature nor people. The humid tropical weather contributed to the partial destruction of the buildings, and the plants that twined and crushed stone with powerful roots and trunks.
In the days of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, not only people were destroyed. The new government did not like ancient temples. In Angkor, sculptures depicting gods were disfigured. Fortunately, the Cambodian temple was more fortunate than many of the ancient sites in the Syrian Palmyra.
In 1992, the temples of the ancient city are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and a special committee for the revival of Angkor is being created. Funds are allocated, and now there are ongoing restoration work. Archaeological studies have shown that outside the ancient buildings once were fortifications, towers, from which today there is almost no trace.
So, on the south side of Angkor, Vata was a huge structure with an incomprehensible purpose. The most up-to-date technical innovations were also used to examine the territory. For example, aerial scanning with a laser proved that the urban area was much larger than that known today. Yes, and the buildings themselves had a great height.
Legends and Myths
Like other similar buildings, Angkor is surrounded by a huge number of legends and myths. Unfortunately, the ancient builders did not leave documents describing their offspring: what was built, why, when. And the court chroniclers did not try very hard. Therefore, subsequent generations for many years will have to wrestle with the true goals of the buildings and their architects.
The reasons that made people leave this huge city are still not understood. Why was the capital from Angkor nearly 500 years ago moved to Phnom Penh? Angkor Wat never stood completely empty. In it continued to live the monks who worshiped the same gods. But the deserted city was associated with the feuds of local feudal lords, popular unrest, natural anomalies and other reasons. Perhaps someday we will learn the truth about the ancient capital of Cambodia.
The discovery of the British scientist John Grigsby, who found some connection between Angkor and the stars, is also surprising. Computer studies have shown that the location of the main temples of the ancient Khmers coincides with the projection of the main luminaries of the constellation of the Dragon.
And the stars were in such a sequence on a certain day of the spring equinox more than 10 thousand years ago. Could the ancient Khmers have such knowledge? Scientists suggest that Angkor Wat was erected on the remains of some more ancient buildings. And who was the author of the previous disappeared structures is unknown.
The temple is truly magnificent. Every year it is visited by a large number of tourists. The interest in Angkor and the film about Lara Croft, after which the number of people willing to see Angelina Jolie’s temple with their own eyes, only increased. But, despite this popularity, Angkor cherishes its secrets and is in no hurry to part with them.