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- Angkor Thom -

"After watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, we took a short tuk-tuk ride to the walled city of Angkor Thom. It was the capital city of Khmer empire established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarrman VII (endearingly nicknamed “King J” by our tuk-tuk driver). This vast city is a home to cluster of splendid temple ruins, but there were two ruins that we could not get out of our heads – the South Gate and Bayon Temple.
Upon approaching the South Gate of Angkor Thom, we were greeted by fascinating giant faces wearing slew of expressions – smiling, serene, serious, angry, scary, etc."

The Gate of Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km˛, within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. Angkor Thom may have held at its peak a population of over 100,000, living in tiled or thatched houses. The city was surrounded with rice fields, which provided food; these were irrigated with reservoirs, which also supplied drinking water.
Angkor Thom means "the great city" in Khmer.

Angkor Thom was built in a nearly perfect square, the sides of which run south to north and west to east. It was surrounded by a square wall 8 meter high and 12 kilometer in length and further protected by a 100m-widemoat (now dry), said to have contained dangerous crocodiles.

A gate opens in the middle of each wall, from which a bridge extends over the moat to the area outside the royal city. The original royal palace at Angkor Thom, built in the 10th and 11th centuries, was built of wood and no longer stands.

The vast area of the Angkor Thom ruins, over a mile on one side, contains many stone temples and other features to explore. The city has five monumental gates (an extra in the eastern wall), 20m high and decorated with stone elephant trunks and the king's favourite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Each gate leads onto a causeway across the moat and is flanked with statues of 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right.

 

The south gate is the best restored and most popular of all, but also the most busy because it leads directly to Angkor Wat. The east and west gates, found at the end of uneven trails, are more peaceful. The east gate was used for a scene in the movie "Tomb Raider" , in which the bad guys broke into the "tomb" by pulling down a giant apsara (it was actually made of polystyrene).

At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.

The Bayon
The Bayon

Exactly in the centre of Angkor Thom are the temple grounds of the Bayon. The crowning glory is the huge dome of the Bayon'. This is under restoration at present and will be a spectacular sight when completed.
The temple grounds have puzzled archaeologists because they do not fit the Hindu religion as does Angkor Wat. Therefore it is assumed that King Jayavarman VII introduced elements of the Buddhist faith into the religious system of Angkor, though it is assumed they were lost after his death.

The palace area of Angkor Thom is located directly to the North of the Bayon. Its basic features were laid out during the reign of King Suryavarman I, 150 years before the construction of Angkor Thom. From the centre of the palace complex rose the Heavenly Palace, Phimeanakas. The king of the Khmer always used to spend the first part of each night in the uppermost part of this Heavenly Palace, where according to legend he had sexual intercourse with the sun queen.

Several high terraces inside Angkor Thom served primarily ceremonial purposes, among them cremations.

The terrace