Angkor Thom

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Downtown Angkor

The Angkor complex was immense and included areas serving various functions. At its peak, Angkor Wat was its largest and most elaborated temple, but the administration of the Khmer kingdom was not done from there but from the nearby downtown area, usually known as Angkor Thom.

Jayavarman VII

Built in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII, Angkor Thom was the last Khmer capital city in the Angkor area. At its center, the king placed the state temple, the Bayon. An inscription found in the city refers to it as a bride and to Jayavarman VII as the groom.


Angkor Thom was built slightly southeast and overlapping parts of Yasodharapura, the earlier kingdom’s capital, and by the bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of the Tonle Sap Lake. It was roughly two kilometers north of Angkor Wat.


Until the sixteenth century, the old name of Yashodharapura was in use; only then Angkor Thom - namely meaning "Great City" - became popular.


The walled area of Angkor Thom was small, only nine square kilometers in size, an eight meters tall wall and a moat surrounded the town. At its center was the Bayon, which was connected by broad avenues to the city gates. Those were connected through bridges to the other parts of the complex; the naga-bridges feature guardrail shaped as naga serpents held by a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right (see pictures). An additional gate named the Victory Gate is north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road connecting it with the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.
Of the secular buildings of the city none survived since they were constructed of wood. A system of canals supplied the town with water. Theologically, the whole town could have been a representation – larger than Angkor Wat – of Mount Meru (see Angkor and Angkor Wat entries in this journal).

North of the Bayon was the Victory Square, and not far from there was the Royal Palace, which included the Phimeanakas Temple that for a while was the state temple. The Baphuon is another temple of interest. The city's last addition was the Mangalartha Temple in 1295, afterwards it entered a slow period of decay in which older structures were improved but none added. According to travelers' reports, by 1609 the city was abandoned.

The city gates – Gopura in Sanskrit and Khmer - feature twenty-three meters towers with faces similar to the ones appearing at the Bayon, though they were later additions. They are 3.5m wide and 7m tall; its wooden doors did not survive.

Prasat is a Khmer word derived from the Sanskrit "prasada," meaning "tower;" it usually refers to temples shaped as slightly elliptic towers. At Angkor Thom’s corners were Prasat Chrung - Corner Towers - built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara.

Terrace of the Elephants

King Jayavarman VII used the Terrace of the Elephants as a platform from which to view his army’s parades, as a place for public ceremonies and as a base for his Audience Hall; as such, it was attached to the Phimeanakas palace temple complex. The 350m-long terrace is named for the very distinctive elephants’ carvings on its eastern side. Other carvings, on the middle section of the retaining wall, included garudas (half-men half-bird deities) and lions.
Angkor Thom
Siem Reap
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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