After Angkor Wat, the vast area of Angkor Thom remains the second most visited section of the Unesco archaeological park.
|Map of the archaeologic park of Angkor.|
In the 12thcentury, the Chams came from the East and surprisingly sacked Angkor Wat. Jayavarman VII then decided to build a better-protected city for his empire. Historians think that there were as many as 1M inhabitants in the vicinity of what may have been a real Megacity.
The new capital was surrounded by a moat (100m wide) as well as a long wall (8m high and 12km long). The layout clearly adopts again a 3-dimensional plan: a moat+a wall+an inner city. The central area of Angkor Thom keeps the most important monuments:
-the former royal palace called Phimeanakas,
-two famous terraces overlooking a vast central square: the Terrace of Elephants & the Terrace of the Leper King.
Laid out in the shape of a giant square, this huge area has four gates orientated according to the four
|Bridge at the south gate.|
The south gate leading from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom has been restored with giant heads, which are sometimes copies. It is meant to be a representation of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The causeway is lined with the heads of 54 gods and 54 demons. Why such a number? A possible answer lies in a symbolic meaning: 5+4=9 or 54+54=108 → 1+8=9. If now, you add 9+9, you get 18, which in turn becomes 9 by adding 1+8. Nine is a highly symbolic number, the end of a decimal system known as soon as 3,000BC.
1.Bayon.This is one of the most famous sites at Angkor. It is both mysterious and mesmerizing. First, it stands at the exact center of the enclosed section of Angkor Thom. Built in the 12thcentury, it testifies for a change from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. Once again, it is a highly symbolic edifice.
|One of the smiling faces|
of the Bayon
The structure is made of 3 levels. The first two levels are square, while the third is circular. The square symbolizes the Earth and the circle stands for the Sky.
More interestingly, the upper level has 54 towers and 216 giant smiling faces. It is believed there were 54 provinces in the Khmer empire at the time. As noted before, 54 is another representation of number 9. But if you add 2+1+6. you also get 9.
The first and second square structures show remarkable bas-reliefs depicting daily life in the 12thcentury or an account of the fight between the Chams and the Khmer. Number 2, being the first even number symbolizes the duality of human life on the earth (sun/moon, earth/water, male/female, etc..).
2.Baphuon.This is an amazing structure that has recently been fully restored. A 225m elevated
walkway supported by hundreds of pillars leads to a 43m high pyramidal structure. This 11thcentury temple-mountain made of 3 platforms stands high above the jungle and is a representation of the sacred 5-peaked Mount Meru.
|The steep steps of Baphuon|
By considering the symbolic value of the numbers, this is what we find out: 3 platforms; 225 → 2+2+5+9; 43 → 4+3=7, which is a symbolic representation of the world in Hinduism. As this is a religious structure, it is no wonder it contains all the first three odd numbers: 3, 5 and 7.
In the 16thcentury, another feature was added on the western wall of the pyramid: part of the second level was shaped into a 60m reclining Buddha!
3.The Terrace of Elephants. It served as a viewing royal stand for public ceremonies over the central square. It is 350m-long. Its name derives its long bas-reliefs representing elephant and their mahouts.
4.The Terrace of the Leper King. Located at the other side of the central square. This 7m-high platform is topped with a nude statue thought to be that of Yama, the god of death. This is the reason why archaeologists think the platform used to be a royal crematorium. The original statue is kept at the Phnom Penh's National Museum.
5.Phimeanakas ('The Celestial Palace'). Apart from the two pools located just out of the royal wall, there is not much to be seen of this former royal palace as it is currently under restoration. This area is just behind the two described terraces.
|The temple-mountain of Baphuon|
|View from the top of the pyramid|
|Side temple under restoration|
|Three columns shaped as elephants|
|Terrace of the Elephants: bas-reliefs.|
|Head statue of a god on the bridge|
leading to Angkor Thom
|Bas-relief at the Bayon.|
|Bayon head on the top platform|
|Khmer shrine inside the Bayon|
|Another view of the Bayon|