The ruins of Vat Phou – UNESCO World Heritage Site in Laos
Located on the West bank of the Mighty Mekong river, the South of Pakse, the ruins of an ancient Khmer temple are called Vat Phou (or Wat Phou). This name is translated as “mountain temple” which is considered as the oldest archaeological sites in Laos built between the 5th and 13th century. This temple has been featured similar characteristics as the famous complex temples of Cambodia – the Angkor Wat such as the decorative lintels and carvings, stone causeways.
Like many other Khmer sites, this well – preserved temple complex is oriented towards the East. In the South of the main sanctuary is the ancient stone road which is connected to its younger brother – Angkor Wat, the capital of Khmer Empire.
Vat Phou has been listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. Moreover, the Phu Kao mountain and the little remains of 2 cities – Lingapura and Shrestrapura are also consisted in the UNESCO site. The pre – Khmer city of Shrestrapura built in the 5th century is the oldest, the Lingapura or “the city of lingas” was built in the 12th century.
The Vat Phou has the various structures which are built on seven terraces starting from the Mekong Riverbank to the mountain. At the starter point – the riverbank, there are two large barays (water reservoirs), then a long processional path, two palaces and the main sanctuary at last.
Leading from the barays to the main sanctuary is a long processional path. On the way, there are two palaces – the Ho Thao in the South and the Ho Nang in the North of the path. Despite the uncertainty of their function, it is believed that those palaces were used during Hindu ceremonies in the 11th century.
Continuing the pathway, it can be seen with the remain of several structures which are six small brick towers which are used to contain a linga on the 4th terrace and a Dvarapala guardian on the 2nd terrace.
The highest terrace with 60 meters high is the main sanctuary dedicated to Shiva. The terrace lies on the mountain which is about 70 meters higher than the barays which offers scenic views over the complex of temple.
The main sanctuary enshrined the linga, the representation of Shiva. The holy water of the water stream from the mountain spring constantly bathes the linga.
The sculptures of Devatas, Apsaras, Dvarapala guardians and Kalas, a monster usually depicted without lower jaw are placed in the building. Moreover, its lintels and pediments are also adorned with various sculptures including Vishnu on Garuda, Krishna killing Kansa, Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata, Krishna defeating the Naga Kaliya and stories from the Ramayana, like the abduction of Sita.
Next to the main sanctuary are a small library, two large boulders carved to resemble an elephant and a crocodile and a rock with a carving of the Hindu Trimurti of the three Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
In the past few years, there are several projects to work on conservation of the temple, in which, one of the main places has been cleaned and fully restored. By the conservative project like these, the deep secrets of the historical priceless treasure will be revealed one day.