Did you know? – Secrets of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument and visited by millions of people each year. The temple is shrouded in mystery and most guests visit without know some of the most interesting facts. This blog post will enlighten you to the fascinating mystery of Angkor Wat Temple.
Angkor Wat is one of the most famous temples in Cambodia, so it sees a high influx of tourists. Situated close to Siem Reap, this architectural gem hides many stories from times past. If you want to know all the secrets of Angkor Wat, read along!
IT WASN’T ALWAYS CALLED ANGKOR WAT
The temple’s current name, Angkor Wat, is roughly translated as “The City of Temples”. But this name only dates back to the 16th century, while the temple itself was built in the 12th century.
The original name was “Preah Pisnulok”, or “Vara Vishnuloka” in Sanskrit. This was the posthumous title of the king who ordered the temple being built, King Suryavarman II.
That’s because Preah Pisnulok means “the realm of Vishnu”, and King Suryavarman II was seen as the incarnation of this Hindu God.
IT MAY BE HAVE BEEN USED FOR FUNERALS
Built in the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, the temple is recognized as the largest religious structure in the world. Though most Hindu temples face east, Angkor Wat faces west, leading some scholars and archeologists to believe it was for funeral use.
IT WAS ORIGINALLY DEDICATED TO VISHNU
There are three main gods in the Hindu religion: Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma is thought to have created the world, Vishnu’s role is to preserve it, while Shiva is a fickle god who destroys the world only to recreate it.
It’s no wonder that most Cambodian temples are dedicated to Shiva, in order to mollify him. But not Angkor Wat.
King Suryavarman II worshipped Vishnu, which sends a powerful message about how he envisaged his reign: an era of peace and stability.
Besides, this Vishnu-dedicated temple faces west instead of east, unlike most local temples. While some historians argue that this is related to death as a central concept in Hinduism, there’s no actual consensus. Either way, this setting offers the most beautiful sunrises!
IT’S NOT A HINDU TEMPLE ANYMORE
Angkor Wat is now a Buddhist place of worship. In the late 12th century, Japanese pilgrims came to this area and they thought that the surrounding gardens look just like the Buddha’s Jetavana garden.
So, at the beginning of the 13th century, Angor Wat became a Buddhist temple.
IT’S ON A NATIONAL FLAG
Considering that Angkor Wat is one of the biggest monuments in Cambodia, it’s no wonder that Cambodians take pride in it.
It’s also become a tourist hive, so Angkor Wat now proudly stands on Cambodia’s national flag. There aren’t many other countries which do that with their national monuments: the only other one is Afghanistan with a mosque that faces Mecca.
But Angkor Wat isn’t just featured on the Cambodian flag. It also has a famous namesake beer in the country!
IT USED TO BE THE LARGEST CITY ON EARTH
It is thought that in the 12th century Angkor Wat had a population of around 1 million people. This might not seem much for today’s world, but that made it the city with the highest density in the middle ages.
Basically, Angkor Wat isn’t just a temple. The city encompassed structures like libraries, schools and moats. Its impressive structures and huge population gave this City of Temples just cause to become the capital of the Khmer Empire.
IT’S THE BIGGEST RELIGIOUS MONUMENT ON EARTH
While today’s world is home to bigger cities than Angkor Wat was in its heyday, this temple is still the biggest religious monument on the planet. Encompassing 154 square meters, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has held this title for approximately a thousand years since its construction.
IT’S A TECHNOLOGICAL AND ARCHITECTURAL GEM
Angkor Wat shows the degree of technological advancement in the Khmer Empire. For instance, its cooled corridors were there to stop excessive heating, a real problem with the local climate.
The irrigation system in place was also ahead of its time, with an extended network of reservoirs and waterways. This intricate irrigation system served to protect and grow multiple rice harvests. Thanks to good irrigation, the Khmers enjoyed two yearly harvests of rice instead of just one.
From an architectural standpoint, the rich carvings and bas-reliefs are quite astonishing. The building technique shows real craftsmanship: to make the construction more durable, the bricks were glued together with vegetable compound instead of the common mortar.
MORE THAN 200 PAINTINGS COVER THE WALLS
There are likely also more than a few secrets left at Angkor. A few years ago, researcher Noel Hidalgo Tan noticed black and red markings on the wall of the temple. He took a few photos, and later, when he edited them, realized they were much more detailed than he’d originally noticed. When researchers went back to look for more, they found over 200 paintings.
IT SITS ABOVE A NETWORK OF CITIES
Angkor Wat also holds a lot of secrets below ground, not just above it. Not three years ago, an Australian archaeologist found an impressive network of underground cities.
These cities date between the 8th and 13th century AD and are almost as big as Phnom Penh.
IT RESEMBLES MOUNT MERU
Mount Meru is where the Hindu Gods live, and Angkor Wat is a mirror of their home. For instance, Angkor Wat boasts four exterior towers that guard a central tower, while Mount Meru has four peaks.
To understand how truly imposing this temple was, try to imagine it the way it was in the 12th century, with golden towers and colourful bas-reliefs.