15 Interesting Facts About Angkor wat
In the heart of Cambodia stands a mystical temple complex that mirrors the splendor of a bygone era – Angkor Wat. Stepping into this UNESCO World Heritage site is like walking into a world where time stops and the ancient Khmer Empire comes to life. As we stroll through its elaborate corridors and admire its imposing spires, we are reminded of the eternal legacy carved into the stone walls. Angkor Wat is a fascinating mix of history, mythology, and architectural marvels. With its grandeur, intricate carvings, and spiritual significance, the 12th-century temple complex exemplifies the Khmer Empire’s ingenuity and cultural wealth.
Nestled deep in the Cambodian jungle near Seam Reap, Angkor Wat is an absolute must-see for anyone looking to admire the beauty and complexities of Cambodian culture. The walls and corridors are thick with mysteries and myths waiting to be discovered. The intriguing facts and figures associated with Angkor Wat only add to our admiration for this magnificent landmark. Join us as we explore some amazing facts that shed light on the architectural brilliance and rich history of this iconic site, inspiring us to value and preserve the wonders of our past.
1). It is the Largest Religious Structure on Earth
Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument, stretching over 400 square kilometers. The sheer scale of the ruins is staggering. It encompasses 72 monuments and is part of a 15-mile-long complex. To put it in perspective, the complex’s main temple is four times the size of Vatican City and occupies an area larger than modern-day Paris. The original outer walls of Angkor Wat would enclose the city, royal palace, and temple, spanning over 200 acres. However, no trace of the original wall remains today.
2). There’s a Lot More Than Angkor Wat
People often confuse Angkor Wat with the Angkor Archaeological Park, believing that the former is a temple complex. However, Angkor Wat is only one temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park, albeit the largest and most magnificent. Over 1000 temples and religious structures are scattered throughout the sprawling Park, which encompasses dense jungles and forests. Other ruins worth visiting include the Bayon Temple, Banteay Srei, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Prohm Temple, and Angkor Thom. If you want to see them all, it will take weeks.
3). It Appears on Cambodia’s Flag
Angkor Wat is considered Cambodia’s heart and soul, as well as a source of national pride. Since around 1850, the silhouette of Angkor Wat’s main towers has been featured in the center of Cambodia’s national flag. This makes Cambodia one of only two countries in the world to display a monument on their flag, alongside Afghanistan. Illustrations of the ancient monument can also be found on many denominations of Cambodian currency.
4). Angkor Wat is a World Heritage Site
Angkor Wat was looted for years, and many statues were decapitated and sold to private collectors. UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1992 for its significant contributions to both Hinduism and Buddhism. This prompted an international effort to protect the temple from further damage. Extensive restoration and conservation efforts have been carried out to protect its architectural grandeur and cultural significance. New temples have been uncovered and restored.
5). It Took 35 Years To Complete
Angkor Wat is an outstanding representation of ancient architecture and engineering that required tremendous human and material resources to construct. According to the inscriptions, Angkor Wat took about 35 years to build, with 1,000 elephants and 300,000 human laborers involved. Over 5 million tonnes of sandstone were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, which is about 50 km away. The stone was transported to the temple via a complex network of canals and ramps. The heaviest block weighs 1500 kg, so moving the sandstone without the use of machinery must have been extremely time-consuming and laborious.
6). Angkor Wat translates to ‘City of Temples’
“Angkor” means “city” and “Wat” means “temple grounds” in Khmer, the language spoken in Cambodia. So Angkor Wat refers to the ‘City of Temples’ or ‘Temple City’. It used to be known as Vrah Vishnuloka or Parama Vishnuloka in Sanskrit, which translates as Vishnu’s sacred dwelling. Originally constructed as a complex of temples and cities, Angkor Wat served as the economic and political capital of the Khmer Empire. The area was a city with houses, moats, libraries, schools, and other structures, with the Angkor Wat temple at its focal point.
7). It is a Pilgrimage for Both Hindus and Buddhists
Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the God Vishnu, the protector. However, by the end of the 12th century, more and more Buddhists arrived, and Hinduism gradually faded from the region. Over time, Angkor Wat underwent religious transformations and began to evolve into a Buddhist temple. Following the relocation of Angkor City to Phnom Penh in 1432, the Angkor Wat complex turned into a Buddhist temple that is still used for worship today.
8). Wall Cravings here Illustrate the Famous Fables of Hindu Mythology
The temples are adorned with impressive bas-reliefs that span nearly 1,200 meters. These intricate carvings demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship and storytelling. They feature important Hindu and Buddhist deities and figures, as well as key scenes from Hindu mythology such as Samudra Manthan (the churning of the Ocean of Milk). This story has its roots in the Mahabharat, Vishnu Purana, and Bhagwat Purana, where it is claimed that Gods and demons churned the Ocean of Milk to create ‘Amrit’ (nectar of immortality).
9). It was Built to Represent Mount Meru
The main five towers of the Angkor Wat temple represent Mount Meru. According to Hindu mythology, Mount Meru is a sacred five-peaked mountain at the center of the universe that serves as an abode for the deities. The top of this mountain is said to be home to three major Hindu gods (Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu), as well as Hindi demi-gods (Devas). A vast moat surrounds the entire temple, representing the cosmic ocean symbolically. The moat encompassing the temples also serves to maintain physical balance and prevent the temples from collapsing under the weight of sand.
10). Angkor Wat Faces West
Unlike other temples in the region that face east, Angkor Wat is oriented towards the west, which is not allowed in Hindu culture. According to Hindu tradition, the West is associated with death. Historians are still unsure of the reason for this anomaly. A few believe the site was built for funerals or to serve as a tomb. The Bas-Reliefs at Angkor Wat read counterclockwise which is the reverse of the normal order, and this is thought to be another indication that the temple is associated with funeral rituals. Nevertheless, because of its location, it’s in an excellent spot for a spectacular sunrise, which draws lots of visitors.
11). It Draws More than 50% of Foreign Tourists to Cambodia
The enchanting combination of majesty and grandeur at Angkor Wat has made it a worldwide phenomenon. The heritage site is the primary reason why 50% of foreign tourists visit Cambodia. The site attracts roughly two million visitors each year. Many tourists travel to Cambodia solely for this specific reason. While Angkor Wat continues to attract millions of visitors each year, the influx of tourists poses a threat to the conservation of this ancient marvel. The delicate balance between preservation and public access remains a source of concern. The number of visitors allowed at specific times and places is being limited to safeguard the national treasure.
12). Angkor Wat is Not Listed among the Seven Wonders of the World
There is an overall assumption that Angkor Wat is included in the Seven Wonders of the World. Despite its size, popularity, and historical significance, Angkor is NOT one of the Seven Wonders, either new or old. It was considered, but the archaeological relic was eliminated when the official voting results were announced in 2007.
13). It Was Part of a Famous Movie
Some scenes from the famous Hollywood film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were shot at the Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Archaeological Park. The production house aimed to create an enigmatic and unique vibe through the temple’s ruins and abundant trees. Paramount paid $10,000 per day to film there for seven days. The film not only grossed millions of dollars, but it also helped Cambodia gain global recognition as a popular tourist destination. After filming in Cambodia, Angelina Jolie adopted her Cambodian son Maddox.
14). Angor Wat was ‘Lost’ for Several Centuries
Following the collapse of the Khmer Empire in 1431, Angkor Wat was gradually abandoned and reclaimed by nature. Historians believe that either the Khmer King established his empire in another region or people fled south due to an invasion. The temples were engulfed by the jungle, shrouding them in an air of enigma. Passing Buddhists stumbled upon the decaying structures, but no one understood their significance or beauty. In 1586, Portuguese monk Antonio da Madalena became one of the first Westerners to be recorded at the site.
Around the middle of the nineteenth century, a French explorer named Henri Mouhot visited Angkor Wat. He wrote a book titled ‘Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos, and Annam’, which made the historic site famous around the world. Henri Mouhot died of a fever in Laos a year later, but people learned about the temples thanks to his posthumously published works. He wrote that Angkor Wat “is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome,” which was enough for the world to sit up and take notice of Angkor Wat’s beauty and grandeur.
15). There Is Still More to Learn About Angkor Wat
Buried beneath the splendor of Angkor Wat’s grand architecture is an obscure network of mysterious passageways and concealed chambers. Recent aerial surveys, ground-penetrating radar, and 3D mapping techniques have revealed anomalies in the temple’s structure, pointing to the possibility of additional temples beneath the dense vegetation. In 2016, Dr. Damian Evans, an Australian archaeologist, discovered a network of ancient cities below Angkor Wat that date back from 900 to 1400 years and rival the size of Phnom Penh. What lies underneath the layers of stone, waiting to be discovered, adds to the excitement of the ongoing archaeological research. The findings may rewrite the history of Angkor Wat.
Some Other Facts You May Find Interesting
- Emperor Suryavarman II, who ruled the region from 1113 to 1150 AD, commissioned the construction of Angkor Wat in the first half of the 12th century. This means that the temples are approximately 900 years old.
- From 1920 to 2018, Sokimex, a private company, rented and managed Angkor Wat. From 2019 onwards, the Cambodian government regained complete ownership.
- Angkor central tower rises to a height of 213 feet, towering over the surrounding landscape. It is adorned with distinctive lotus-bud towers and intricate bas-reliefs.
- The bricks of Angkor Wat were not bonded with mortar or cement, but rather with a strong vegetable compound. Nonetheless, the vegetable compound was so durable that the temples can still be seen today.
- Angkor Wat was once painted in vibrant colors, but the pigments have faded with time. If you look more closely, you can still see the traces of paint on some of the temples.
- According to historians, the Angkor empire had a population of approximately one million people at its peak, a mind-blowing figure.
- During the Vietnam War, Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy, traveled to Angkor Wat to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the architectural wonder. The visit helped to restore the diplomatic relations between the United States and Cambodia, which had suffered as a result of the Vietnam War.
- Angkor Wat has a dress code because Cambodians believe that appropriate clothing reflects their respect for religion, traditions, and culture. Short skirts, tank tops, and spaghetti are not permitted inside the temple complex.