Angkor Wat History

"A simplified version of History Angkor Wat 
–- a piece of Khmer History "

Me on the concourse to Angkor watt in Cambodia


When visiting Siem Reap in Cambodia, it's a must to visit Angkor Wat - the most famous site in Angkor Park.

Not only is it the world's largest religious building, but also a symbol of Cambodia.

The history of Angkor Wat is vast and complex. In this article I attempt to simplify it.

So, what is Angkor Wat and who built it?

Carvings at Angkor Watt

Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman the 2nd from 1113 to 1150. Suryavarman the 2nd identified himself with Vishnu - the supreme god in Hinduism. That's why there are carvings in Angkor Wat related to the mythology of Vishnu.

When Suryavarman the 2nd died, the temple became his mausoleum.

In the 13th century, the Khmer empire was occupied by the first large Thai state -– Sukhotai. Sukhotai had occupied much of western and northern territories of the Khmer empire. That meant that Angkor Wat was transformed from a Vishnuite sanctuary into a Buddhist wat.

In 1430 a Thai king conquered Angkor in seven months. Their power influenced the art of Angkor of the following centuries. Statues of Buddha is one of the clear signs.

Sunrise view at Angkor Watt

The moat surrounding the Angkor Wat Complex is fed by a canal from Siem Reap River. The area surrounded by the outer wall of Angkor Wat housed the temple personnel as well as the king and his court, with all the people who revolved around it, perhaps as many as 20,000 people.

The complex faces the west. There are various theories about why it faces the west, but the most intriguing one is this:

the temple was formerly dedicated to Vishnu, who is connected to the Western quarter of the universe. The temple was also used as the king's tomb and therefore it faces west. Western orientation is the cardinal point of the dead.

There are two causeways inside Angkor Wat Complex. The main causeway is 250 meters long and 12 meters wide, paved with sandstone.

On each side of the causeway, you can see the 'nagas'. Nagas are serpents with five or seven heads, a typical Indian symbol. The nagas incorporate the ancestral figure of the dragon of the waters, which brings rain and is the symbol of the rainbow that links the earth and the sky.

Nagas at Angkor Watt in Cambodia

Angkor wat history: Nagas in Angkor

Once you're past the entrance, on the walls you'll see carvings of 'devata', which are female deities. There are more than 1500 of them in Angkor Wat.

One of the exciting features of Angkor Watt is the bas reliefs. Given the fact that Angkor Wat was a mausoleum, many scholars believe that the bas reliefs should be read counter clockwise.

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Bas reliefs at Angkor watt in Cambodia

Observing the Angkor wat history in the walls of Angkor

For instance; in the west gallery of the south wing there's a representation of the battle of Kurukshetra, the field north of Delhi. You can see hero Arjuna, who is shooting arrow from his chariot. His charioteer is a four-armed god Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu.

Another fundamental epic reflected in the walls of Angkor Wat, is the Ramayana epic poem. The Ramayana celebrates Rama, an earthly incarnation of Vishnu.

More bas reliefs at Angkor watt in Cambodia

In the east gallery of the south section is the representation of Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The lower register has carvings of the inhabitants of the ocean. In the middle register the gods and demons are arranged on either side if Vishnu, who is riding on the turtle Kurma.

The upper register depicts 'apsaras' born from the waves dancing in the air.

Devata on the walls at Angkor watt in Cambodia, a part of Angkorian history

Apsaras are supernatural women. Their goal is to entertain and they dance to the music of their husbands.

In the 16th century, Angkor Watt was known to Portugese and Spanish adventurers. Angkor was later visited by French missionaries like Charles-Emile Bouillevaux, who had stayed in Angkor Watt for two days in 1850.

While French naturalist Henri Mouhot published his material about Angkor in 1863-1864.

Apsara at Angkor watt in Cambodia

Fast forward to 1925: The Angkor Archaeological Park was founded in 1925. Angkor Watt was reproduced by the architects Charles and Gabriel Blanche, father and son, who spent six years to elaborate their work, and was decorated by the sculptor Auberlet.

In 1992, Angkor was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Restoration is carried out by the Cambodian government, and with the aid of foreign countries.


  • The Treasures of Angkor by Marilia Albanese (2006)

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