Angkor Wat

From Academic Kids

The main entrance to the temple proper, seen from the eastern end of the
The main entrance to the temple proper, seen from the eastern end of the Naga bridge

Angkor Wat is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. The largest and best-preserved temple at Angkor, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre– first Hindu, then Buddhist– since its foundation. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors drawn by its architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and the numerous devatas adorning its walls.



The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city, with the royal palace located between the temple and the north gate, and the city filling the remainder of the outer enclosure. In the 14th or 15th century the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Unusually among Angkor's temples, although Angkor Wat was somewhat neglected after the 16th century and required considerable restoration in the 20th century, it was never completely abandoned. Its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle. During this period the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of Suryavarman. The temple's modern name means "City Temple": Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (capital), while wat is the Khmer word for temple.

Conservation efforts at the temple continue, notably the German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP), which endeavours to protect the devatas (or apsaras) and other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple from damage. The organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone.


Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture– the Angkor Wat style– to which it gave its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become more skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick) as the main building material. The Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in which quality was often sacrificed to quantity. According to Glaize, Angkor Wat, "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style." Architecturally the elements characteristic of the style include the conical, redented towers, half-galleries to broaden passageways, axial galleries connecting enclosures and the cruciform terrace. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras), bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes.

The site

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Model of Angkor Wat prior to its ruin at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, showing the half-galleries of the lower level and intact towers at the corners of the second level galleries

Angkor Wat is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard plan for the empire's state temples, and the later plan of concentric galleries. Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is orientated to the west rather than the east. This has led some to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in an anti-clockwise direction– prasavya in Hindu terminology– as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. Freeman and Jacques, however, note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's facing west was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural areas. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested.

Outer enclosure

The outer enclosure, 1025 by 802m, is surrounded by a moat 190m wide. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main tourist entrance, is a later addition, posssibly replacing a wooden bridge. There are gopuras at each of the cardinal points; the western is much the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that this gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper. Galleries run between the towers and as far as two further entrances on either side of gopura: these galleries have square pillars on the outer side and a closed wall on the inner side. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the closed wall is decorated with dancing figures. Under the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which may have originally occupied the temple's central shrine. The outer walls of the gopura are decorated with balustered windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas, including (on the east wall, south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be showing her teeth.

The outer wall encloses a space of 82 hectares, which was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple proper, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets. Most of the area is now covered by forest. A 350m causeway connects the western gopura to the temple proper, with naga balustrades and six sets of steps leading down to the city on either side. Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to the central structure.

Central structure

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Model of Angkor Wat's central structure, facing east

The temple proper stands on a terrace raised above the level of the city. It consists essentially of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower; each level is higher than the last, but by a decreasing margin to give an illusion of greater height. Each gallery has a gopura at each of the cardinal points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx with the central tower. Because of the temple's westward orientation, the features are all set back towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side; for the same reason the west-facing steps are shallower than those on the other sides.

The outer gallery measures 187 by 215 metres, with pavilions rather than towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. The inner walls bear a series of bas-reliefs, depicting large-scale scenes mainly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology. Glaize writes that;

those unfortunate souls who are to be thrown down to hell to suffer a refined cruelty which, at times, seems to be a little disproportionate to the severity of the crimes committed. So it is that people who have damaged others' property have their bones broken, that the glutton is cleaved in two, that rice thieves are afflicted with enormous bellies of hot iron, that those who picked the flowers in the garden of Shiva have their heads pierced with nails, and thieves are exposed to cold discomfort. (p. 68)

On the eastern gallery are the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu defeating asuras (the latter a 16th century addition); and on the northern gallery are Krishna's victory over Bana (where according to Glaize, "The workmanship is at its worst") and a battle between the Hindu gods and asuras.The northwest and southwest corner pavilions both feature much smaller-scale scenes, some unidentified but most from the Ramayana or the life of Krishna.

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The northern library of the lower level

Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister, known by the modern name of Preah Poan (the "Hall of a Thousand Buddhas"). Buddha images were left in the cloister by pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed. This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. North and south of the cloister are libraries.

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Devatas on the northern library of the second level

Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas (more commonly known as apsaras) abound on the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. The second level enclosure (100 by 115m) would originally have been flooded, to represent the ocean around Mount Meru. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery, the very steep stairways representing the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods. This inner gallery is a 60m square, with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine: the area is known as the Bakan in Khmer. The tower above the shrine rises 43m to a height of 65m above the ground. The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas. Subsidiary shrines are located below the corner towers. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances to the galleries and the entrances to the shrines.


  • Glaize, Maurice. The Monuments of the Angkor Group. Revised 1993 and published online [1] (

et:Angkor Wat es:Angkor Wat fr:Angkor Vat id:Angkor Wat io:Angkor Wat it:Angkor Wat ja:アンコール・ワット ms:Angkor Wat nl:Angkor Wat (tempel) pl:Angkor Wat ru:Ангкор-Ват sv:Angkor Wat ta:அங்கூர் வாட்


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