The main, and for some travelers, the only reason to visit Cambodia is to have a close look at the country’s symbol – the ancient ruins of Angkor. Stretching over some 400 km2, the region of Angkor contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century, of which the famous temple of Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the star, claiming itself as the expression of Khmer genius, for both its grand scale and fine details. Thus, merely admiring Angkor Wat for its beauty is not enough. Equip yourself with some interesting facts about its history and hidden meaning will be helpful to appreciate the structure a way better.
Fact 1: Angkor Wat is not a Buddhist shrine, it is originally a Hindu temple
Built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat breaks away from the tradition of worshiping Shiva God of the past kings as it is dedicated to Vishnu God and the majority of the art featured here have roots in Hindu mythology.
The temple was converted into a Buddhist shrine by the end of 12th century, consecrated to Theravada Buddhism and it remains that way to this day. This explains why many statues of Buddha can be found around the already rich artwork.
Fact 2: It has five towers rather than three
Various photos you see in magazines or all over the internet showing Angkor Wat with three towers, even the symbol on Cambodia’s flag illustrate the same thing. But don’t let them confuse you! The truth is that there are five towers. However, it takes a certain angle in order to capture all five into one frame. These five towers symbolize the peaks of Mount Meru, a mythical mountain which is situated in the center of the universe and home of the gods in Hindu mythology.
Fact 3: It is generally regarded as a funerary temple
The true purpose of the construction of Angkor Wat is still a question. However, people generally regard the structure as a funerary temple. Unlike most Khmer temples which face to the east, Angkor Wat faces the west – a direction that is associated with death. This has led many to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. And if this is not enough to convince you, let’s move to the 4th fact.
Fact 4: It features bas-reliefs that proceed in counter-clockwise order
In Brahmanic funeral services, rituals take place in reverse order. The bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat proceed in a direction that is reverse from the normal order, counter-clockwise direction. This strengthens the belief of experts that the temple may have been created for funerary purposes.
Fact 5: It was built using at least five million tons of sandstone
The monument was made out of 5 million to 10 million sandstone blocks with a maximum weight of 1.5 tons each. And actually, if we calculate on the entire city of Angkor, the stone amount used is far greater than all the Egyptian pyramids combined. The sandstone blocks were quarried from Mount Kulen, which are located around 40 km to the northeast. Research shows that the stones were transported by a series of canals.
Fact 6: It is extensively decorated
Angkor Wat is most known for extensive storytelling decoration. These decorations depict the epics of Hindu. Historic Hindu stories, mainly retelling battles, can be seen through pictures carved out on the walls.
Fact 7: It is built within what was once the largest city in the world
Angkor Wat is built within Angkor which was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. In the past, the population of the city is said to have reached one million. That figure makes it the largest city in the world before the Industrial Revolution. Using airborne laser scanning, it was found that the core of Angkor could have held 500,000 people while the vast hinterland could have held more.
Understand the place you are visiting always make the trip more interesting and worthier. We hope that your next visit to Angkor Wat will be enhanced thanks to this article. Also, don’t forget to check out our inspiring journeys to Siem Reap and more trips across 10 Asian countries.