An Ancient Megacity – Siem Reap 2017 pt. 1

Greetings from Hanoi. It’s a lovely day here, a nice cool eighty-two degrees. Perfect for, say, a stroll along a tree-lined boulevard next to the lake.

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The French left their mark on this city.

We arrived here yesterday on a late flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is next to the Angkor complex containing among other things Angkor Wat. Angkor was the seat of the once-mighty Khmer empire, and a thousand years ago was home to a million people. Nowadays it’s known for the temple at Angkor Wat, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest religious monument on the planet. Originally a Hindu temple, as well as the mausoleum of the king who oversaw its construction, it gradually turned into a Buddhist temple as the Khmer people began to favor Buddhism themselves.

And of course it’s really amazing.


Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat outer courtyard, looking East from the gateway

 

The site is known for its extensive use of bas relief, including one piece that goes all the way around the main complex.

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It depicts wars between devas and asuras (angels and demons, roughly); their cooperation in bringing about the world we live in; mortal wars, the story of Rama, and so forth.

Once inside, there’s a middle courtyard surrounded with more bas reliefs, many broken statues of monks, and so much more.

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Looking up towards the inner courtyard

The four corner towers and central main towers of the inner courtyard represent mountains, and the central one specifically represents the holy Mount Meru.

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Central tower, panorama, seen from one of the four courtyards in the inner enclosure

On one of the bas reliefs, I found this guy, who I really like.IMG_0973


Angkor Thom

We also saw, among other things, Angkor Thom, which was one of the capitals of the Khmer kingdom, housing the royal family, several hospitals, and a confluence of waterworks. It was done in a different style than Angkor Wat. I almost like it better, but then again, I’m a sucker for giant heads.

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This one in particular reminded me of pre-Columbian sites I’ve seen in Mexico. I don’t know if it’s happenstance convergence or if something is known about some sort of ur-giant-head thing in Polynesian and Native American cultures. (Many peoples in this region came from Java and Indonesia.)

Anywho, great stuff. I found the bas reliefs here to be more engaging than at Angkor Wat, reflecting a more humanistic and energetic style.

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And, yes, fish

The actual physical depth of the carvings did a lot for me too.

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So much more to say about these sites, but I’ve got to get headed off to dinner now! Assorted other pictures in an Imgur gallery here.

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