Angkor, the site of several capitals of the Khmer Empire in northwestern Cambodia. The area of about 75 square miles (190 km2) contained at least 600 ornate stone buildings, mainly temples, dating from the 7th century to the 13th. The most impressive ruins are those of Angkor Wat (City Temple), considered the most beautiful of Khmer buildings; and nearby Angkor Thom (Great City), one of the royal capitals of the Khmer Empire.
The elaborate buildings were an expression of the religious fervor of the Khmers, ancestors of the Cambodians and rulers of central Indochina from the 9th to the 14th century. The Khmers worshiped Hindu gods, their own kings, and Buddha.
Important buildings were constructed of sandstone, and the walls were decorated with intricate carving. Originally the roofs were covered with tile. The general plan of a temple compound or a city was according to the Hindu idea of the universe—a rectangle, surrounded by ocean and enclosed by a wall, with a holy mountain at the center. A temple, pyramidal in shape, represented the mountain; a moat, the ocean. The god-king was the link between heaven and earth, and his main temple may have served as the resting place for his ashes.
was built by King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150?) as the main temple of a capital city. It is a three-tiered structure with a central tower, 213 feet (65 m) high. This tower and four smaller towers are connected by covered passages. The temple, its surrounding galleries, and the grounds beyond are encircled by a moat. The sandstone walls are carved in exquisite bas-relief depicting religious figures, scenes from Hindu mythology and epics, court life, city life, and peasant life.
was made the capital by King Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219?) after Angkor Wat had been sacked by enemies in 1177. The site, already occupied by a city, covered four square miles (10 km2). Double walls with five ornate gates were built around it and many buildings were added, the most notable being the Bayon Temple in the center. Gigantic faces are carved on each side of the temple's 54 towers, and those on the central tower are of solid gold. Angkor Thom also contains a royal palace, a great plaza, other temples, libraries, shrines, and public baths.
The Khmers built no new monuments after Angkor Thom, perhaps because of incessant warfare with neighboring countries. Attacks by the Thais forced the Khmers to abandon their "Great City" in 1432. The area was soon lost in dense jungle and forgotten by the Cambodians.
The discovery of the ruins in 1860, by the French botanist Henri Mouhot, led to vigorous preservation efforts. When warfare broke out between Communist guerrillas and government troops in 1972, the conservation teams were forced to leave. Since that time, the ruins have been damaged by small-arms fire from nearby battles, erosion, and vandalism.
During 1986-92, an Indian conservation team repaired much of the recent damage to Angkor Wat, and in 1992 an international team began restoration work on Angkor Wat and Angkor Thorn, and other sites at Angkor.