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Angkor Wat

Ancient Temple - Intermediate

A Angkor Wat (Temple City) is one of the most sophisticated and elaborate temple complexes in the world. Built by King Suryavarman II somewhere between 1112 and 1152 AD, it once lay in the heart of the Khmer kingdom capital and stretches across 500 acres. The main temple of Angkor Wat was built as a mausoleum for King Suryavarman II and it was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Over 900 years after its construction, it is one of the most intriguing sites in the world and the biggest source of pride for the Cambodian people.  The incredible detail with which the main temple was built continues to amaze the archaeologists to this day. The temples includes swimming pools as well as a 190m wide and 4m deep moat that makes the temple grounds a perfectly rectangular artificial island. It is believed that the five temples on the island represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods and that the moat is the ocean that surrounds it. One of Suryavarman’s successors, Jayavarman VII (1181 - 1218) moved the capital to Angkor Thom and converted to Buddhism. During his reign, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple which it is still today. After Jayavarman’s death, the Empire lasted for another 200 years. Following the Khmers’ defeat at the hands of the Thai in 1431, the entire city, along with Angkor Wat was abandoned and largely forgotten. The majestic monument was finally officially “re-discovered” by Henri Mouhot in the mid-19th century. Ever since then archaeologists, scholars, and curious travelers poured into Angkor Wat to explore and to marvel at the magnificent “Lost City”. However, it wasn’t until the first half of the 20th century that major changes and breakthroughs started to happen thanks to the French who invested substantial funds into the reconstruction and exploration of the site. In the 1970s the efforts to preserve Angkor Wat were brought to a halt by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge who ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. The battle between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese left bullet holes in the walls of a few temples and the area was off-limits for a time due to the presence of landmines. In 1992 Angkor Wat was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, as well as making it on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The extensive repairs during the 90s caused the site to finally be removed from the watch list in 2004. In 2001, one of the Angkor Wat temples appeared in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and since 1993 the main complex has been featured on the Cambodian flag. Today the temple complex is the country’s most visited tourist attraction, with over a million people visiting it every year. It is located just outside Siem Reap, the city where most tourists start their journey to the temples. During peak season, the site is always teeming with people, so the best time to visit it at dawn. Those who wish to avoid the crowds can relax at the enormous lake just outside the city.  There is also a national park in the vicinity of Angkor Wat offering access to beautiful waterfalls.

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