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History Of Angkor And The Khmers At Angkor

The history of Angkor has several defining events which any tourist should appreciate;
  • Angkor was the last of a series of Capital Cities of the great Khmer Empire which controlled most of Southeast Asia mainland from 900 until 1467.
  • The Khmer Empire was that of the Khmer ethnic group of people called 'Khmers'. Today they are also called 'Cambodians.'
  • The first major event of destruction occurred in 1177 when the Chams invaded and destroyed the Capital City of Yasodharapura on the present Angkor Wat site, thus causing the instigation of the greater new City of Angkor Thom in 1181.
  • Whilst many Buddhists visit Angkor as a Buddhist city historically, between 1243 and 1295 King Jayavarman has tens of thousands of Buddhist works of art destroyed in the attempted Hindu reformation.
  • The Khmers captured and controlled most of Thailand for hundreds of years until they were destroyed by the final battle with the Siamese armies from Ayutthaya in 1431. Thereafter Angkor and much of modern Cambodia were a part of the Auytthaya Kingdom and its successor, the Siamese Kingdom of the Chakri Dynasty until the French succeeded in taking it back from the Siamese to then form part of the French Colonies in what they called 'Indo-China'.
  • When the Siamese sacked Angkor they looted much of the art and took it back to Ayutthaya in Thailand. Thereafter most of that was subsequently looted by the Burmese armies when they destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767.The art that survives in Angkor today is that carved into the stone buildings and there is much of it.
  • Angkor was left deserted in the late 15th century until it was discovered by the French explorer Henry Mouhot in 1869.
  • In 1863 Cambodia became a French Colony. The French were then responsible for clearing the subsequent jungle forest growth and restoring some of the monuments as we see them today. Much of the jungle forest still survives in some areas between the major monuments.



Cham and Khmer Battle Scene on Mural at Angkor


  • The U.N.E.S.C.O. nomination of Angkor as a World Heritage Site is partly recognition of its history. ' At the beginning of the 9th century AD the two states that covered the territory of modern Cambodia were united by Jayavarman II. who laid the foundations of the Khmer Empire, which was the major power in south-east Asia for nearly five centuries.
  • One of the sites where his court resided for some years was in central Cambodia, to the north of Tonle Sap (The Great Lake), where half a century later Jayavarman’s son, Yashovarman, was to establish Yashodapura, the permanent capital of the Khmer Empire until the 15th century.
  •  It was later given the name Angkor ( from the Sanskrit “ nagara ”, meaning city or capital ). The first capital was at latter-day Roluos, itself a pre-Angkorian capital, Hariharalaya. This conformed with the classic form of Khmer capital. This comprised certain fundamental elements: a defensive bank and ditch with a state temple at its center built in brick or stone, and a wooden palace. Leading dignitaries would also build temples, both inside and outside the enclosure, which were dedicated, like the state temple, to Hindu divinities, notably Shiva. There would also have been many secular buildings, constructed almost entirely of wood, in and around the enclosure.
  • The state temple at Roluos, the Bakong, and the temple built in memory of the royal ancestors, Preah Ko, were erected around 880. Another essential feature of a Khmer capital, a large reservoir, was added a decade later, with in its center a third temple. Lolei. Yashodapura was built to the north-west of Roluos, around the hill of Phnom Bakeng. The enclosure was square, each side measuring 4km, and it was equipped with a vast reservoir ( baray ) measuring 7 km by 1.8 km, now known as the Eastern Baray. The state temple was built at the summit of Phnom Bakeng around 900.
  • Following a short period when the Khmer capital was transferred to Koh Ker, some 60 km north-east of Angkor, the second capital at Angkor proper was built by Rajendravarman in the 960s, the state temple being situated at Pre Rup. He also constructed a temple, the Eastern Mebon, on an artificial island in the center of the Eastern Baray. During his reign
  • Rajendravarman’s guru built the exquisite temple of Banteay Srei, some 25 km northeast of Angkor.
  • Rajendravarman’s son. Jayavarman V, abandoned the Pre Rup site in favor of a new location. with its state temple at Ta Kev. which was consecrated around 1000. Shortly after wards he was overthrown by Suryavarman I, who was responsible for the formidable fortifications around his Royal Palace and state temple, the Phimeanakas, and also for the construction of the great Western Baray, extending over an area of 8 by 2.5 km.
  • In 1050 his successor created a new and more impressive state temple, the Baphuon, to the north of the temple. The succeeding rulers left little traces in the form of monumental buildings, and it was not until the accession of Suryavarman II in 1113 that the next great phase of building began. It was he who was responsible for the greatest of all Khmer monuments, Angkor Wat, set within an extensive enclosure and dedicated to Vishnu. Among other important monuments dating from this period are Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda.
  • The death of Suryavarman II around 1150 was followed by a period of internal strife and external pressure, culminating in 1177 with the sack of Angkor by the Chams. The situation was restored by Jayavarman VII, who celebrated his military success by creating yet another capital at Angkor Thom and launching an unprecedented building campaign. His state temple was the towering Bayon (dedicated to Buddha): among the many other monuments of Jayavarman VII’s reign are Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Ta Som, and Banteay Srei. Such was the grandeur of this capital that none of Jayavarman VII’s successors saw fit to replace it. Nor were there any major monumental additions between his death around 1200 and the end of the Khmer Empire in the first half of the 15th century.



Mural of Cham Invaders at Angkor