Think you know everything there is to know about Angkor Wat? Unless you’re a time traveller, that’s just not possible. Even the best and brightest archaeologists still have a lot to uncover about this mesmerising temple complex in Cambodia.
I was fortunate to visit Angkor Wat in one glorious day during my travels through Southeast Asia way back in 2012. I highly recommend you visit it if you ever get the chance. If nothing else, it makes you feel a little like Indiana Jones.
Anyway, here are 10 facts about Angkor Wat to stimulate your grey matter…
10. Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world
It measures 162.6 hectares – more than triple the size of Vatican City, in fact. The iconic temple with four towers surrounding a central spire is just one part of it. The clue is in the name…
9. Angkor Wat means “City of Temples”
Angkor means “city” and Wat means “temple grounds” in the Cambodian Khmer language. But it’s original name was Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka. That’s not as catchy though, is it?
8. The temple was built in the 12th century
That’s right. A long, looooong time ago. It was built at the behest of Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire.
7. It was built in a single night
Not really. But that’s according to one of many myths surrounding Angkor Wat espoused by Chinese diplomat Zhou Dagnuan of the Yuan dynasty, famous for his accounts of the ancient customs of Cambodia from the 13th century.
6. It actually took closer to 30 years or more to construct
They didn’t have mechanised cranes and diggers back then, of course, so it required a HUGE amount of effort.
5. It was built by elephants
Not exclusively. According to inscriptions, it took the combined efforts of 300,000 labourers and, yes, 6,000 elephants.
4. It was badly damaged
Like most ancient temples, Angkor Wat has experienced extensive damage over the centuries from the elements, overgrowth, war, and negligence. You’ll see much of the damage for yourself when you visit, including seemingly hundreds of statues that are missing heads (see above).
Why are they missing their heads? Great question, reader! They were looted by would-be treasure hunters over the centuries, broken off, and often sold to collectors. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art even returned some Cambodian Khmer statues that had been stolen decades ago and been put on display for nearly 20 years.
3. But it’s getting better
As far as ancient structures go, Angkor Wat has always been in much better condition than most, mostly because it had never been completely abandoned. Even so, the conservation and restoration of Angkor Wat is a constant work in progress, with numerous countries involved.
When I was there, you could even see a bit of scaffolding, which unfortunately ruined the most iconic of Angkor Wat shots…
2. We keep learning new secrets about Angkor Wat
Archaeologists and scholars continue to uncover the site’s many mysteries. In December 215, for example, a research team had discovered previously unseen towers that were built, demolished, and buried during the construction of Angkor Wat, as well as a massive structure of unknown purpose on its south side.
I’ll bet it was mess hall for ancient aliens. Only joking. Please don’t let that fuel more conspiracy theory nonsense…
1. “Appropriate” attire must be worn if you’d like to visit
This I know from experience. My wife’s shorts were deemed “too short” to access a specific part of the main Angkor Wat temple. They certainly wouldn’t offend anyone from the West, but they were above the knee, which is a no-no. Keep that in mind if you’re ever fortunate enough to visit.