Unique Asia Travel & Tours
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Angkor Temple History as introduction

During a ceremony on the Kulen mountain (Phnom Kulen) in 802, Jayavarman II. declared independence from Java. This is considered to be the founding act of the Angkorian Khmer empire, but this event is not well documented.   

The first extensive inscriptions and the first imposing monuments of the dawning Angkorian era are those in Roluos. In the end of the 9th century Indravarman I erected an ancestor temple on ground level called Preah Ko. It is admired for its examplary lintel carvings. His state temple was Bakong, the oldest Khmer temple pyramid or "temple mountain" that remains.

His son Yashovarman I. shifted the capital to the area now called Angkor. "The first Angkor" was the Bakheng pyramid on top of the only hill in this area. Yashovarman's most important monument was a functional building for irrigation, the reservoir called East Baray is now dried up.

After Koh Ker was the capital during two decades under Jayavarman IV, Rajendravarman II returned to Angkor and erected Pre Rup as his state temple. The state temple of his son and successor Jayavarman V was Ta Keo.

The powerful Khmer ruler during the first half of the 11th century was Suryavarman I. He left no important monuments inside Angkor, but restored older ones such as Phimeanakas inside the compound of the Royal Palace. His successor Udayadityavarman I finalized the construction of the West Baray, which is even slighty vaster than the East Baray. His state temple was Baphuon.

After Suryvarman II seized power, he built the Angkor Wat, the first Khmer state temple not dedicated to Shiva, but to Vishnu. Most probably the Angkor Wat was Suryavarman's II funerary temple, too.

In the 1170th the neighbouring Cham attacked Angkor several times and finally seized and ruled it.

The Khmer commander who managed to repulse them declared himself king in 1181. His name is Jayavarman VII. He became the first Buddhist monarch and the most prolific temple builder in Cambodia's history. "Jungle temple" Ta Prohm and other important tourist attractions of present-day Angkor, such as Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei and Ta Som, are from this period. Jayavarman VII's major project was the new capital Angkor Thom with the face-tower temple Bayon in its centre.

After Jayavarman VII died, there were no further huge monuments built in Angkor. In the second half of the 13th century, Jayavarman VIII restored Hinduism as state cult and ordered the destruction of many Buddhist sculptures.
The reasons for the decline of Angkor are still under debate. Climate change may have contributed to irrigation problems. Neighbouring kingdom became increasingly powerful at the same time. The coastal areas became more important because of international trade.

For a more detailed account, please click to our more comprehensive "Khmer history" page. The history of Khmer state temple can also be read at our "Angkor pyramids" page, which presents Angkor's state temples in chronological order.


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