country of Cambodia is home to some of the most spectacular
religious temples in the world.
These temples are centered on the village of Siem
Reap, some 200 miles from Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh. Built
during the reigns of several Cambodian kings the temples and
edifices of Angkor Wat constitute the largest religious site
in the world, and are built on a scale that rivals the
pyramids in Egypt and the Mayan temples in Central and South
America. Though decades of political turmoil kept the world away from
Cambodia, a new openness has allowed many people from other
cultures to explore Angkor Wat and experience the wonder of
its many temples and towers.
historical accounts differ slightly, it is generally agreed
that building on the site of Angkor Wat began during the
eighth or ninth century.
From this time until the mid-fifteenth century (with
many stoppages due to regime changes and wars) several
building projects were undertaken.
Many of the kings and rulers who came to power during
this period started their own temples, pyramids, and other
structures; these structures were designed to become their
tombs upon their deaths.
However, as the landlocked Cambodian kingdom shrunk
and faced pressures from other nations (in particular
Thailand and Vietnam) Angkor Wat's importance faded, and the
city was finally taken by the Thais and sacked in 1431.
For the next
four hundred years, the ruins of Angkor Wat are buried by
the jungle, until a French Botanist discovers them in 1860.
From this time on, reconstruction work proceeded
intermittently until finally being disrupted by the Vietnam
War and perhaps the saddest and most difficult times any
nation has ever faced during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and
a long war with Vietnam.
With the return of Prince Sihanouk to Cambodia in
1991, international attention once more returned to Angkor
Wat, and reconstruction efforts have moved ahead at a rapid
Hinduism had been the major religion in Cambodia since about
the second century A.D., many temples in the country were
built to honor Hindu gods.
However, the temples at Angkor Wat are devoted to the
concept that the king was the earthly representative of the
Hindu god Shiva (or Siva), and so the temples honor both
Shiva and the king. Many
of Angkor Wat's temples are now used as religious sites by
both Hindus and Buddhist monks.
of Angkor Wat are some of the most spectacular religious
sites in the world. Although
war and chaos have kept these temples from taking their
rightful place on the world stage, the new attention and
efforts focused on reconstruction seem destined to restore
Angkor Wat and place it firmly on the list of historical
sites. Hidden in the jungle for centuries, the epic scale of Angkor
Wat is only now becoming clear.