What is Angkor Wat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Angkor Wat is a temple located in Northern Cambodia. It is the largest religious structure in the world, located on a 203 acre (820,000 square meter) complex, most of which has been taken over by jungle. It is a distinctive and very famous temple, even appearing on the national flag of Cambodia. The temple is considered a stunning example of Khmer architecture, covered in ornate and beautiful carvings which demonstrate a high level of skill.

A piece of sandstone, which is what was used to build Angkor Wat.
A piece of sandstone, which is what was used to build Angkor Wat.

This site is located in the province of Siem Reap, and slightly North of the town of the same name. The temple complex is on a rectangular island which is accessed by a causeway, and is oriented in an unusual, Western facing direction. Angkor Wat is built in sandstone, and covered in a number of sandstone carvings. In addition, the decorative carvings inside proceed in reverse of the expected order.

Angkor Wat was originally built as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu.
Angkor Wat was originally built as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu.

Angkor Wat has a number of distinct towers which loom over the temple complex. Five central towers, which are intended to represent the home of the gods, are surrounded by enclosing walls and more towers. These walls weave a maze of stone and stairs, which yield days of exploration for interested visitors. Parts of the complex have been allowed to return to the jungle, and towering trees and plants can be seen slowly eating away at the buildings.

The complex was initially built as a temple to Vishnu in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. Because of the backward orientation of the temple and carvings, some archaeologists have suggested that it was meant to be his funeral temple. In addition to the temple, the complex also included the royal palace and a city. In approximately the 14th century, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple. Although parts of the complex have fallen into disuse, other sections house an active Buddhist temple.

The word “wat” in Khmer, the language of Cambodia, means school or place of learning. Many temples have the title “wat” affixed because educational texts are stored at the temple and monks study there. Visiting monks travel to Angkor Wat along with an estimated half a million tourists each year. In 2002, the site became a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. UNESCO encouraged the government of Cambodia to take steps to preserve the temple, and provided funding and experts to assist with preservation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon357267

Angkor Wat is the largest and beautiful religious monument in the world.

anon315219

What is the postal code for Angkor Wat?

jonrss

How can I arrange for an Angkor Wat tour? I would like to see it but I think I would get more out of the experience if I had a guide who could point things out to me. Are these widely available in Cambodia?

whiteplane

So is Angkor Wat still used as a temple or is it just a sight seeing location now? I would hate to think that this place, the largest religious structure on the face of the earth, probably now has a gift shop and at least three Coke machines.

chivebasil

I have been to Angkor Wat before and it is absolutely stunning. I am not even a religious person but you can feel the spiritual energy in a place like that. I don't use this word lightly but I will also not hesitate to say that it was a transcendental experience.

Cambodia as a whole is an amazing place. It is grander and more beautiful than I had ever expected. I left with a deep respect for those people and their culture.

anon118308

It was made out of sandstone and it is very famous and large!

anon28460

How was Angkor Wat built?

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