Cambodia, Siem Reap; the temples of Angkor

Angkor is a stunning complex of temples found in the North-west of Cambodia, proudly holding the title of the largest religious monument in the world with Angkor Wat in its heart! The ultimate fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion are a source of inspiration and profound pride to all Khmers (Lonely Planet, 2010). Construction works are estimated to have started in the early 12th century during the dynasty of King Suriavarman II. Angkor Wat was originally a Hinduist temple dedicated to God Vishnu ( Buddhism is the official religion today). The mountain-temple with its surroundings is a representation of the universe with Mt Meru (home to Gods in Hindu mythology) in its center. A surrounding moat that forms a rectangle of 1,5 km by 1,3km dimensions represents the oceans, while an 800m long series of bas-reliefs depicts in anti-clock-wise direction the celebrated scene of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (Gods and devils, holding the opposite sides of a gargantuan serpent are churning the oceans to extract the elixir of immortality, in a fierce battle). Angkor Wat, almost as large in expanse as many modern European cities, is not only to be admired for the human architectural and artistic ingenuity, but also for the jungle’s fecundity and power: the muscular embrace of century-old trees have entrapped the walls of the Ta Prohm temple ruins for ever, while the 54 towers of the Bayon temple are decorated with 216 gigantic carved heads of lord Avalokiteshvara glaring down at every angle of the horizon.
It seems that Angkor Wat is more than an emblematic monument appearing on the Cambodian flag, hotels names, beer and water bottles as well as innumerable products on the supermarket shelves. It is a symbol to hold on to, for a people who has gone through a lot: the Khmer Rouge is a dark page in their history, still bleeding as much as the memory of the Nazi concentration camps in Europe, and if the Cambodians are not that smiley as other Asian peoples would be, is because of the memory of famine, a civil war, loads of decades of oppression and political instability in a country that managed to have parliamentary elections only in 2008. They say that quality of life has improved, but food is definitely not to be taken for granted for everyone here, inflation is extremely high and social inequalities very obvious.


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