Angkor Empire dominated Southeast Asia for nearly 600 years …

1,000 years ago, one of the world’s greatest civilizations built an empire here in Cambodia. It dominated Southeast Asia for nearly 600 years … and was the biggest superpower the region has ever seen. Their capital was the greatest city of Angkor.

Facade_of_Angkor_Wat “This was an extensive kingdom. Its power surpassed the modern-day borders, an empire this great is something to be truly marveled at and to have so much remaining from that time. It’s just a remarkable thing to witness.” Said Dr. Wayne Johnson, The University of Sydney.

Starting as a nation of rice farmers, the Khmer people would go on to build some of the most spectacular structures of the Medieval age. The pinnacle of their culture was the great temple Angkor Wat, still the largest religious monument in the world. But 500 years ago, the Khmer Kings abandoned their capital. The city of Angkor was quickly devoured by the jungle.

Deep inside the stone chambers of Angkor Wat, the annual candle ceremony – Meak Bochea. A Buddhist ceremony to purify the mind.

“Many people think of Angkor Wat as a dead monument, a place that wat abandoned and the tourists come here just to admire its architecture. But, you know, it’s a living monument. It’s a place which has real life in amongst the people of Cambodia. It’s an amazing place, a special place. Angkor Wat is a place full of surprises.” Dr. Wayne Johnson commented.

Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful and mysterious buildings in the world. Five huge towers shaped like lotus buds, surrounded by a six-kilometer moat. A temple of perfect symmetry covering an area of two square kilometers. This is one of the wonders of the Medieval world.

“What I feel when I see Angkor Wat is, I am impressed by the coming together, the collectivity of a great many kinds of genius here. The genius of the mathematician, the genius of the artist, the genius of the architect, the genius of the engineer and the genius of the people who aspired to build these things. Who cannot be in love with Angkor?” said Prof. Richard A. Engelhardt, The University of Hong Kong.

Dancers_angkor_wat

The temple was constructed nearly 1,000 years ago. In Europe at that time, the Normans would spend over 100 years buildings their vast cathedrals. The Khmer people completed Angkor Wat in under 40, and that included 2 km of intricate engravings with nearly 2,000 celestial dancers from Hindu mythology, every one unique. In the 12th century, this was the spiritual and administrative heart of the city of Angkor. It would come to rule an empire that stretched an million square kilometers across Southeast Asia.

Every year, more than two million people are drawn to the Khmer’s archaeological treasures. They drive a tourist industry worth more than 2 billion US dollars a year, nearly 20{5c751442e5d0d6acc168756d9dce2d619bfe823b65c2fd7441c3af909dfa0cf7} of Cambodia’s entire economy. But the people who built this temple and the city around it remain an enigma. Most evidence for how the Khmer people built their city has been lost or swallowed by the jungle.

Angkor’s Revolutionized Discovery With New Technology Called LIDAR

For over 100 years, scientists have been unable to explain why one of the world’s most powerful civilizations abandoned their city. Now an international team of experts is trying to solve one of the great mysteries of the Medieval age.

“As archaeologists, we are interested in questions of, who the people were who built these temples, where do they come from? How did they survive? What did their cities look like and what happened to them?” Dr. Wayne Johnson added.

Lost city of Angkor by LIDAR

Using a revolutionary laser-scanning technique called LIDAR, they are looking beneath the jungle to uncover the secrets of this extraordinary civilization. For the first time in 500 years, LIDAR is helping to reveal the lost metropolis of the people who built Angkor Wat. We are now closer than ever before to an understanding of how the Khmer people came to dominate Southeast Asia and why their great city ultimately collapsed.

“Archaeologists and historians have been studying Angkor for about 150 – 160 years, but little was known about the actual people who inhabited these spaces. The great stone buildings were one thing, but not everyone lived in the temples, and so more throughout the 20th century the questions were being asked, what about the everyday people? Who were they? Where did they live? What was their life like?” Dr. Wayne Johnson added.

Now a new project is attempting to solve some of these mysteries by using a revolutionary technology called LIDAR. Dr. Damian Evans from the University of Sydney, is leading a team of international experts who are peeling back the layers of forest to reveal the secrets of the people who built Angkor Wat.

Angkor-Wat viewed by LIDAR

“Most of the city that existed here 1000 years ago would have been made of every, very flimsy material. Just light pieces of wood and thatch and so on. Within one or two years, that stuff just rots away completely. We can still make out these very, very subtle traces of where they used to be, by analyzing the surface topography of the landscape.” Dr. Damian Explained.

LIDAR works in a similar way to radar. It scans the ground by sending out a million laser points every four seconds and analyzing the information reflected back. The time it takes for each pulse to break through the trees, hit the ground and return is measured. The results are then mapped. The shapes revealed are the footprints of structures from the long-lost capital of the Angkorian Empire.angkor wat, much bigger than thought, siem reap, super city, Buddhist Hindu, jungle cambodia BBC TWO, Damian EvansLIDAR confirms that the city spanned an area larger than the whole of New York City. In the 12th century, when Angkor Wat was being built, London had a population of 18,000. It’s been estimated that Angkor had a population approaching three-quarters of a million. Until the 19th century, Angkor was the most extensive city in the world.

Bringing the old capital back to life was only one of the project’s ambitions. LIDAR has also started giving revolutionary insights into the origins of the Khmer Empire.

Historian Believe That The Angkor Empire Began Herein The Kulen Hills

Since 1999, French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Chevance have been studying the Kulen Hills, 40km north of Angkor. He has dedicated his life to uncovering the remains of a 9th-century Khmer settlement. It’s a tough, simple existence.

“I have been driving around for years, so I know the place pretty well. I feel comfortable with the local people, with the research, with the temples. It’s part of my life. The dirt bike is fun, it’s the easiest way to go from A to B, especially in rainy season. Roads are turning into rivers, so you have to be cautious.” Said Dr Jean-Baptiste Chevance.

Historian believe that the Khmer Empire began herein the Kulen Hills, 300 years before Angkor Wat as built. Before the LIDAR project, Jean-Baptiste used conventional archaeology to piece together a picture of an early Khmer capital. Rong Chen sits on one of the highest peaks in the Kulen Hills. At the time it was being built, Anglo-Saxon Britain was being attacked by the Vikings.

Inscriptions in temples built 200 years later suggest that Rong Chen was the religious heart of a new capital called Mahendrapravata. And it was built for a powerful Khmer king, Jayavarman II.  Before his rules, Cambodia was a collection of small kingdoms ruled by local lords. 11th-century inscriptions suggest that Jayavarman came to dominate the area by declaring himself to be a special mediator between God and man.

With only a few ruins and inscriptions to go on, understanding the early days of the Khmer Empire has always been difficult, and for many years, archaeological digs here were also impossible.

From 1975 to 1979, the Communist Party of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, established a totalitarian state based on the teachings of Mao Tse Tung. Under the leadership of dictator Pol Pot, they rules by terror, rejecting urban culture and trying to build a self-sufficient agricultural society. By the end of Pol Pot’s rule, more than a million-and-a-half Cambodians had been killed. Many more were left with permanent injuries.

The Kulen Hills was one of the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. Today, the Kulen Hills remain minded in deep forest. So this part of the Khmer Empire is one of the least explored.

Jean-Baptiste’s work and his participation in the LIDAR project is changing that. Laser information reflected from the surface of the Kulen Hills revealed the shadow of Jayavarman’s city for the first time in more than 1,000 years.

The LIDAR results showed that Mahendrapravata was a much more sophisticated city than anyone had expected. It also covered a much greater area. The LIDAR survey provides precise information about where to look for the remains of further hidden structures. In an area cleared of mines, Jean-Baptiste is following up LIDAR data that suggests the presence of an unexpected structure.

Termites don’t build their mounds in straight lines in nature, yet here there are six of them. The LIDAR map suggests that the termites built their nests on the remains of an earth bank built in the 9th century at the edge of a medieval Khmer road. The termites are unwitting markers of a vast boulevard 80m wide, 6km long.

The LIDAR images of Mahendrapravata reveal that Jayavarman II began the construction of a remarkable city. The Khmer people managed to clear tens of kilometers of jungle to begin the construction of their new capital. The LIDAR survey reveals a huge centrally planned metropolis – canals, reservoirs, dams, and a network of giant boulevards covering an area of at least 30 square kilometers.

LIDAR allows us to re-imagine this early Khmer city. A huge reservoir of eight square kilometers to sustain a rapidly growing population. Constructions like the dam show that the city was ruled by a leader who could plan and deliver huge engineering projects.

A powerful political system was also needed to help overcome one of the Khmer people’s major challenges. A meter-and-a-half of rain falls in the monsoon between May and November, nearly 90{5c751442e5d0d6acc168756d9dce2d619bfe823b65c2fd7441c3af909dfa0cf7} of the annual total, and then, after six months of deluge, the long dry season begins. Temperatures hover around 40 Celsius and for six months nothing grows. If the crops fail during the wet season … famine follows.

Lost temple on Kulen HillsThe Khmer were obsessed with water and this river in the Kulen Hills, they sought to sanctify it by creating an elaborate underwater shrine. These carvings in the rock of the river bed were made in the 11th century, 200 years after Jayavarman founded his capital. The shapes represent Hindu symbols of male and female fertility. These intricate designs were carved to preserve life.

Rainwater from the Kulen Hills flows over these carvings down to the Cambodian plains. The sanctified water sustained the staple of life for an entire people. 90 years after Jayavarman made Mahendrapravvata a capital of his kingdom, the administration moved here to Angkor.

Landscape archaeologist Scott Hawken has been studying how rice farming shaped the new capital. “Mostly for the history of research on Angkor, people have been studying temples, and the magnificent structures that everybody talks about and notices, but you can’t understand the city until you go to the rice fields. It’s really interesting to start off with the smallest elements of the archaeological landscape, the humble rice fields, and then to build up a picture of this mighty, mighty city that was over 1,000 square kilometers in size.” said Dr Scott Hawken, The University of New South Wales.

Scott’s work shows that the solutions found by Angkorian engineers are still used today. The rice harvest here has always depended on a secure water supply. A successful harvest still depends on careful management of the monsoon waters.

At first, the people of Angkor tried to reduce the chance of failure by building their city close to an enormous natural body of water. Every year, these fields are nourished by the rising waters of the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Tonle Spa… the “Great Lake”.

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Source: BBC Travel

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Discover Cambodia Magazine Revealed The Cambodia’s temples: FIVE OF THE BEST!

Archaeologist Dougald O’Reilly helps us navigate the Kingdom’s historic temples by sharing his insights into the treasures found at Angkor and beyond.

Best for…  tranquility

Banteay Chmmar TempleFor those looking to get away from the crowds, Banteay Chhmar is well worth the drive. Though the local population has set up a community-based tourism group, few people visit this incredible temple built by the great King Jayavarman VII. Enigmatic faces peer down on the site’s visitors, as the song of myriad forest birds fills the still air. Probably the best part is the incredible bas-reliefs set along the walls of the temple. They are simply unforgettable.


Best for…  Wow Factor

Kampong-thom-sambor-prei-kukAlmost every temple in Cambodia has a degree of ‘wow factor’. The time and effort put into creating these incredible monuments is humbling, so it becomes difficult to choose one site above others. But perhaps Sambor Prei Kuk, set near Kampong Thom town, which lies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, is one such example. This group of brick temples is nestled in forest, with many in the stranglehold of ficus trees, and is seldom visited by crowds of tourists. In its heyday, the site was known as Isanapura and was the Khmer capital before it relocated to the plains of Angkor.


Best for…  Off the Beaten Track

Preah Khan of Kampong Svay TempleIf you are looking for temples off the beaten track, one that is highly recommended is Prasat Preah Khan in Preah Vihear province. Getting to the site is not for the faint of heart, as the trip is long and can be arduous. Once one of the great provincial cities of the Khmer empire, Preah Khan boasts impressive walls surrounding groups of imposing sandstone temples and has a ghostly air. You can spend hours stumbling over these ruins, which have, sadly, been extensively and brutally looted. The scale of destruction could even put Preah Khan into the ‘wow factor’ category.


Best for… Jungle and Nature

Sacred Hill of Kbal SpeanIf you are based in Siem Reap, head up to the Kulen hills and visit Kbal Spean. Accessing the site involves a leisurely walk through the forest. It’s uphill but easy, and you will be rewarded at the end of the path. The riverbeds here have been carved with hundreds of linga, or phallic representations of Shiva. Other gods, including Vishnu and Ganesh, are found in various spots. At the height of Angkor’s power, this area was of great importance, as the waters that flow over the linga are sanctified before reaching Angkor.


Best for… Carvings

Carvings at Banteay SreiThis category was the easiest to decide, as no temple boasts more impressive carvings than Banteay Srei, located in the Angkor park. The beautiful and unusual red sandstone makes it a standout destination, and its diminutive size adds to its appeal.

The carvings themselves are simply breathtaking. It looks as if the sculptor has just put down his hammer and chisel. Wonderful scenes from Hindu mythology jump out of the stone and bring tales of the Ramayana to life.