Cambodia · Angkor Wat
Since the publicised Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត or “Capital Temple”) temple “discovery” in the mid 19th century, it has been described as the largest religious building in the world, and is rightly spoken of as one of the wonders of the ancient world, along with sites such as Macchu Picchu and the Taj Mahal. With its 5 lotus-like towers rising 65 meters into the sky, it is truly a monumental, and awe inspiring sight. The temple is located just over 6km from Siem Reap, is the centrepiece of the Angkor Archaeological Park, and has been UNESCO listed as a world heritage site since 1992.
One of the largest Angkor temples, Angkor Wat was built under King Suryavarman II , who ruled from 1113 to at least 1145, in the early 12th century. Originally built as a temple to Vishnu, it has been in continuous use as a Buddhist shrine since the adoption of Theravada Buddhism by the Khmer people, meaning it has remained in excellent condition over the centuries. Because of its symbolic representation of ancient Khmer nationhood, the temple survived the Khmer Rouge years relatively undamaged, and tourist numbers have increased steadily since the political situation stabilised.
As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.
The “lost city” of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s after Cambodia was colonized by the French. Today, Angkor Wat continues to draw thousands of visitors anxious to see this remarkable ancient temple in the jungle. In addition to many tourists, Buddhist monks are daily visitors to Angkor Wat, their bright orange robes making a vivid contrast with the grey stone of the temple.