Monday, February 23, 2009
architecture of angkor wat
Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become more skilled and confident than before in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. The Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in which quality was often sacrificed to quantity.Other temples in the style are Banteay Samré, Thommanon, Chao Say Tevoda and the early temples of Preah Pithu at Angkor; outside Angkor, Beng Mealea and parts of Phanom Rung and Phimai.
Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece or Rome. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style.
Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half-galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested.Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras), bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes. Statuary is conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world, taking up over 500 acres, and has more stone than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The outer wall has a diameter of over 3 1/2 miles. A bridge crosses the moat and leads to a gateway, the interior of which is carved with over 500 apsaras (angels or supernatural female spirits of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology). The inside of the stone gateway is rather dark, making the first sighting of Angkor Wat even more impressive. There are actually five towers, four in a square and one in the middle, but from this point to the entrance of the temple there appear to be three towers, the middle one taller than the other two. The highest tower reaches 213 feet above the ground and is made to look like lotus buds about to open
Angkor Wat was a Hindu temple. It is unusual in that it faces west (all other temples face east, toward the sunrise). For many years it was thought to be a tomb as it faced west, but it has since come to light that it was dedicated to Vishnu, not Shiva, and the west is sacred to Vishnu. It was built by King Suryavarman II around the year 1150, when the kingdom of Angkor, ancient Cambodia, was at its peak and stretched from northern Thailand to southern Vietnam.Like many of the other temples, Angkor Wat is intended to represent Mt. Meru, the axis of the world in Hindu belief. At the very start is the huge moat, almost 700 feet wide, representing the cosmic ocean that existed before creation. There is also a representation of the cosmic ocean at the central sanctuary, suggesting one is traveling through time from the cosmic ocean that covered the earth before creation to the cosmic ocean that will again cover the earth at the end of the world.
There are three levels to Angkor Wat. From the walkway a set of stairs leads to the first level. It is rectangular and stretches around the other two levels. The inside has a remarkably high vaulted roof, which gives it the feel of a cathedral. Sanskrit inscriptions record the glorious deeds of the kings. On the outside is the gallery of bas reliefs, stone murals that cover over 800 meters of the outer wall.