As the largest religious monument in the world, the architecture of Angkor Wat is unquestionably impressive from a distance. The central temple stands at 213 meters tall. The entire complex spans 162.6 hectares. The city is comprised of more stone than all of Egypt’s pyramids combined. But equally impressive are the details, both the physical features and the historic facts.
Originally constructed as a Hindu monument, Angkor Wat gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. Celestial significance is inlaid into its very structure. The layout of the complex represents Mount Meru, the sacred five-peaked mountain considered to be the centre of all physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. This is partially why the stairs to the top are so steep – you’re climbing all the way to the realm of the gods.
The majesty of the architecture isn’t limited to Angkor Wat’s scale though. Carved directly into the stone, extensive bas-relief scenes depict episodes from the Hindu epics. Virtually every surface of the monument is covered, not only preserving Khmer art but also revealing unexpected information. For example, several scenes were sculpted 400 years after Angkor Wat was founded, which means the temple complex was in active use for at least that long.
Unsurprisingly, Angkor Wat attracts millions of tourists every year. However, most visitors only glimpse the surface of what there is to see. If you really want to zoom in on Angkor Wat’s sublime details and rich history, sign up for a guided experience led by Dr Olivier Cunin, an architect who has been studying Siem Reap’s temples on-site for the past 15 years.
To snag a preview of his in-depth knowledge of Khmer architecture, you can catch Dr. Cunin’s lecture at Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum on May 19 as part of a symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition “Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City.”
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An Irish-American residing in Singapore, Laura Jane O’Gorman Schwartz is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Shanghai Literary Review.
This blog post originally appeared in the Travel Tips section of Ready to Travel.