Angkor
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Angkor

Site Information

Country: Cambodia
State: Siem Reap
Location: 13° 24' 44" N - 103° 52' 0" E
Field Documentation Date(s): March 13th, 2004
Project Release Date(s): January 9th, 2006
Time Range: 802 CE - 1431 CE
Era: Khmer Empire
Culture: Khmer
Site Authority: APSARA
Heritage Listing: World Monuments Fund
Global Heritage Fund
world map with location

3D model of Angkor Wat Temple

Site Description

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The original Angkor Archaeological Park was 300 sq km, but the cultural heritage region is 5000 sq km (1930 sq mi)--of which over 1000 sq km, from the Tonle Sap to the Kulen Hills, was the urban complex (according to the University of Sydney); this would make Angkor the most extensive pre-industrial city in the world. This expansive city's location was not settled for any religious or cultural significance, but rather for its agricultural potential, as it sits on a large basin framed by the Great Lake (Tonle Sap) and the Kulen hills while being drained by tributaries of Siem Reap River.

The Khmer constructed a series of large reservoirs and dikes, most notably the East Baray (holding 55 million cubic meters of water) and the West Baray (holding over 123 million cubic meters of water), and from these and the Great Lake, Angkor was able to survive by collecting water from rivers for agriculture as well as draining and reserving water from the monsoon season. Storing the water helped as the area only had two seasons: dry and rainy. Thus, during the rainy season, water would be collected to prevent flooding and to provide irrigation for crops during the dry season.
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History

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Angkor was the site for a series of capitals belonging to the Khmer empire for much of the ninth through fifteenth centuries. These ruins are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonle Sap), near present day Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temples of Angkor, now partially restored, constitute the premier collection of Khmer art and architecture.

The resplendent monuments of the Khmer were constructed from AD 879 - 1191, although the site, itself, was inhabited by the Khmers from AD 802 through AD 1431. Yet it was during the twelfth century, when the last temples were built, that the Khmers reached their peak during the reigns of Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII. And it was from Angkor that these god-kings ruled their grand empire, stretching from the south of Vietnam to Yunan, China and from the western edge of Vietnam to the Bay of Bengal. The monumental temples they built not only proclaimed the king's wealth and status, but they also helped solidify his rule as a god-king by providing a sanctuary of worship for his cult after aligning himself with a deity, such as the Hindu god Vishnu or the Buddhist Bodhisattva Avalokiteshavara.

Jayavarman VII's depleted the kingdom's resources with his extravagant lifestyle during his rule. This resulted in societal displeasure as well as the gradual decline of the ever-important irrigation system as resources were being diverted elsewhere for his temples of grandeur. By the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, the society of the Khmers underwent a major change as the state religion shifted to Theravada Buddhism; with this, a new way to unify and administer the people needed to be established. As all these effects took hold of the Khmer, their neighboring enemies grew stronger and began to attack Angkor. Finally, in AD 1431 the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya was successful in a siege of Angkor after seven months of battle. In 1432 the Khmers moved their capital south, but the empire and the city of Angkor never regained their glory.
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Project Narrative

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In March of 2004, a group from the University of California at Berkeley conducted a laser scan project in Angkor, Cambodia in cooperation with Sophia University of Tokyo, Japan. The project gathered HDS scans and photographs of the Angkor Wat Western Causeway and the temple Banteay Kdei. The data set was used to support on-going reconstruction and stabilization of various Angkor monuments by Sophia University. The project was funded by Sophia University.
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3D point cloud of the cruciform outer courtyard of Banteay Kdei, created from laser scan data

Preservation

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In 1992, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee (WHC) inscribed Angkor on the List of World Heritage in Danger to deal with the "urgent problems of conservation quickly and effectively" as the site and its soft sandstone structures had been poorly managed and were threatened by vegetation, water erosion, the elements, looting, and tourists.

Nature and tourists were not its only threats, however, as much of the damage had previously been done by past archaeological work at the site. In 1907, France's Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO)

undertook an intervention at Angkor that lasted until 1931. The EFEO created shoring from reinforced concrete, replaced missing structural elements with reinforced concrete, and used steel bars, plates, and bands for bracing and strengthening purposes in Angkor. From 1931-1972 a new technique was adopted by archaeologists of the site: anastylosis, in which the complete dismantling and rebuilding of structures with the combined internal use of reinforced concrete was undertaken. In 1972, outbreaks of political upheaval lead to 17 years of conservation abandonment. This allowed Angkor to suffer vegetational invasion and abuse from military operations (mostly bullet holes). When, in 1989, conservation efforts were reinstated, the Archaeological Survey of India began a three year mission that removed the vegetation with fire, reconstructed various structures, and cleaned stone with abrasive techniques.

The damage caused by the harsh abrasive water cleaning and the use of reinforced concrete, along with "stone disease" from deleterious salts was already wreaking havoc on the preservation of Angkor, but the site had another natural element to face: the monsoons. The Khmer irrigation systems had been in disuse and disrepair since the 14th century and this lead to Angkor's subjugation to the annual monsoons, which dumped huge amounts of water on the site causing violent fluctuations in the water table.

In 1992 the site came under the control of the APSARA Authority, and as of 2004 APSARA had achieved significant improvements in conservation and preservation at Angkor. In 2004 the WHC removed Angkor from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
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Area Descriptions

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Angkor Wat
Western Causeway
Banteay Kdei

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Description:

The world's largest religious structure, Angkor Wat was built AD 1113 - 1150 (37 years of construction by an estimated 50,000 artisans, workers and slaves) by Suryavarman II and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It is the largest and one of the most intact structures in Angkor and considered an architectural masterpiece--and one of the finest monuments in the world--for its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, reliefs and sculptures. It is an expression of Khmer art at the height of its development. Uniquely, the entrance is to the west instead of the east, as is all the other temples at Angkor. Overtime this Hindu temple became a Buddhist shrine.


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Western Causeway

Western Causeway Description:

The world's largest religious structure, Angkor Wat was built AD 1113 - 1150 (37 years of construction by an estimated 50,000 artisans, workers and slaves) by Suryavarman II and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It is the largest and one of the most intact structures in Angkor and considered an architectural masterpiece--and one of the finest monuments in the world--for its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, reliefs and sculptures. It is an expression of Khmer art at the height of its development. Uniquely, the entrance is to the west instead of the east, as is all the other temples at Angkor. Overtime this Hindu temple became a Buddhist shrine.


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Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei Description:

Built from the middle of the twelfth century through the beginning of the thirteenth century AD by Jayavarman VII, this Buddhist monastic complex is dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality sandstone. It has been occupied by monks over the centuries, but the inscription stone has never been discovered so it is unknown to whom the temple is dedicated.


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References:

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  1. "Decision 28COM 15A.23." Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. 28 June - 7 July 2004. World Heritage Committee. 24 January 2006, http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/&id_decision=164.
  2. "Heritage Sites: Angkor, Cambodia." Global Heritage Fund. 25 January 2006, http://www.globalheritagefund.org/sites/apac/index.html.
  3. "Report of the 16th Session of the Committee." Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. 14 December 1992. World Heritage Committee. 25 January 2006, http://whc.unesco.org/archive/repcom92.htm#668.
  4. "The Limits of Pre-industrial, Urban Growth in Angkor." Urban Growth in Angkor. University of Sydney. 26 January 2006, http://acl.arts.usyd.edu.au/research/angkor/angkor.html.
  5. ICOMOS. "World Heritage List, No 667." Advisory Body Evaluation. 22 September 1992. UNESCO World Heritage Center. 25 January 2005, http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/668.pdf.
  6. Kostof, S. A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. 2nd ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  7. Rooney, D.F. Angkor: An Introduction to the Temples. Hong Kong: The Guidebook Company Ltd, 1997.

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Credits:

more     - John Ristevski
     - Hisao Arahi
     - Alonzo Addison