The greatest existing monument of the Ancient World, Angkor Wat pays homage to the sustainer of the Khmer cosmos, Vishu. Symbolizing Mount Meru, the center of the universe, it was built by Suryavarman II during the first half of the 12th century. Outside the walls of the temple are large moats covering an area of over 200 hectares. The temple is is accessed from the Western Gate. Two Nagas form the railings along a 200 meter long sandstone causeway across the moat. On both sides of the entrance, stand two chapels dedicated to Vishu. Beyond these are galleries leading to two lateral gates names 'Entrance of the Elephants'. Once inside another 350 meter long causeway leads to the main temple, with libraries and ponds on each side. Watching the sunrise from the northern pond provides the best view of the five towers framing the sun. Just before the entrance to the main temple is a cruciform terrace. In the middle of this platform, an elevated position indicates the location of the King's throne when he addressed or attended parades. The lower levels were reserved for the court. The central doors and side pavilions give access to the first floor gallery, probably the only gallery accessible to laypersons and pilgrims.
"We walked across the bridge over the lichen-covered moat leading to Angkor Thom's southern entrance gate. On either side of us, sculpted in titanic style, stretched parallel rows of 54 devas and 54 asuras, leaning back, muscles bulging, hauling on the boy of the Naga serpent Vasuki and thus symbolically 'churning the Milky Ocean'. The scene conveys the same ideas and interprets the same myths as the bas relief's of Angkor Wat's south-eastern gallery. Nevertheless, the effect in three dimensions is especially powerful, and thought provoking. Pilgrims well-versed in the Milky Ocean story would immediately have felt curious about the whereabouts, in this architectural scheme, of a counterpart for Mount Mandera - the celestial peak supposedly used by the gods and demons as their "churning stick'. For higher initiates equipped to 'go down to any sky' the numbers of statues might likewise have called to mind the occult cycle of precession which moves at the rate of one degree every 72 years (72 plus 36 - i.e. 72 plus half of 72 - equals 108, a number that divides equally into two teams of 54)" - Graham Hancock - 'Heaven's Mirror'
Angkor Thom means the 'Great City'. Jayavaman VII built the complex on the ruins of an ancient city once controlled by Udayadityavarman II (1056-1066). The exterior wall forms a large square, running 3-km long on each side. Parts of the 100 meter wide moat have gone dry and are overrun with vegetation but the five gates offer an unforgettable entrance with most first time visitors entering through the spectacular Southern Gate, with Nagas 'churning the Milky Ocean'.
As most of the giants heads were cut off by looters, the few remaining were removed by the authorities for safe-keeping and replaced by cement replicas. The city encompasses a variety of important temples that can be visited in succession; Bayan, Baphuon,Phimeanakas and the twin Terraces of the Leper King and the Elephant. With the Bayon at the center, the city stands on a slope and rainwater drains to a pond linked to the moats.
The Bayon (Khmer: Prasat bayon) is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom. Following Jayavarman's death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences.