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Early Temples

Angkor starts in in the 9th century with Trapeang Phong, followed by the Capital Hariharalaya with the Baray of Lolei, the Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei, now located near Roluos village in the south-east.

At the end of the century, the new Capital Yasodharapura is founded in Central Angkor, with the Phnom Bakheng, the East Baray, Phnom Bok and Phnom Krom.

Bakong - the Gateway to Angkor

 

Hariharalaya, from Angkor Map
Hariharalaya, from Angkor Map

Bakong, inner temple, map by Stierlin
Bakong, inner temple, map by Stierlin

Original name
Date
Reign


Orientation

Cult
Function

Sri Indresvara
Inaugurated 881
Jayavarman III (c. 835–89)
Indravarman I (877–c. 889)
Yasovarman II (c. 1150-1165)
East
Hindu, Shiva
State Temple

The Bakong was the State Temple of King Indravarman and the centre of his capital Hariharalaya.

Layout

Inner enclosure

  • The centre of the Temple is a sandstone Pyramid of five tiers, 14 m high, topped by a tower, 15 m high, which was rebuilt in the Angkor Wat era, (late 11th to 12th centuries).
    At the fourth tier are twelve small sandstone towers.
    Elephants at the three lower tiers take care of the corners.
    Four stairways run down from the top, protected by guardian figures and Lions, each headed by a gate pavilion and a Nandi statue. 
    Nandi is a sacred bull, the mount of Shiva. At the foot of every stairway, Nandi is reclining, facing Shiva and ready to take him into all directions. The best preserved Nandi statue is to the west.
  • 8 Brick Towers in pairs precede the faces of the pyramid.
  • East of the pyramid is four Fire Shrines (called “libraries”), made of brick. They sheltered the Holy Fire or were used for ritually burnt offerings. See the latticed holes in the walls which served for ventilation.
  • The inner enclosure wall, with four gate pavilions.

Inner moat

  • A large Moat is enclosing the central part of the temple.
  • The causeways at the east and west are guarded by sprawling Nagas.

Outer enclosure

  • 26 brick towers in 22 groups and 8 square basins are regularly arranged.
  • The outer moat, 950 m square, with causeways in the cardinal directions.
  • An Avenue, more than 2 km long, runs straight to the temple from the east.
    Beyond the outer moat, 5 pairs of square water basins skirt it symmetrically.

Symbolism

The temple is the residence of God Shiva in the centre of the World. Shiva is the Overlord of the World.
The pyramid also symbolizes Mount Meru. The gods are residing at its five summits, which are looming in the Heaven.
It symbolizes the centre and the vertical axis of the World.

Significance

The Bakong marks the roaring start of Angkor. It was in its time the biggest building in Mainland South-East Asia, demonstrating the power of the kingdom.
The five-tear pyramid and the large square concentric enclosures became the prototype of all pyramid temples in Angkor.
Though the oldest, the Bakong is in total the best preserved of all pyramid temples.

Preah Ko

D Inaugurated 879
K Indravarman I (877–c. 889)
O East
C Hindu, Shiva
F Ancestor Temple

Preah Ko, the frontal Towers
Preah Ko, the frontal Towers

The west side of the road running from the Baray of Lolei to the Bakong is given to a compound, 500 m square and enclosed by a moat. The temple interrupts this moat at its east side.

Six brick towers in two rows share a sandstone platform. The towers in the first row are bigger than those of the second row. In front of each descends a flight of stairs, and in front of the stairs are three Nandi sculptures. They give the temple's name: Preah Ko, which means “Sacred Bull”.

There are wonderful reliefs on lintels and the walls, in sandstone and stucco. The colonnettes serve as the best in Khmer art.

By inscriptions on the door jambs, we know, that the front towers were dedicated to Shiva as the protector of the king's father (central tower), and his mother's father, and the husband of his mother's sister respectively (lateral towers).

The towers of the second row were dedicated to Uma as the protector of the respective spouses.

Preah Ko is an ancestor temple. The spirits of the ancestors own the soil and the place. They are invited to reside in their temple. Simultaneously, the King proudly presents his royal ancestors.

Lolei

D Inaugurated 893
K Yasovarman I (889–c. 900)
O East
C Hindu, Shiva
F AncestorTemple

Lolei
Lolei

This ancestor temple is located in the north of the Roluos group. It makes a square island in the middle of the now dried up Baray of Lolei.

There are four brick towers, dedicated to the parents and maternal grandparents of King Yasovarman I, (who built his state temple on the Phnom Bakheng in central Angkor). The northern towers were never built. Excellent reliefs are on lintels and the walls.

Trapeang Phong

D Early 9th century
K Jayavarman II (781­–835) or Jayavarman III (c. 835–877)
O East
C Hindu

Trapeang Phong, Devata
Trapeang Phong, Devata

Trapeang Phong
Trapeang Phong

A brick tower looms up in a secluded area, 3 km south of the Bakong.

Only the central tower is still standing upright. The false doors are of sandstone, lintels and colonnettes are well executed. The east entrance is destroyed.

Noteworthy for the quality of its brick decoration is the base of another tower nearby. For the rest, there is the ruin of a fire shrine, and a moat.

To the west is what may have been a residential area.

The Devatas of Trapeang Phong are the first and oldest in Angkor.

The reliefs are carved on brick and covered with stucco.

They stand in niches on the wall and sit in small medallions at the upper tier.

Access

From Bakong, you go 300 m to the West. Then you follow a raised way to the South. After 1.5 km, there is a school on the right-hand side. There you ask for “prasat”; the path, c. 3 km, goes roughly to the south-east.

Or you walk 1.25 km across country from Trapeang Totoeng Thngai to the east. The tower is well visible from the distance.

At the end of the rainy season, the way may be under water.

Phnom Bakheng

D Built towards 900
K Yasovarman I (889–c. 900)
O East
C Hindu, Shiva
F State temple

Phnom Bakheng, the Pyramid
Phnom Bakheng, the Pyramid

Phnom Bakheng, the Central Tower
Phnom Bakheng, the Central Tower

Phnom Bakheng, View of Angkor Wat
Phnom Bakheng, View of Angkor Wat

Phnom Bakheng, view from the parking lot (SS)
Phnom Bakheng, view from the parking lot (SS)

Phnom Bakheng, the top of the Pyramid
Phnom Bakheng, the top of the Pyramid

As a dominant hill, the Phnom Bakheng is the temple location par excellence. Here, the first state temple in central Angkor came into being.

The creation of the Quincunx

The top of the hill was flattened and a five-tier pyramid cut from the bedrock. 

All towers on the pyramid were of sandstone.

For the first time in the world, the towers were arranged in a quincunx: a tower in the centre and four towers in the corners. We will find this arrangement of five towers again at East Mebon, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Angkor Wat, and Ta Prohm.

These towers were surrounded by 60 towers on the pyramid and 44 brick towers at its foot.

A hill becomes a temple

Stairways run down the hill in the cardinal directions, except to the south. At the north, near Prasat Bei, we can visit two beautiful and well-preserved lions. Two more lions are to the east.

A series of shrines were arranged at the foot of the hill, six of them have remained: Rong Lmong, Thma Bay Kaek, two smaller shrines without names, Prasat Bei, and Sok Kro Op. Together with Baksei Chamkrong and the lions at the northern stairway, they make a fine walk.

The hill was framed by a moat, ca. 900 m by 560 m.

Views and walks

From this central point in Angkor you have a view to the West Baray, to Angkor Thom in the north, where you can make out the moat and the wall, and, to the south-east, Angkor Wat and its moat.

Far away you can see Phnom Dei and Phnom Kulen in the north.

You can see three more temples built by Yasovarman: Phnom Bok in the east, and Phnom Krom, near the Tonlé Sap Lake in the south, and Phnom Dei in the north.

Double Destruction

Only the beheaded ruin of the pyramid, on top of an overgrown hill, has remained of this magnificence.

At the east of the hill was a Gate Pavilion. A 2-km avenue, flanked symmetrically by water basins, linked the temple to the river, from here a raised road led to the Baray of Lolei, 11 km.

King Jayavarman VII (1181-c.1220) constructed Angkor Thom, the south arterial road of which cuts the eastern part of the Phnom Bakheng.

The east face of the of the hill looks like crashed. The temple lost circa 40 percent of its space.

The core of Angkor, the sacred place, was reduced to the pyramid on top of the hill, and eventually forgotten.

In the 16th century, Buddhist monks destroyed the five top towers to pile up a statue of the sitting Buddha, which was newer finished. When the French restored the pyramid, they removed the sad vestiges of this statue.

R and L mark the remains of the right and left knee of the statue.

Phnom Bok

Date: Built towards 900
Reign: Yasovarman I (889–c. 900)
Orientation: East
Cult: Hindu, Shiva

The Phnom Bok is a prominent hill in the east of Angkor. Here, King Yasovarman I built a sandstone temple.

The towers were dedicated to Shiva (centre), Vishnu (north), and Brahma (south). Four fire shrines are opposite of the towers.

We can visualize the king with pompous entourage ascending the hill and moving into the temple to prostrate himself in front of the idol of Shiva, the “Lord of the Mountains”.

Indeed, this summit gives a grand view of Angkor.

But now, the towers are without upper tiers and ruined.

To re-enact the king's visit you have to climb over fallen blocks of stone and to make detours. The towers are godforsaken; there seems to be no longer any reason to approach to them reverentially.

Appearance of the Goddesses

Now, the goddesses have taken centre stage: At the outer walls of the towers, twenty-four sensual Devatas are standing in niches which are framed by colonnettes; and an elegant vault of foliage. Though partly unfinished and badly destroyed, the impressive and radiating traces of former glory make now the main attraction of the temple. Even in the current state, they can wrap you with their beauty.

An enormous Linga

At c. 150 m west, we find the ruin of a laterite platform which was topped by an enormous linga: now it has come crashing down and broken. It was 4 m high, with 1.20 m diameter, and more than 10 tons of weight. 

Access

Follow the road from Banteay Samré to the east/northeast. The gate of the wat after c. 6 km at the left hand side is the entrance. Angkor Ticket required. You have to climb up a 630-steps stairway. It’s worth it! 

  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok
  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok
  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok
  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok
  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok
  • Phnom Bok Devatas
    Phnom Bok Devatas
  • Phnom Bok, view from the west
    Phnom Bok, view from the west
  • Phnom Bok Lingam (OV)
    Phnom Bok Lingam (OV)
  • Phnom Bok
    Phnom Bok

Devatas at Phnom Bok

9 of the originally 24 Devata reliefs

  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok
  • Devata at Phnom Bok
    Devata at Phnom Bok

Phnom Bok Murals

Mural and a Sema Stone from the Vihear near the temple.

  • Phnom Bok Mural
    Phnom Bok Mural
  • Phnom Bok Mural
    Phnom Bok Mural
  • Phnom Bok Mural
    Phnom Bok Mural
  • Phnom Bok Mural
    Phnom Bok Mural
  • Phnom Bok Sema Stone
    Phnom Bok Sema Stone

Phnom Krom

D Built towards 900
K Yasovarman I (889–c. 900)
O East
C Hindu, Shiva

Phnom Krom
Phnom Krom

By its structure, the temple is similar to Phnom Bok. Located on a hill at the shores of the Tonlé Sap, the towers open to the east and, facing the lake, to the west.

It is a fine place for watching sundown.

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