King Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1220) built his state temple c. 1 km south-east of the Royal Place.
The outer enclosure wall of the temple measures c. 3 km by 3 km.
The enclose area became Angkor Thom, a new city within the capital city Yasodharapura.
The Bayon was the state temple of King Jayavarman VII, dedicated to the Buddha. Around the central tower were numerous shrines of Buddhist and Hindu gods, for all gods venerated in the kingdom.
The central tower is raised on a cruciform terrace, surrounded by many more towers and framed by two galleries.
The outer gallery, 156 m by 141 m, was originally accentuated by a full vault and a preceding half vault. There were eight big towers at the corners and at the axes. Only the inner wall and pillars have remained. The reliefs of the outer gallery show daily life and scenes of wars against the Chams.
The inner gallery shows daily life too, and mythological scenes.
Reliefs of Devatas and dancing Apsaras are displayed all over the temple.
The design and construction of the Bayon, even its dedication to Buddhism or Hinduism, was modified several times. Anyhow, the result of this complicated story is a great picture: a hillock overgrown with towers, which, like trees in a natural forest, getting taller towards the centre.
The central tower sheltered a huge statue of the meditating Buddha, enthroned on the Naga King Mucalinda. It was destroyed during the Iconoclasm. The statue was recently restored and is now in Vihear Prampil Loveng.
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the Buddhist God of universal compassion. His face – in the likeness of King Jayavarman VII – is depicted on the four fronts of every Bayon tower.
With his smile, his blessings are radiating in the cardinal directions, everywhere in the whole world, to everyone who is open-hearted.
How many towers and faces are there? The question is idle: In reality the faces are countless; the bodhisattva is ubiquitous.
Better you open your mind for their message: "Le sourir khmer" or "The smile of Angkor".
The best time to visit the Bodhisattva faces is around noon. Then the temple is quiet, the steep sunlight accentuating the faces. (Take water with you!)
- Glaize, p. 85-99.
- Briggs, p. 223-225
- Stierlin, p. 177-184.
- Chandler, p. 56-58
- Freeman/Jacques, p. 78-101.
- Roveda 2005, p. 422-433.
- Cunin, Olivier, Das Rätsel des Bayon – ein neuer Ansatz, in AC, p. 189-193.
Angkor Thom, the outer Enclosure of the Bayon, is a square, of 3000 m, surrounded by a laterite wall, 8 m high, and a moat, 100 m wide.
The wall is lined by a wide rampart.
A pleasant footway runs along the entire wall on the top of this rampart.
At the southwest corner of Angkor Thom, near the Prasat Chrung, the sewage was collected in Beng Thom ('The Big Pond'), and then it poured out of the city through Run Tadev, five corbelled arches under the wall and the rampart. Access by paths from the South Gate or West Gate, along the top of the rampart.
There are five gates in the wall and five causeways crossing the moat, four are at the cardinal points and one is east of the Royal Palace.
All gates and causeways are of the same construction:
- The central
tower, more than 23 m high, is flanked by two smaller towers.
Huge faces are looking to the cardinal points. See also: Faces at the Bayon.
In the corners of the towers' bases, god Indra appears with two spouses, mounted on the three-headed elephant Airavan, whose trunks are pulling lotus flowers.
In front of the gate, Naga Kings are guarding the causeway, escorting human beings from the secular world to the sacred area of the temple.
The Naga are held by giants. Looking outside you see 54 gods to the right and demons in equal number to the left.
"The fifty-four deities are all pulling at the snake with their hands, and look as if they are preventing it from escaping." (Zou Daguan)
See also: Naga in Angkor.
Every single gate is worth a visit.
The South Gate has the most extensive collection of giants' heads. This area may be pretty crowded sometimes.
The West Gate has the best preserved faces. The remains of the Causeway of Giants have not been restored. The site is quiet and picturesque.
The North Gate is best preserved. Look for the Indra reliefs! The Causeway of Giants is restored. It is a rather tranquil area.
At the Victory Gate the causeway of giants has been restored. Climb up and look at the faces from both sides of the wall.
The East Gate of Angkor Thom
An abandoned road runs from the Bayon to the east. After 1.5 km of forest the East Gate appears. Restored with care, it is the only gate of Angkor Thom to keep untouched, like eight hundred years ago.
The pavement of the doorway shows traces of ancient oxcarts.
Rarely a visitor will come here: You can enjoy a summit of human art, a wonder of the world—in solitude.
Four temples are located at the corners of the wall, in southwest, northwest, northeast, and southeast. All towers are similar in shape: cruciform ground plan. On the walls are devata in niches. The pediments show the standing bodhisattva, he was scratched out. A square pavilion sheltered a stele.
A few hundred metres out of the gates of Angkor Thom are located Hospital Temples, witnesses of four of the more than a hundret hospitals erected or fitted by Jayavarman VII in his kingdom. These are sandstone towers or the ruins of them, with some fragments of reliefs.
Ta Prohm Kel is located near the north-west corner of Angkor Wat.
The East Hospital Temple is just west of Ta Keo.
Prasat Tonlé Snguot is located 500 m north of the North Gate of Angkor Thom in a picturesque setting. (See photo on top.)
The ruin of the West Hospital Temple is located 900 m of the West Gate of Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom makes a mandala: From the Buddha in the Centre spiritual energy is spread all over the world. Symbolically but really healing was spread by the hospitals. The centre of medicine was nearby in Preah Khan.
On top in the middle was a wooden pavilion.
Most remarkable are reliefs showing hunters on elephants in a mystic jungle. Among other figures one can find spirits, the meditating Buddha and lions, which are fabulous too.
There are three bastions; the northern bastion was several times modified, remains of the old faces have been unearthed.
After entering the Terrace of the Elephants vistors are forced to follow absurd routes; after the Terrace of the Leper King they have to run the gauntlet along some sad shops. Better you escape to Preah Palilay!
The Terrace of the Leper King was probably started by Jayavarman VII, and modified and finished later. Scholars consider the terrace to have been the place for royal cremations. The originally seven layers of the faces depict the underworld with Naga, demons, anti-gods, the god Kubera, and so on.
The terrace was later moved forward. The old face is now to be visited in a corridor.
The statue on top of the terrace (original in the National Museum Phnom Penh) depicts a naked demon, with fangs(!), squatting an the ground. By evidence that is neither the God of Death nor the 'Leper King'. (These names were given to the statue by error.)