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A brief Introduction to the Angkor Temples

Temples and ruins tell us the story of Angkor.

Angkor begins with Trapeang Phong (early 9th century), and soon became the capital city of the Khmer Empire. Bakong and Phnom Bakheng (both late 9th century) were the first highlights.

Baksei Chamkrong and the temporary move of the capital to Koh Ker mark a crisis in the 10th century.

With Pre Rup (962), Angkor is back again with the increasing highlights of Ta Keo, Baphuon, and Angkor Wat.

The Bayon period brings a new religion, a new style and excessive and sumptuous buildings

Angkor’s decline also starts in this time.

Time Line


Prelude in Sambor Prei Kuk

The pre-Angkorian monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk are located 25 km north-east of Kampong Thom. Here was the capital of an important regional kingdom. In the core of the plant are three groups of temples. The central tower of the South Group, (King Isanavarman I, early 7th century) is the biggest brick tower ever constructed in ancient Cambodia.

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The first Angkorian capitals

Trapeang Phong (early 9th century), in the South of the Roluos Group, has a stately and fine decorated tower. It was probably built by king Jayavarman II. Nearby traces of a royal residence have been excavated.

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Bakong, the first state temple

The Bakong was consecrated in 881 and dedicated to Shiva as the national god of the Khmer. It was then the biggest building in Mainland Southeast-Asia.

The Bakong defines the pattern of the Khmer pyramid temple. Later temples will maintain these principles.

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Phnom Bakheng

At the end of the 9th century, King Yasovarman I moved the capital to central Angkor and built a pyramid temple, dedicated to Shiva, on top of a phnom, a steep hill. 
At the top platform, there were five towers in a quincunx. Later they were destroyed. 

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Lingapura (Koh Ker)

From 921 to 944 AD, the capital moved to Koh Ker, some 80 km north-east of Angkor.

A tall pyramid was built, together with many other impressive temples.

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Baksei Chamkrong

The temple was started in the early 9th century, consecrated 947, and dedicated to Shiva.

Located close to Phnom Bakheng, a singel brick tower raises at a small and elegant pyramid, built of laterite.

Baksei Chamkrong became a model for the steep pyramid as it is built in Angkor from then on.

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East Mebon and Pre Rup

King Rajendavarman (944–968) made a new core of the capital near the East Baray. He built the East Mebon (952. photo) as his ancestor temple, and Pre Rup (961) as his state temple. 

Both are pyramid temples made of laterite and brick. The five towers are at each temple again arranged in a quincunx, and well preserved.

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Ta Keo

Ta Keo (1007) is a precursor of Angkor Wat: a huge, steep sandstone pyramid, topped by five sandstone towers.

For the first time, there is a gallery.

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King Udayadityavarman II (1050–1066) built the Baphuon (1060), just south of the Royal Palace.

There was a huge pyramid, topped by "the tower of bronze, even higher than the golden tower [of the Bayon]", as a Chinese chronicler remarked.

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Narrative bas-reliefs

Beginning with the Baphuon (photo), there are large tableaux of bas-reeliefs presenting scenes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and other Hindu epics.

The most extensive reliefs are at Angkor Wat, at the outer and inner galleries of the Bayon, and at Banteay Chhmar.

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with narrative bas-reliefs


Early Buddhist flat temples

During the late 11th and early 12th century a series of Buddhist flat temples were constructed:

  • Thommanon
  • Chau Say Tevoda
  • Banteay Samré 
  • Prasat Wat Athvea
  • Beng Mealea

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Angkor Wat

King Suryavarman II (1113–c. 1150) built the greatest temple in the world.

Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat is the climax of Khmer architecture: A gigantic three-step pyramid is adorned by nine slender towers of enormous height. The steps of the pyramid are capped by galleries. Framed by a majestic moat and an en­clo­sure wall with the large West Gate, the temple covers 2.5 km².

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Devatas at Angkor Wat

In Angkor Wat, there are 1,850 Devata reliefs. In the beauty of eternal youth, Devata are guarding and embellishing the temple. Their outfit is stunning: fantastic hairdos, heavy jewellery, effectively designed and draped sarongs, their hands in charming gestures. According to the customs of the period they are bare breasted.
Their charm and sensuality is an obvious representation of the divine. They help to transform the man-made building into a sanctified area.

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Monastic cities and temples

Towards 1200 AD, King Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1215) made Mahayana Buddhism the state religion. He built a series of monastic cities and temples: Ta Prohm (1186),  Preah Khan (1191) and the nearby water sanctuary Neak PeanBanteay Kdei and Srah SrangTa SomTa Nei, as well as Banteay Thom and Prasat Prei Prasat
Banteay Chhmar is located some 100 km north-west of Angkor. Ta Prohm of Bati is located in Takeo province, and Wat Nokor near Kampong Cham.


Angkor Thom

Jayavarman VII also built  Angkor Thom, the royal city inside of the extensive metropolis Yasodharapura.

Angkor Thom is framed by a moat, a wall, and five imposing gates with face towers.

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In the centre of the city King Jayavarman VII built the Bayon as his state temple.

In a confused construction innumerable face towers grow up like trees in a natural forest.

The walls of Angkor Thom make the outer enclosure of the temple.

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