Starting with Suryavarman I (1002–149), Angkor is again on the height of its power.
Big temples are built of sandstone.
The temple is located about 2 km east of the Royal Palace, near the west face of the East Baray.
The huge pyramid of bright sandstone is standing 22 m high, it is almost without ornamentation.
It is surrounded by a moat; an avenue with border stones links the temple to the East Baray.
"Ta Keo is a pyramid of five levels reaching a total height of 22 m - the first two form the base of two enclosing courtyards, one surrounded by a simmple wall and the other by a gallery, while the last three, with their various elements conforming to the usual rule of proportional reduction and so narrow that one can barely walk around them, are but a massive artificial plinth for the quincunx of sanctuaries."
(Glaize, p. 135.)
Five towers in a quincunx encompass the top platform; each tower is open on four sides with projecting porches, doubled at the central tower. This makes their ground plan look cruciform. From every tower there are free views in the cardinal directions.
The central tower is raised on a plinth of 4 m and is taller than the corner towers. So, looking from outside to the pyramid, you can see three towers in one line.
On the second tier we see a gallery, something of a novelty.
500 m south-east of the pyramid is an unfinished sandstone tower. By Dumarcay/Royère (p. 67 f.) it was perhaps a part of the Ta Keo complex.
Ta Keo was consecrated in 1007. The construction of the temple seems to have been stopped. There are almost no reliefs and the overall picture is that of a cubist sculpture. We are thus left to imagine how carvings characterize the form of the Khmer temple.
- All elements of the temple are in one straight design.
- After almost one century of brick and laterite constructions, now sandstone becomes the dominant material.
- The towers become cruciform and open to the cardinal directions.
- For the first time there is a gallery.
Ta Keo is by many of its features a model of Angkor Wat.
Other monuments of this era:
- Maurice Glaize, The Monuments Of The Angkor Group, www.theangkorguide.com, p. 135-137.
- Henri Stierlin, Architektur der Welt Angkor, Lausanne, 1976, p. 142.
- Michael Freeman, Claude Jacques, Ancient Angkor , Bangkok, 2003, p. 133-135.
King Suryavaman I also laid out the Royal Palace; it is framed by a laterite wall, 246 m N-S and 585 m E-W, and a moat.
Most buildings, including the royal abode, were built of wood, and have vanished. (Freeman/Jacques, p. 111.)
In the East Gate Pavilion, Suryavarman I had an inscription engraved, in 1010, containing the oath of loyalty to be given by the royal officials. (Sahai 2009, p. 80.)
The Royal Plaza, in front of the Royal Palace was laid out in the early 11th century. Symmetrically to the east gate of the palace are two Khleang (halls) and twelve Prasat Suor Prat (photo on top). They are temples, very probably dedicated to Shiva.
East of the North Khleang is an unnamed "Small Temple".
The Phimeanakas, a small pyramid temple in the core of the Royal Palace, is the oldest known building in Angkor Thom. Started by king Harshavarman II (941-944), it was finished by king Suryavarman I (1002-1049). It features the first perfect galleries.
"About a li [ca 500 m] north of the gold tower [Bayon] is a bronze tower. It is even taller than the gold tower, and an exquisite sight."
(Zhou Daguan, p. 48)
"The Baphuon adjoins the southern enclosure of the Royal Place. Its outer eastern gopura lies on the same longitudinal as the Elephant Terrace [built about 150 years later] ... On the three other sides the temple is surrounded by a moulded enclosure wall, constructed unusually in sandstone which, to the north, becomes a retaining wall since the embankment has been filled. The dimensions of this rectangle are 425 metres by 125."
Baphuon was inaugurated in 1060 by king Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066) and dedicated to Shiva. Probably the construction started by king Suryavarman I (1002-1050), and was finished by king Harshavarman III (1066-1080).
The pyramid has five tiers, the second and third as well as the fourth and fifth make one step each. The first, third and fifth tier are framed by galleries with gate towers in the cardinal directions, and corner towers. Stairways lead to the gates.
"... the perspective effects give the illusion of a larger structure than reality, and create a different structure with a number of false stairways leading nowhere." (Dumarçay)
The pyramid is steep and tall: the third level is 26.45 m above ground level, the floor of the central tower raises another 8.24 m, total height is 34.8 m. Including the missing central tower the pyramid was some 50 m high. The storeys of the pyramid and their filling were not stable enough; later the pyramid has collapsed.
Buddhist take over
In the 15th century "it was transformed into a Buddhist shrine with the construction, on the west face of the second storey, of a giant sleeping Buddha, more than 60 m long,,. There was no hesitation in using architectural elements for masonry, not only from the first and third levels but also , probably, from the central tower, to form the statue at the base of the second storey." (Dumarçay/Royère)
The site was cleared and superficially conserved from 1908 to 1918.
But the thorough consolidation of the pyramid was only possible by dismantling it and reconstructing it completely, stone by stone, registering every part. The filling was partially replaced by concrete.
This started in 1960-1972. "Unfortunately this work was disrupted when the Khmer Rouge came in to power and all notes about how to re-assemble the stones were lost. Of course, this has severely hampered the second restoration attempt which began in 1995 and was still ongoing when we visited - you could see the dismantled stones lying in rows in front of the temple and can only imagine the complex jigsaw puzzle it must be to put it back together again!" (Travelfish) It was finished in July 2011.
Two months later the pyramid was re-opened to the public. Wooden stairways lead to the upper tiers. The restoration process is well displayed at the east and west gate pavilions of the first level.
"Baphuon is the first temple with abundant narrative reliefs... "
They are arranged in superposed framed panels, mostly measuring 40 cm by 70, reading generally from bottom to top. We find these panels at the proceeding pavilion, east face, at the south gate pavilion of the third enclosure, at the gate pavilions of the second level, and at the west face of the outer west gate.
Selection of reliefs at the second tier
South gate pavilion, south face: Scenes of daily life, of the life of hermits, and of the childhood of Krishna. North face: Scenes of the life of hermits, and of the Ramayana.
East gate pavilion, east face: Scenes of the Ramayana, Arjuna and Shiva struggling over a boar. Scenes of the Mahabharata.
North gate pavilion: Scenes from the Ramayana.
A visit of the Baphuon temple takes one hour at least. Or you just have a look to the pyramid as some tour guides suggest to their guests. Visiting the Baphuon with a guided tour you will not see any reliefs. You can easily visit the temple on your own, just follow the arrows – and don't miss the reliefs! Best time is in the early morning, later it may be hot. The pyramid is open from 7.40 am to 5.00 pm.