To the southeast of the original capital a new temple complex, Angkor Wat [Angkor temple], was created under Suryavarman II (r. 1113–50). Planned as a sepulcher and a monument to the divinity of the monarch and measuring about 1 sq mi (2.6 sq km), it is probably the largest religious structure in the world. Surrounded by a vast moat, the carved gray sandstone temple is approached by means of an extensive causeway bordered on either side by balustrades in the form of giant Nagas (divine serpents). This avenue leads to a magnificent entrance gate. The temple proper is reached through three series of galleries separated by paved courts. The middle series has four corner towers; above it, the highest series also has four corner towers and is joined to the central sanctuary by colonnades. Angkor Wat's rising series of towers and courtyards culminate in a 213-ft (65-m) lotus blossom-shaped central tower. The whole mass has been interpreted as representing the Hindu cosmos.
The architecture of Angkor Wat, derived from the stupa form, is enormously impressive, but the most remarkable feature of the temple compound is its sculptural ornament, covering thousands of feet of wall space. The decoration is in the form of low relief of impeccable craftsmanship, illustrating scenes from the legends of Vishnu and Krishna, with some historical events from the life of the king. More delicate in proportions than their Indian prototypes, many of the figures bear a resemblance to modern Cambodian dancers in their elegance of gesture and stateliness of pose. In 1177 Angkor was sacked by the Chams, and Angkor Wat fell into ruins.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.