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Angkor Wat (Khmer for "Capital Temple;" “ankor” was a vernacular form of “nokor,” city or capital, from the Sanskrit “nagara,” and” wat”(temple grounds) was derived from “vaṭa,” Sanskrit for "enclosure"), 5.5 km (3.4 mi) north of Siem Reap, Cambodia, is the world’s largest religious monument, measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 sq m; 402 acres). It was made out of 5-10 million sandstone blocks weighing at least 1.5 tons each; the entire city of Angkor used up much more stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined and occupied an area larger than modern Paris. Moreover, unlike the Egyptian pyramids, which used limestone quarried 0.5 km (0.31 mi) away, Angkor’s sandstone was quarried at Mt. Kulen, at least 40 km (25 mi) distant. The stones, as smooth as polished marble, were laid without mortar with very tight joints and held together by mortise and tenon joints or by dovetails and gravity. Designed to represent Mt. Meru, the home of the Hindu devas (gods), with the central quincunx of towers, 65 m (213 ft) high, symbolizing the mountain’s five peaks, and the 4.5 m (15 ft) laterite walls and 190 m (620 ft) wide moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean, Indra (according to legend) ordered its construction as a palace for his son, Precha Ket Mealea; and the 13th century Chinese diplomat Daguan Zhou claimed it was constructed in a single night.
However, it was actually built in the early 12th century by Suryavarman II in his capital, Yaśodharapura, as his state temple (dedicated to Vishnu instead of Shiva, so it was oriented to the west, unlike most of the other temples there), and probably also as his eventual mausoleum (since its bas-reliefs proceeded in a counter-clockwise direction; rituals took place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services). Nearly all of the surfaces, columns, lintels, and roofs were carved; the gallery wall alone had almost 1,000 sq m of bas relief friezes (“the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving," according to Charles Higham), mainly depicting scenes from the “Ramayana” and the “Mahabharata” or from the life of Krishna, the 32 hells and 37 heavens, and the creation myth, showing 92 asuras (demons) and 88 devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the Sea of Milk under Vishnu's direction. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king’s death, and a quarter century later, in 1177, the Chams sacked the place. Jayavarman VII established a new capital (Ankor Thom) and state temple (the Bayon) a few kilometers to the north, and Angkor Wat gradually transformed into a Theravada Buddhist site. Although it was neglected after the 16th century, it was never completely abandoned, and Japanese Buddhist pilgrims, who regarded it as the Jetavana garden where Gautama Buddha had given most of his teachings and discourses, established small settlements among those of the Khmer locals. When the Portuguese Capuchin friar António da Madalena visited in 1586, he said it was “of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of;" he attempted a reconstruction effort, but he died in a shipwreck off Natal and the project was unsuccessful. In the 19th century it was popularized by Henri Mouhot, who found it difficult to believe that the Khmers could have built it and mistakenly dated it to at least a millennium earlier than its actual construction; according to him, "One of these temples -- a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michel Angelo -- might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged." Mouhot’s attention to the artistic legacy of the Angkor region led directly to France declaring Cambodia as a protectorate in 1863 and invading Siam (Thailand) to take control of the ruins, allowing Cambodia to reclaim lands in the northwest that had been under Siamese control since the 14th or 15th century. Restoration began with the establishment of the Conservation d'Angkor (Angkor Conservancy) by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) in 1908, but this organization was disbanded in 1975 during the Khmer Rouge rule. Work resumed in 1986 by the Archaeological Survey of India, and in 1992 Angkor Wat was listed by UNESCO as both a World Heritage in Danger and World Heritage Site. In 1993, only 7,650 tourists visited the site, but by 2004 the number grew to 561,000 and by 2012 to over 2 million.
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