Angkor Wat was built for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. The largest and best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre-first Hindu , then Buddhist -since its foundation. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture . It has become a symbol of Cambodia , appearing on its national flag , (the only building to appear on any national flag) and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture : the temple mountain and the later galleried temples. It is designed to represent Mount Meru , home of the gods in Hindu mythology : within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west ; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. As well as for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture , the temple is admired for its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.According to Guinness World Records , it is the largest religious structure in the world

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture -the Angkor Wat style-to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become more skilled and confident than before in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite ) as the main building material. The Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in which quality was often sacrificed to quantity. Other temples in the style are Banteay Samré , Thommanon , Chao Say Tevoda and the early temples of Preah Pithu at Angkor ; outside Angkor, Beng Mealea and parts of Phanom Rung and Phimai .

Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece or Rome .Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival , redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half- galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested. Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras) , bas-reliefs , and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes. Statuary is conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu , it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown. It is located 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap , and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred on the Baphuon . Work seems to have come to an end on the king's death, with some of the bas-reliefs unfinished. In 1177 Angkor was sacked by the Chams , the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII , who established a new capital and state temple which lie a few kilometres to the north.

In the 14th or 15th century the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned. Its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle. Around this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok , after the posthumous title of Suryavarman. The modern name, in use by the 16th century means "City Temple": One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena , a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it is 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. However, the temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot 's travel notes. The French explorer wrote of it.

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.

Since the 1990s Angkor Wat has seen a resumption of conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism . The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site , established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site. The German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) is working to protect the devatas and other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple from damage. The organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier restoration efforts. Other work involves the repair of collapsed sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse: the west facade of the upper level, for example, has been buttressed by scaffolding since 2002, while a Japanese team completed restoration of the north library of the outer enclosure in 2005.

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