Angkor Wat - History and Facts | History Hit

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is an incredible, vast 12th century temple in Cambodia and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

About Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is an enormous 12th century temple complex in Cambodia and the best preserved of its kind. Incredibly grand and ornately decorated, Angkor Wat’s sand-coloured buildings rise up to form five towers, representing the home of the Hindu deities. Friezes and sculptures are found throughout, depicting both day-to-day life from the time it was built and religious events.

History of Angkor Wat

Whilst the complex in Angkor is believed to have been founded circa 980 AD by Yasovarman I, king of the Khmer Dynasty, Angkor Wat itself is thought to date back to the 12th century. It was the Khmer king Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150. He dedicated it to the Hindu deity Vishnu and there are images of Suryavarman as Vishnu throughout Angkor Wat in the form of sculptures. Angkor Wat is also thought to be an earthly representation of Mount Meru, the divine abode of the Hindu gods. It is also thought that Angkor Wat was the site of Suryavarman’s tomb.

Angkor Wat was sacked in the late 12th century, and after that began to be converted from a Hindu site to a Buddhist one. It was largely neglected after the 16th century but never fully abandoned. The French explorer Henri Mouhot ‘rediscovered’ the site in 1860 and popularised it in the Western imagination through his writings.

France claimed Cambodia as a protectorate shortly afterwards and invaded Siem Reap, partly in an attempt to gain control of the ruins. Throughout the 20th century a major restoration project was undertaken at Angkor Wat, and displays and replicas of Angkor Wat were displayed back in France, to much acclaim and awe.

Despite the turbulent politics of late 20th century Cambodia, very little damage was done to Angkor Wat. It was art thieves from Thailand who caused severe damage, lopping heads off whatever structures they possibly could. Angkor Wat has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

Angkor Wat today

Angkor Wat is unsurprisingly one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites. There is an incredible amount to see and it’s a good (although relatively expensive) idea to get a licensed tour guide.

You’ll need time to explore the whole complex – allow for half a day minimum if you want to explore the site fully. Sunrise or sunset are good times to go, avoiding the heat of the day and the worst of the visitors, otherwise lunchtime – whilst hot – is often slightly quieter. Angkor Wat is a sacred site, so dress respectfully and cover up – shoulders should be covered and knee-length shorts and skirts are best, if not full length. Do not climb on the structures or go into places which are clearly marked as forbidden.

Getting to Angkor War

Angkor Wat is just outside the city of Krong Siem Reap. Getting here is straight forward – head north out of town on Charles de Gaulle Road and you’ll hit the temple complex. Hop on a tuktuk or taxi to get there – the journey shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes.

Featured In

Ancient Cities to Visit

Discover ancient history: these 15 metropolises, from the ruins of Pompeii to the mountainous Machu Picchu, are must-visit relics of the ancient world.