Angkor Wat is an enormous Buddhist temple complex located in Siem Reap city of Cambodia. It was originally built in the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple. Spread across more than 400 acres, Angkor Wat is said to be the largest religious monument in the world. Its name, which translates to ‘temple city’ in the Khmer language.
Although it is no longer an active temple, it serves as an important tourist attraction in Cambodia, despite the fact it sustained significant damage during the autocratic rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and in earlier regional conflicts. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it was built by Emperor Suryavarman II, who ruled the region from 1113 to 1150, Angkor Wat was the State temple and political center of his empire.
Unfortunately, Angkor Wat had been sacked by a rival tribe to the Khmer, who in turn, at the direction of the new emperor, Jayavarman VII, moved their capital to Angkor Thom and their State temple to Bayon. Although Angkor Wat was no longer a site of political, cultural or commercial significance by the 13th century, it remained an important monument for the Buddhist religion into the 1800s.
Angkor Wat was never truly abandoned. Rather, it fell gradually into disuse. Nonetheless, it remained an architectural marvel. The complex was ‘rediscovered’ in 1840s by the French explorer Henri Mouhot, who wrote that the site was grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.
Although Angkor Wat remained in use until fairly recently — into the 1800s — the site has sustained significant damage, from forest overgrowth to earthquakes to war.
The French, who ruled what is now known as Cambodia for much of the 20th century, established a commission to restore the site for tourism purposes in the early 1900s. While restoration work was accomplished in bits and pieces under French rule, major efforts didn’t begin in earnest until the 1960s.
When Cambodia fell into a brutal civil war in the 1970s, Angkor Wat, somewhat miraculously, sustained relatively minimal damage.
Later, the international community, including representatives of India, Germany and France, among others, have contributed to the ongoing restoration efforts. In 1992, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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