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Architecture - Khmer Civilization
History of Cambodia
The house of the local people in ancient Khmer was more or less similar to those found today in villages of modern Cambodia. It was elevated about two and a half meters above the ground with the wooden ladder and was built by wooden piles which supported the floor, the walls and the roof.  The wall was made up of either the straws or the bamboo with the roof covered with the thatched leaves of dry coconut palms.

The architecture of the dignitaries' houses and the palaces was somewhat different from those of the laymen, and differed in sizes, layouts and dimensions. The materials used to built the house consisted of stronger wooden planks, generally made up of teakwood, and the roof was covered with tiles for the inner rooms and with thatched leaves for the outer corners.   These differences clearly identified the classes of the people by which the laymen were not even dare to put up a single tile on their roof.

According to Hinduism, the gods reside in the five sacred mountains with central Mount Meru and these mountains are surrounded by the cosmic ocean. The structure of the Khmer temples mostly symbolizes the heavenly residence of the gods with five towers, called prasats. The central dominant tower or prasat represents the Mount Meru with four smaller ones, each at its corners, to represent the other four sacred mountains of the heaven. In some temples, there are galleries connecting the towers.  The moat surrounding the temple symbolizes the cosmic ocean.

As the residence of gods, the temples were made up of more endurable materials such as the bricks, laterites and sandstones.  Numerous stones were carved with artistic craftsmanship to portray the gods and the deities, the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, and in many instances, the important events of Khmer history as well as that of the king who was its founder.  For the temples dedicated to Buddhism in the later centuries, the architecture is much less prominent with some stone carving related to the stories of Lord Buddha and his teaching.

In addition to the remarkable temples, the ancient Khmer also had showed its architectural genius by building large reservoirs and dikes which were essential in agriculture as well as for the survival of the people. The two largest reservoirs were the East Baray and the West Baray.   The former one, built during the reign of Yasovarman I, was 7 1/2 kilometer long and 1 km 830 meters wide with the depth of 4-5 meter and holds up to 55 million cubic meters of water.  The latter was almost twice larger, covering the area of 1,760 hectares with the depth of 7 meters and hold over 123 million cubic meters of water.  These reservoirs collected the water  from the nearby rivers through dikes and help significantly to prevent floods by collecting water from heavy rainfall during the Monsoon season.  There were also smaller reservoirs, many ponds and moats which were constructed in the vicinity of the various temples, and thus further helped in water storage.  This water was used in everyday life of the Khmer people, and irrigated to the farmland during the dry season.  The Angkor Empire was therefore able to cultivate crops and rice two to three times in a year, resulting in its prosperity.

The extensive road system of the ancient Khmer enable us to draw a virtual map of the Angkor Empire during its peak.  These roads were built by raising the earth as the pavement, however, most parts of these roads were lost but some vestiges remain. The Angkor being at the center of the civilization had its roads branching out in all directions. The northern route passes through Buriram and Phimai which are now in Thailand and divide into two branches, one to Vientiane, the modern Laos capital and another to Srisatchanalai and Sukhothai, the first capital of Thailand, while the southern one leads to Phnompenh and ends at Oc Eo in Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The eastern route heads to Kompong Cham until present-day Hochiminh City in South Vietnam where it curves northward along the coast up as far as Hue in Central Vietnam. The western route runs through Aranyapathet in modern Thailand until Chao Phya River Basin where Ayuthaya and Lopburi resides before extending westward until Maung Singh in Kanchanaburi near the Burma border.

 
 
 

Written by Aphisit W.
Photos: Passage through Angkor

 
Historical Background :
Indian's Influence
Inscription
Religion
Lineage
Khmer Society
Khmer People
Architectures
Sculptures
Mastery over Water
Khmer Civilization :
Khmer Civilization
Pre-Angkor Era
Angkor Era
Post Angkor Era
Rise and Fall of Khmer
Chronology
 
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