Terrace of the Elephants

March 1, 2009

in Angkor Temples

Temple Name: Terrace of the Elephants
Notable Features: Over 300 meters long. Covered in stunning bas-relief sculptures of elephants, horses, lions, dancers, and warriors.
Getting There: The Terrace of the Elephants is one of the most popular sites in Angkor Thom. Any tuk tuk driver will know how to take you there.

Walking With the Sculptures

The Terrace of the Elephant King is a 2.5-meter tall terrace that stretches over 300 meters through the core of Angkor Thom. Three main platforms and two secondary platforms compose the terrace. On the terrace’s north end is the Terrace of the Leper King. On the terrace’s south end is the Baphuon.

Khmer King Jayavarman VII ordered the construction of the terrace sometime in the late 12th or early 13th century. The Terrace of the Elephants is considered to be the magnum opus of King Jayavarman VII’s kingship, and perhaps the grandest royal terrace in Cambodia.

In the 13th century, the Chinese emperor sent a diplomat named Zhou Daguan to Cambodia. According to Zhou’s records, the Terrace of the Elephants was once covered in wooden pavilions and golden-framed mirrors. The mirrors were used to reflect the events – religious ceremonies and parades – that used to take place in the courtyard below the terrace.

The northern section of the terrace contains some particularly gorgeous carvings. Among the most notable is the five-headed horse bas-relief and the depictions of Khmer warriors and dancers. The northern section faces the east, so you should view these carvings before noon, when the lighting is ideal. In the afternoons, the northern carvings are heavily shadowed, making it difficult to capture good photographs.

On the terraces south end, the elephant depictions are absolutely breathtaking. Many of the elephant carvings are almost full-size. Walking next to these gargantuan elephant carvings, your mind will wander into ancient Cambodia. Your senses will perceive the presence of living elephants, with lotus flowers in their trunks, and Khmer warriors at their reins.

From atop the terrace you will view an enormous courtyard. The Khmer people used to host a variety of religious ceremonies, parades, and possibly sporting events in this massive courtyard. It is awe-inspiring to stand on this ancient terrace and imagine elephants and warriors and musicians filling the open space below.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David 06.05.10 at 5:58 am

The terrace of the elephants was another amazing destination we were able to visit during our trip there last year.

It was also referred in our tourist brochures as the Terrace of the Leper King which is just on the north end of the structure.

We were unlucky as we didn’t get a chance to experience the Terrace of the Elephants before noon as we got lost on our way there. The photos still managed to turn out but it did make it harder to see some of the carvings on the Leper King part of the terrace.

Wondering if it would make for a better time at dawn with the morning light.

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