Terrace of the Leper King

March 1, 2009

in Angkor Temples

Temple Name: Terrace of the Leper King
Notable Features: Wonderfully ornate bas-relief sculptures.
Getting There:
Located just north of the Terrace of the Elephants.

A Great Khmer Mystery

The Terrace of the Leper King is a massive mound of laterite (clay) that is held in place by a series of ornately carved sandstone walls. This extraordinary structure owes its name to a small statue that sits atop the terrace. Khmer lore indicates that the statue represents King Yasovarman, the Khmer ruler who died of leprosy in the 10th century. Other theories suggest that the statue represents the Hindu deity Yama, the god of death. Whatever the case, a replica now sits in the original statues place.

The terrace’s outer walls are 25 meters long and 6 meters high. Nagas, Apsaras, demons, and other mythological creatures are carved in high relief out of the sandstone walls. The carvings compose a series of seven registers, each of which wraps around the entirety of the terrace. The uppermost register is heavily weathered; most of the carvings have disappeared. Archeologists believe that these registers are the elements of a single composition, not independent pieces.

French archeologists discovered and excavated a second system of walls in the 1990’s. This second system, also covered in bas-reliefs, is located approximately 2 meters behind the outer system. The void between the two walls was filled with laterite, which had to be removed with pick axes and shovels. Today, there is a trench between the inner and outer wall systems. Visitors feel like ants as they walk between the 6-meter high walls.

The reason for the inner and outer wall remains unclear. Perhaps the Khmer people simply wanted the terrace to be bigger. Or, perhaps the inner walls were structurally or artistically flawed in some way. The bas-reliefs on both wall systems depict identical scenes. Because of this, most archeologists believe that the outer walls were constructed to make the terrace bigger, not to improve upon the original carvings.

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