The Bayon

March 1, 2009

in Angkor Temples

Temple Name: The Bayon
Notable Features: The more than 200 carved stone faces.
Getting There: The Bayon is situated in the center of Angkor Thom. This is an extremely popular tourist destination. Any tuk tuk driver or tour guide will know how to take you there.

The Temple of Stone Faces

Located in the middle of Angkor Thom, the Bayon is one Cambodia’s most famous temples, second only to Angkor Wat. The Bayon owes its notoriety both to its sheer enormity and to the beautiful stone faces that adorn the temple’s 57 standing towers.

Jayavarman VII began constructing the Bayon in the latter half of the 12th century, and finished work on the temple in the beginning of the 13th century. The Bayon is considered by many to be the masterpiece of Jayavarman VII’s massive construction campaign.

The stone faces of the Bayon have become some of the most discernable images of the Khmer Empire. They affect historians and travelers with the same sense of awe that must’ve overcome the original inhabitants of Angkor Thom. The faces represent an unknown man or deity. Archeological theory suggests that they either symbolize Loksvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, or a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII.

The architects of the Bayon designed it to represent Mount Meru, which is the epicenter of the Buddhist / Hindu universe (heaven). From afar, the Bayon actually appears to be a massive stone mountain, void of symmetry and other common aesthetic principles. But when the Bayon is observed up close, it’s true genius becomes apparent.

Over 200 faces cover the temple’s 57 towers. Detailed ornaments adorn the temple walls. Bas-reliefs of animals and Khmer workers seem to roam the temple grounds. And carved lotus blossoms and other floral depictions give the temple a natural air.

The Bayon may be entered from all four of the cardinal directions. It is recommended, though, that guests enter from the east entrance. Here, visitors can observe some of the temple’s most detailed carvings. The carvings in the Bayon depict everyday Khmer life. Unlike the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat which primary depict otherworldly creatures and scenes, the Bayon tells a different story… the story of the Khmer man and the Khmer woman. There are marketplace scenes, depictions of cockfights, banquets, and even a game of chess.

Inside the Bayon, visitors roam a series of narrow hallways and passages. Fallen temple stones block some of the passages, giving the Bayon’s interior a maze-like appearance.

After visitors explore the Bayon’s crumbled underbelly, they climb up onto the temple’s upper floor. Here, travelers encounter the stone faces up close. The view form atop the Bayon is also quite stunning.

No trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit to the Bayon. You can spend hours roaming the temple halls, delving into the fascinating stories etched into the ancient stone.

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