Angkor is one of the world's biggest archeological treasures. The site contains hundreds of structures, many of which have not been recovered yet. They were built between 800 and 1300 AD and are of impressive size and artistry.
Part of the mythical aura that surrounds Angkor stems from its recovery from the jungle. The city was abandoned in the 15th century after the capital had been sacked by a Thai army. Although people used to live there for a long time after and foreigners visited the site in the 16th and 17th century, much of the city was overgrown after centuries.
|Ta Keo, rebuilt with Chinese help|
From the 1920s French archeologists (Cambodia was a French colony at the time) have started to recover and restore the temples. After the peace process in the 1990s and a listing as a UNESCO world heritage site these works, supported by archeologists from all over the world, have sped up.
|The top structure of Pre Rup. An early temple, with lots of bricks|
What makes Angkor interesting is that there are structures built over a period of 500 years, and you can see different styles interacting. Those style changes also reflect changes in religion, for example the shift in focus between Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu and later to Buddhism.
|Stone surrounded by jungle|
On the other hand, all that remains now is stone, surrounded by jungle. That makes it very hard to imagine the living city of a millenium hence, with the stone plastered, painted and covered in copper or gold, the wooden buildings and the surrounding countryside cut by rice paddies and irrigation canals.
And of course the people of the city are missing. Angkor must have had tens if not a hundred thousand inhabitants. Officials and traders from the provinces under Angkorian control must have visited, as well as foreigners. A late 13th century Chinese diplomat has left an account that adds a lot of colour to our understanding of daily life, but it is hard to envision in the present environment.
One touch of nuance however. Apart from the temples there remains another element in the landscape: the baray, or water storages. The two largest of them, to the west and east of the city, measure several square kilometers. It is still discussed whether they were built to supply water to the inhabitants and/or irrigation system, or for purely symbolic reasons, but they are still visible and in some cases partially filled to this day.