By Alessia Hansel Papini
Curious traveler, hard-working student and passionate human being who is based in Rome
| In the midst of the deepest Cambodian jungle lie the remote Angkor temples – the very heart of the Khmer Empire and the holy grail of Buddhists over centuries. Located about six kilometers north of Siem Reap, these breathtaking complexes truly represent the very soul of Cambodia and have been for years a source of fierce national pride, becoming a symbol of Cambodia by appearing on its national flag.
I never thought that I would visit such a remote, tropical country. To be honest, I had only seen such awe-inspiring sceneries in adventurous movies, such as Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones, but they always appeared to be unattainable dreams, not realities which could condense before my eyes into mesmerizing shapes and images that I will never be able to delete from my head.
Stepping foot into these temple-mountains feels like entering a different reality, a different dimension. In fact, they are a miniature replica of the universe and attempt to represent an earthly model of the cosmic world. In the very centre arises the central tower – Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology, alongside a quincunx of towers – the smaller peaks. These are encompassed by continents – the lower courtyards, and the oceans – the moat, representative of the ends of the earth, which is delimitated by a 3.6-kilometer wall. The seven-headed mythical serpents called naga act as a symbolic rainbow bridge for man to reach the abode of the gods.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 1,626,000 m2. Originally constructed by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his mausoleum, it already defied the norm from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings by gradually becoming a Hindu temple of god Vishnu and later on transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century. It is then that the word Wat – the Khmer name for “temple grounds” – was probably added to Angkor, meaning “city” or “capital city”.
It is interesting to notice the orientation to the west of this architectural masterpiece in order to conform to the symbolism between the setting sun and death. From a distance, Angkor Wat appears to be an undefined, colossal mass of stone that emanates mightiness and magnificence, but, as you walk closer, it is possible to appreciate the meticulously defined and extensive bas-reliefs and sculptures that adorn its walls and embellish its elevated towers, covered galleries, chambers and courtyards.
Its perfection in harmony and elegance make it comparable to the Taj Mahal in India and the Colosseum in Rome; its grandeur and monumentality rival with those of the great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the Great Wall of China; its mystery so deep-rooted as that of the world known gems Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan. All this make it one of the finest monuments in the world and in my opinion, an overlooked Wonder of the World.
About Alessia Hansel Papini
I’m Alessia, a humble citizen of the world. Although this may sound ‘cliché,’ I can’t adhere to any of my nationalities – even though on paper I am Italian, German and soon to be American. I have never lived according to the traditions of one culture, but rather an intermittent amalgamation of 3 very distinct perspectives. I have had the enormous luck of having the language pack put into my cradle, which has not only enabled me to speak several languages since I was a little girl, but has also allowed me to get a deeper sensitivity towards the dissimilarities of other civilizations. You can follow my travels through my eyes at TravelMissionPossible.