Angkor Wat (Cambodia)

Temple in the City of Angkor

Huge tree in Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Huge tree in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Marco Lo Vullo

Angkor Wat is an enormous temple complex, located in ancient Angkor, the capital city of the Angkor civilization (also known as the Khmer Empire) which controlled all of what is today Cambodia and parts of Laos and Thailand between the 9th and 13th centuries AD.

Built between 1130 and 1150 AD by Suryavarman II (ruled 1113-1150 AD), Angkor Wat lies between the valleys of the Stung Ruluos and Stung Puok, near the small town of Siem Reap.

The temple is close to Tonle Sap Lake in northwestern Cambodia: part of the construction of the site included excavation of a four meter (13 foot) long canal, the first piece of what was to become an extensive water control system at Angkor.

Architecture at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat includes an area of about two square kilometers (3/4 of a square mile), surrounded by an enclosing wall and a moat of some 200 m (655 ft) wide. The central sanctuary or pyramid stands some 60 m (200 ft) high and is surrounded by three enclosures with galleries. The building was made of dry (unmortared) stone, with a core of laterite blocks and veneered with Mesozoic sandstone.

The sandstone used in Angkor Wat varies in color greyish green to yellowish brown, and it was quarried from the foot of the Kulen Mountains, about 40 km (25 mi) from the temple site. Attached to the temple is the Eastern Baray water reservoir on the Siem Reap River, with a capacity of sixty million cubic meters (~2100 million cubic feet).

Arguably the largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat is probably known best for the stunning sculpted murals on the interior walls of the palace and mortuary. The temple's sandstone veneer is covered with countless bas-relief carvings illustrating mythological and historical events, divinities and celestial dancers.

Archaeology at Angkor Wat

Archaeological work at Angkor Wat has been completed by Charles Higham, Michael Vickery and Roland Fletcher; most recently Angkor has been the focus of the Greater Angkor Project (GAP) and the Living Angkor Road Project (LARP).

Much of the recent work on Angkor Wat itself has been focused on decreasing the effects of weathering on the soft sandstone temple walls. A recent study of the impact of erosive effects of weathering on the temple has identified several environmental forces at work, such as the recurrent rainy/dry cycle and salts and sulfuric acid from bat guano, and some suggestions for reinforcing the sandstone veneer (Siedel et al). Magnetic susceptabilities have allowed scholars to identify specific quarries from which the stone was quarried (see Uchida et al. 2007).


This glossary entry is a part of the guide to Angkor Civilization, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Hosono T, Uchida E, Suda C, Ueno A, and Nakagawa T. 2006. Salt weathering of sandstone at the Angkor monuments, Cambodia: identification of the origins of salts using sulfur and strontium isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 33(11):1541-1551.

Kummu M. 2009. Water management in Angkor: Human impacts on hydrology and sediment transportation.

Journal of Environmental Management 90(3):1413-1421.

Siedel H, Pfefferkorn S, von Plehwe-Leisen E, and Leisen H. 2010. Sandstone weathering in tropical climate: Results of low-destructive investigations at the temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Engineering Geology 115(3-4):182-192.

Uchida E, Cunin O, Suda C, Ueno A, and Nakagawa T. 2007. Consideration on the construction process and the sandstone quarries during the Angkor period based on the magnetic susceptibility. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:924-935.

Uchida E, Ogawa Y, Maeda N, and Nakagawa T. 2000. Deterioration of stone materials in the Angkor monuments, Cambodia. Engineering Geology 55(1-2):101-112.

Common Misspellings: Ankgor Wat

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Angkor Wat (Cambodia)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, August 9). Angkor Wat (Cambodia). Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Angkor Wat (Cambodia)." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).