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Piero Favero | all galleries >> Angkor temples - Cambodia >> Angkor Wat > Angkor Vat history - read text
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Angkor Vat history - read text

For hundreds of years, the lost city of Angkor was itself a legend. Cambodian peasants living on the edge of the thick jungle around the Tonle Sap lake reported findings which puzzled the French colonialists who arrived in Indo-China in the 1860s. The peasants said they had found "temples built by gods or by giants." Their stories were casually dismissed as folktales by the pragmatic Europeans. Yet some did believe that there really was a lost city of a Cambodian empire which had once been powerful and wealthy, but had crumbled many years before.

Henri Mahout's discovery of the Angkor temples in 1860 opened up this `lost city' to the world. The legend became fact and a stream of explorers, historians and archaeologists came to Angkor to explain the meaning of these vast buildings. The earliest of these scholars could not believe that Angkor had been built by the Cambodian people, believing the temples to have been built by another race who had conquered and occupied Cambodia maybe 2,000 years before. Gradually, some of the mysteries were explained, the Sanskrit inscriptions deciphered and the history of Angkor slowly pieced together, mainly by French scholars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Legends still remain. This once great city which had slept for so long still posed many questions. The foundation of the original Kingdom of Cambodia, Funan, supposedly came about by the union of a fairy princess and an Indian brahmin.

The kingdom went through many changes in the first 1,000 years of its existence. Funan was added to Chenla and eventually became the Kingdom of Kambuja under King Suryavarman I (c. AD800 to AD850). The way in which Suryavarman became king is told in the legend of Zagab. It is about a wise Indonesian king who chose Suryavarman as Kambuja's new ruler in order to replace his boastful predecessor.

Some of the individual temples also have legends attached to them. The Phimeanakas Temple, built by Rajendravarman (AD944 - AD968) was said to be visited every night by a snake princess, on whom the prosperity of the kingdom depended. Local guides and villagers will undoubtedly tell visitors more about the legends surrounding the once lost city of Angkor.

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