National Geographic : 2000 Aug
Angkor's Grand Plan CROWN JEWEL oftheformer Khmer capital,Angkor Wat today (right)is the largest and best preserved of the more than 100 temples in the 75-square mile Angkor complex. From the 9th to 13th centuries Khmer kings typically consecratedtheir reigns by buildingnew temples. The temples were part of a much largerproject thatspannedgenerations. A vast network of dams and canals captured waterflowingfrom nearby hills, enablingthe Khmer to enjoy an extra rice harvest each grow ing season, which helped sustain the empirefor more than 500 years. Rectangularreservoirs calledbarays were symbolic as well as practical: They representedthe waters of the cosmos. bas-reliefs, loomed up ahead. The enormous temple-it covers more than 500,000 square feet-was submerged under giant silk-cotton trees, thick bushes, banyans dropping curtains of vines, and rank, steaming vegetation. As we turned a corner, we came to a broad path freshly macheted through the jungle, littered with cigarette butts and candy wrappers. Puzzled, we followed the path and arrived at a scene of destruction. Looters had pulled down a section of the south wall that was covered with bas-reliefs of a battle. Fresh broken stone lay everywhere. Woody vines dangled in empty air in crazy geometric shapes, still following the pattern of blocks they had once threaded. Sokhon picked up a cut tendril. "Look at this," he said, his voice shaking. "The leaves aren't even wilted. This is still going on right now. We've got to leave immediately."