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Angkor Wat

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Nicole Jimmelson
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« on: April 19, 2007, 01:25:39 pm »



An 1866 photograph of Angkor Wat by Emile Gsell.

One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of".[5] However, the temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes. The French explorer wrote of it:

One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.[6]

 
The Cambodian flag includes a depiction of Angkor Wat.Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, was unable to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation.[7] Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.[8]

The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great pride for the country's people. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of every Cambodian national flag since the introduction of the first version circa 1863[9]—the only building to appear on any national flag.[10] In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumour circulated that a Thai soap opera actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.[11]

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