A lecture by a professor of Archeology

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Archeology.

Professor: In this unit on ancient architecture, we've talked about the Taj Mahal, and about Machu Picchu in Peru, and uh, of course about the buildings on the Acropolis in Athens, and now I want to say a word or two about Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, which is a vast complex of temples that was built for the Khmer king, King Suryavaram the Second, in the early twelfth century A.D.

Angkor Wat was intended to be both a national temple and the capital city of the Khmer kings, but all of the city- all of the public buildings and shops and residences- are gone. They were all wooden structures, and all that remain are the impressive carved sandstone temples- there are over a hundred of them!- in the classical style of Khmer architecture.

The Khmer kingdom flourished from about 800 AD to 1400 AD, for about six hundred years, and it controlled vast areas of southeast Asia, from the borders of China to the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India. During this time, the city of Angkor became an important destination for pilgrims from all over southeast Asia.

The temple complex is a combination of two basic Khmer designs- the 'gallery temple' and the 'temple mountain'. The massive, 65-meter tall pyramid, the 'mountain', of Anghor Wat is surrounded by a moat and then a wall that encloses almost two square kilometers of space. Inside the wall, there are three inter-nested, that is, concentric, galleries, raised consecutively, like steps, and then the pyramid rises at the center, with a crown of five lotus-like towers. It's architecturally and artistically breath-taking!

The galleries and the moat were built after the pyramid, because their architecture was noticeably influenced by Indian Hindu temples. This is evident in characteristic features like the 'jagati', which is a raised terrace or platform that the temple is placed on. All of the temple walls, inside and outside, are covered with beautiful bas-reliefs showing stories from Hindu mythology, historical narratives of Khmer battles, scenes from heaven and hell, and so on.

The most extraordinary carvings are on the exterior walls of the third and lowest level. These include the 'Churning of the Ocean Milk', the most famous panel of bas-relief at Angkor Wat, and one of the greatest scenes ever sculpted in stone. The myth centres on the gods and demons at the beginning of the world, who have been churning the ocean of milk for 1000 years in an effort to produce an elixir that will render them immortal The gods, discouraged because they've been unsuccessful in producing the elixir, and exhausted from fighting the demons, seek help from Vishnu, who tells them to work together with the demons and continue churning, and eventually they succeed.

The mountainous central pyramid represents Mount Meru, the home of the devas, the Hindu gods, and the five towers represent its five peaks. The surrounding galleries and moat represent mountain ranges and the ocean.

The surreal magnificence of Angkor Wat has inspired various theories of its origin, its design, and its purpose. The orthodox view is that the location was simply chosen for practical, economic reasons- for its agricultural potential- and as a strategic military position. It was constructed by powerful Khmer kings as a service to their gods and to their people.

However, other archeologists have suggested that Angkor Wat's layout matches various complex astronomical measurements- that it was perhaps designed, and was carefully aligned and calculated, to be an intrinsic part of the spiritual harmonization of the universe in their ancient system of cosmology or astrology.

Well, we do know at least that the design is not like most Khmer temples. It is oriented in the opposite direction, to the west instead of to the east, and the bas-relief carvings proceed in a counter-clockwise direction, which is the reverse of the usual order. Because Hindu funeral rituals are performed in reverse order, this has led many archeologists to believe that Angkor Wat was designed to be King Suryavaram's funerary temple or tomb. If so, it would be the most expensive tomb ever built! But other archeologists say that its western alignment is because it was dedicated to Vishnu, who was associated with that direction. So Angkor Wat's precise purpose remains unclear, a mystery for tour guides to exploit.

Not long after Suryavaram's death, in 1177, Angkor was sacked by the Khmer's sworn enemies, the Chans, and then in the following century, the king converted the official religion from Hinduism to Buddhism, so Angkor Wat was converted to Buddhist use. It was generally neglected over the succeeding centuries, but it was never entirely abandoned, and this accounts for its relatively reasonable state of preservation from the encroaching jungle.

A lot of restoration work has been going on since the early twentieth century, but one of the temples, called Ta Prohm, has been left alone, entangled in the jungle just as it was when it was discovered, and the giant fig tree roots continue to engulf it, tearing up its sandstone walls and sculptures. So we can see how lucky we are to have much of Angkor Wat still with us.


According to the lecturer, when was Angkor Wat constructed?


Which is NOT mentioned as a part of Angkor Wat's design?


Why does the lecturer mention 'jagati'?


Which is NOT a theory about Angkor Wat?


What is the 'Churning of the Ocean Milk'?


According to the lecturer, which factor most accounts for the present condition of Angkor?