Mother Nature Reclaims: Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor in Cambodia, one of the largest ancient structures in the world, is also one of the best examples of how Mother Nature reclaims her sacred sites.

Sacred sites refer to an area of land deemed especially sacred to Mother Nature and her indigenous lifeforms. Many architectural constructions, namely places of worship, have been built on sacred sites around the world, the ancient city of Angkor included.

The area of Angkor is in fact a complex of temples, palaces, basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals, and ruins dotted through the Cambodian jungle, dedicated to Hindu and Buddhist deities. With Angkor Wat the most famous and visited of the structures that remain, Angkor is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, stretching some 400 km2. It features the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century.

Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple in 1113 by a Khmer ruler to honour the Hindu god Vishnu, but it was later changed to a Buddhist temple when King Suryavaman II changed the state religion from Hinduism to Buddhism.

Today tourists from all over the world come to visit Angkor, which was abandoned by the Khmer Kings in the 15th century, the reason why still remaining a mystery, relocating their kingdom to Phnom Penh, the present day capital of Cambodia.

For the best part of 400 years or so, Angkor was left to the jungle to intimately reclaim its space, permeating the walls and structures. It was widely chronicled that Frenchman Henri Mouhot “rediscovered” Angkor in the 1840s, but this claim is persistently refuted by evidence that the complex of temples remained an important monument for Buddhists from the time of the Khmer Kings departure right through to the 1800s, as it is still today.

Reconstruction and restoration work and repairs carried out over time meant that many temples were stripped from the grips of the jungle and its wilderness. While Angkor Wat appears to take centre stage and restored to its jungle-free confines, it’s other parts of the Angkor complex reclaimed by nature that rather wondrously garners the attention of those with a love and respect for Mother Nature.

Nature has entwined itself at Ta Prohm most spectacularly. A temple of towers, closed courtyards and maze-like corridors, silk-cotton and strangler fig trees have firmly entrenched their roots winding through the structure in a duel between Mother Nature and architecture whereby naturally the jungle reigns the day – the ultimate warrior.

No matter how grandiose the architecture of Ta Prohm, which was originally built as a Buddhist monastery and learning centre, what the ruins today illustrates that manmade constructs are no match for Mother Nature. At Ta Prohm, Bas-reliefs are blanketed in lichen, moss and creeping plants, and trees, likely hundreds of years old, naturally have broken apart stones of the temple.

Ta Prohm today is fondly referred to as the “Tomb Raider Temple” by locals and tourists alike, for its appearance in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, where Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft picks a jasmine flower at the ruins before falling through the earth.

Another of the temples to have honoured the jungle’s takeover is Beng Mealea. While Ta Prohm, given its “fame factor” gets the pruning treatment from restorers every so often to scale back nature’s reign, Beng Mealea fortunately does not and retains the jungle in its intrepid glory.

Located around 70km outside of Siam Reap, Beng Mealea is shrouded in mystery and is increasingly atmospheric.

Beng Mealea is largely in ruins, with stone structures collapsed lieing on the ground, as nature has rampantly swept through the ruins since Beng Mealea was abandoned. The site is now overrun by plants, trees grow out of stone, vines wrap around doorways, and roots have stretched through walls.

Trees also grow from the broken towers at Beng Mealea and wind their way over fallen walls. While parts of Beng Mealea have been reinforced, the site largely remains untouched by restoration.

For years, very few visited Beng Mealea as it was difficult to reach. While a road has been built in recent times, the ruins still remain an adventure of a select few visitors, and for those who do visit, it is by far the most marvellous discoveries of nature reclaiming its land to be seen of Angkor.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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