Originally built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as Hindu temple representing Mount Meru, the home of the lord Brahma and the devtas, it was later turned into a Buddhist temple. It is today the largest religious monument and the most visited religious sites in the world.
The name, Angkor Wat probably originated from the Sanskrit words nagar meaning city and wat meaning enclosure. Angkor Wat temple is dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity, rather than the reigning king- something unusual at that time.
The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the Angkor city. The main tower of the temple rises 213 feet high. The 200 acres temple compound is enclosed by walls and a wide moat. Unlike other temples in the region, this temple is west aligned, this means that it faces the sunset and the setting sun adds to its beauty in the evening.
A symbol of Cambodia’s pride, the temple has the rare honor of appearing on the Cambodian national flag and currency notes. It is a prime attraction for the visitors.
Even though many modern temples like the Virat Ramayan Mandir in Bihar and Swaminarayan temple in New Jersey are claiming to construct bigger and higher temples — Angkor Wat still covers the largest area. The Angkor ruins stretch over more than 248 square miles (400 square kilometers). Such a huge monument covering an area bigger than modern-day Paris would have millions of tonnes of sandstone weighing some 1.5 tons each– far greater in volume and mass than the all the giant pyramids in Egypt combined. According to local folklore, the entire temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.
Sokimex, a private company, had rented Angkor Wat from the Cambodian government in 1990 and has been managing the tourism — for profit. A week-long pass to see the Angkor temple costs US $60 while a single-day pass can be purchased for US $20. But ironically only 28% of the ticket sales are ploughed back into maintaining the temple.
Angkor Wat was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 when an international collaborative effort was made to restore the site and prevent further collapse of unstable structures.