History : Sep-Oct 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 91 DISCOVERIES From the ninth century, under the Khmer dynasty, Cambodia built up an empire that covered swaths of what is now Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. When the Khmer king Suryavarman II built the Angkor Wat temples in the 1100s, the empire was at the peak of its power. Ang- kor Wat, meaning “capital temple,” was sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu, and the complex’s architecture was greatly influenced by Indian style. In a sign of the region’s shifting religious loyalties, it was later adapted for Bud- dhist worship. In the 1400s, the empire declined. The city was part- ly abandoned and rapidly swallowed by vegetation. Hundreds of years later, its mystery gave rise to out- landish myths among the first Europeans who saw it: (continued on page 94) SKETCHES such as this, made by the young Delaporte on his first visit to Angkor, were used to illustrate the book written by his ex- pedition colleague, Francis Garnier, in 1870. Delaporte described the builders of Angkor as the “Athenians of the Far East.” WONDER OF THE ORIENT LUCATETTONI/CORBIS/GETTYIMAGES TOWERING GLORY A frenzy of architectural invention at the heart of the Cambodian jungle, the temple of Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II in 1150.