North of the Golden Tower [Bayon] … rises the Tower of Bronze [Baphuon], higher even than the Golden Tower: a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.
Location: 200 metres (656 feet) north-west of the Bayon, and south of Phimeanakas
Access: enter and leave at the east
Tip: access to the temple mountain is restricted as much of the temple has collapsed and is currently under repair until 2004
Date: middle of the 11th century (1060)
King: Udayadityavarman II (reigned 1050-1066)
Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)
Art sty1e: Baphuon
The massive size and grandeur of the Baphuon is unrecognisable today because much of the temple has either collapsed or been dismantled. The EFEO was restoring this temple when it was forced to abandon work and leave Angkor in 1972 because of war; they have now resumed their work. With a total cost estimated at US$10 million, the restoration is expected to be completed in 2004. Even though the Baphuon is situated inside the royal city of Angkor Thom it dates from the 11th century. A highlight of the temple is the bas-reliefs, which differ from most others as they are vignettes carved in small stone squares set one above the other on the temple walls, similar to tiling. Unfortunately few of these are visible because of the poor state of the temple.
Baphuon is a single temple-mountain sanctuary situated on a high base symbolizing Mount Meru. A rectangular sandstone wall measuring 425 by 125 metres (1.394 by 410 feet) encloses the temple (1). A special feature 1s the long elevated eastern approach (200 metres, 656 feet) supported by three rows of short, round columns forming a bridge to the main temple. This arrangement is unusual in Khmer art. Tip: before walking down the approach turn left at the east gopura (2)and walk to the end of the gallery for a superb view of a four-faced tower of the Bayon fratned in a doorway of the Baphuon, pausing on the way back to the centre for a good view of the eastern approach and columns. The approach is intercepted by a central cruciform pavilion (4) with terraces on its left and right sides. Turn left and walk to the end of the gallery to see a rectangular paved pool (5).
Originally, a central tower shrine with four porches crowned the peak of the mountain, but it collapsed long ago. The shrine stood on a rectangular sandstone base of five diminishing platforms, rather than the more common square format. The first, second and third levels are surrounded by concentric sandstone galleries. Baphuon is the earliest example of a monument at Angkor with this feature. Two cruciform libraries (6) with four porches stand in the courtyard. They were at one time connected by an elevated walkway supported by columns.
If accessible, proceed to the temple by walking along the eastern approach, climb the steps to the first platform and enter the gopura. Notice the bas-reliefs on the walls and study the details and workmanship. Walk to the left and around the temple, always keeping it on your right. Continue to the west side and stand in’ the middle facing the temple, where you can see the outline of a colossal reclining Buddha fashioned during the 15th century with stones of collapsed sections of the temple (7). This figure spans the length of the west platform with the head of the Buddha at its northern end. It is an abstract you may find difficult to distinguish as it was never completed. A stairway (8) leading to the next level begins in the middle of the Buddha.
Climb the stairs on the west side and you will see more of the bas-relief tiles for which the Baphuon is so well-known. Themes are either scenes enacting episodes from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, or depictions of daily life, often hunting scenes set in the jungle. They are laid out in a general plan that flows from the bottom to the top. The realism and lightness of these bas-reliefs quickly capture your attention. Look to the left and right of the entrance on both sides, where you will see lively animals, joyful musicians and mythical beasts.
After viewing the bas-reliefs return to the centre of the popura and look to the south, where you will see a spectacular example of corbelling along the entire length of the gallery. Walk along the gallery to grasp a sense of the narrowness resulting from this method of construction. Then turn east and walk up a flight of stairs at the south-west corner to reach the top.