Soon after Yasovarman I (his post-death name Parama Shiva Loka) became king in 889 AD, he decided to move the capital northwest from Rolous, where his predecessor reigned, to the area known today as Angkor. He named his new capital Yasodharapura, and built Bakheng as his state temple, dedicated in about 907 to Shaivism. Thus, Bakheng is sometimes called the first Angkor. The original city, which is barely distinguishable to visitors today, was vast, even larger than Angkor Thom. Its enclosure wall is a square of four by four km, covering an area of 14 square km. A natural hill in the centre distinguished the site. The temple of Bakheng was cut from the rock that formed the natural hill and faced with sandstone. Traces of this method are visible in the northeast and southeast corners, reflecting improved construction techniques and the use of more durable materials. This temple is the earliest example of the quincunx plan with five sandstone sanctuaries built on the top level of a tiered base, which became popular later. It is also the first appearance of secondary shrines on different platform levels. The word Bakheng is the combination of Ba meaning father, man character and Kheng, according to Khmer professorial Pauv Saveros’s Dictionary meaning strong and powerful and also referring to a man’s sexual organ. Therefore the name of this hill came from the statue of Shivalinga in the temple.
Bakheng is a replica of Mount Meru and the number of towers suggests a cosmic symbolism. The seven levels of the monument represent the seven heavens of Indra in Hindu mythology. The temple must have been a spectacular site in its entirety because originally 108 towers were evenly spaced around the tiers with yet another one, the central sanctuary, at the apex of them all. Today, however, most of these towers have collapsed. Beside the central sanctuary, there were four-cornered towers on the upper terrace, 12 on each of five-tiered pyramid, and another 44 towers around the pyramidal base. The brick towers on the different levels represent the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac. It is also possible that the numerology of the 108 towers symbolizes the four lunar phases with 27 days in each phase. The arrangement allows for only 33 of the towers to be seen from each side, a figure that corresponds with the number of Hindu deities. Note: the square pyramidal base is 76m, and rises up 13m.