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INDOCHINA BEFORE PAVIE

Angkor

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"I do not know if many men have, like me, had a sense of what would happen in their lives from childhood. Nothing has happened to me that I hadn’t vaguely foreseen since my youngest days. The ruins of Angkor. I remember so well that certain, slightly misty evening in April, when they appeared to me in a vision! This took place in my childhood "museum", a tiny room at the top of my family home, where I had gathered together shells, island birds, weapons and South Sea Island adornments, anything that could speak to me of faraway lands […]. This temple is one of the places in the world where men have accumulated the most sculptures, ornaments, foliage scrolls, flowers and faces. It is not simple, like the beautiful lines of Thebes or Baalbeck. It is disconcerting in its complexity, as well as its enormity. Monsters guard all the steps, all the entrances; the divine Apsâras, in infinitely repeated groups, appear everywhere between the trailing creepers. And, at first glance, nothing stands out clearly; one only sees disorder and profusion in this hill of chiselled blocks, out of the summit of which large towers burst forth. But after observing for a while, a perfect symmetry becomes apparent from top to bottom. The hill of sculptures forms a square pyramid, with three tiers, the base of which measures more than one kilometre around the perimeter, and it is on the third of these tiers, right at the top, where without doubt the most sacred place can be found. To get there - I was expecting it – one had to climb via steep and lop-sided steps, between smiling Apsâras, crouching lions, sacred snakes with their seven heads fanning out, and the languid greenery that at that moment no breath of air was moving… climb quickly so that there would be enough time to get there before the rain shower began;"(Pierre Loti A Pilgrimage to Angkor)

Angkor was the capital of the kingdom of Cambodia from the IXth to the XVth Century. At that time it had almost 750,000 inhabitants and covered an area of 1000 square kilometres. Tcheou Ta-Kouan, a Chinese explorer, described it in the late XIIth Century. Towards the middle of the XVth Century, the King of Cambodia left as he fled the invading Siamese. Angkor consists of the walled city, a large quadrangle surrounded by a wall, Angkor Thom (Angkor the Great), and the large temple beyond the walls, Angkor Wat. Even though Angkor was visited regularly by merchants, adventurers and missionaries over the centuries, it was only in the XIXth Century that it was “rediscovered”. The first to mention it was Father Bouillevaux in 1857, then Henri Mouhot. The temples were also seen by the Doudart de Lagrée-Francis Garnier mission, and