Located in the heart of Angkor Thom, the Bayon is one of the city’s most extraordinary structures, epitomizing the “lost civilization” of Angkor. Shaped like a pyramid, this symbolic temple-mountain rises on three levels, and features 54 towers bearing more than 200 huge, yet enigmatic stone faces. It is entered through eight cruciform towers, linked by galleries that were once covered and which are gradually being restored. These galleries have some of the most striking bas-reliefs found at Angkor, showcasing everyday scenes as well as images of battles, especially those against the Cham.
The temple’s central towers are decorated with four massive, mysteriously smiling faces gazing out in the cardinal directions. These are believed to represent the all-seeing and all-knowing Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, as personified by Jayavarman VII himself.
The Western Gallery
A statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, thought to date from the time of the founding of the temple, is installed in the southern section of the western gallery, one of the many galleries surrounding the Bayon. Devotees burn incense sticks before this statue.
Bas-Reliefs in the Southern Gallery
Carved deep into the walls, the bas-reliefs in the southern gallery feature images from everyday life in 12th-century Angkor. These include depictions of a cockfight, meals being cooked, festival celebrations, and market scenes.
Southern View of the Bayon
From a distance, the Bayon appears to be a complicated, almost erratically structured temple. On closer inspection, however, its 54 majestic towers and 216 eerie stone sculptures take a more definite shape – their architectural grandeur inspiring the visitor with a sense of awe.
Detail of Devada
The devada (dancer) differs from the sensual apsara and could be either male or female. A devada is portrayed in less alluring poses.
Khmer Army in Procession
The bas-reliefs in the eastern gallery provide scenes from the struggle between the Khmers and the Cham, which has been recorded in painstakingly fine detail. Here, the Khmer king, seated on an elephant, leads his army into battle.