The Temples of Angkor
Photography by Thaddeus Pope
One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo – might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.Henri Mouhot
In August 2009 I travelled to Cambodia, where I spent one month photographing some of the magnificent temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Covering more than 400 square kilometres in the province of Siem Reap, this park contains more than 100 monuments – of which two dozen are major temples. The best known and best-preserved of these temples is Angkor Wat, which, having survived the passage of time, the harsh annual double monsoon of the region, countless droughts and numerous wars, remains one of the most awe-inspiring religious monuments ever built, and clearly demonstrates the genius and ingenuity of its ancient builders.
The French explorer Henri Mouhot, who “re-discovered” Angkor Wat in the 1850s, described it in the following way: “One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo – might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
Though I wanted to photograph Angkor Wat extensively, I also wanted to photograph some of the more remote temples that were reclaimed by the jungle after the demise of the Angkor Empire – particularly Koh Ker and Beng Mealea. Due to the poor quality of the roads in Cambodia, which are especially bad during the rainy season, as well as the vast number of landmines in the countryside and jungle, which are still being cleared, these temples are currently much harder to access than those near Angkor Wat. As a result, on several occasions, it was possible to be all but alone while exploring some of these astonishingly beautiful sites. Tourism is radically changing Cambodia, which is why I wanted to visit these places while it is still possible to create photographs that show an Angkor that will soon vanish.
All images copyright © Thaddeus Pope. All rights reserved.