Banteay Srei Temple, just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia, is considered a prime example of the sculptural techniques during the height of the Angkor period. In Khmer language, Banteay means “temple” and Srei means “women”. This temple, relatively small in comparison with other temples in the area, is about 35 km from Angkor Wat.
Banteay Srei is unique in that it was built entirely of red sandstone, covered with sculptural decoration. Known for the detail of its carvings, this temple has been called the jewel of Khmer art.
Unlike most of Angkor’s temples which were built by kings, Banteay Srei was built in 967 by a royal courtier who was a teacher to the future King Jayavarman V. From the outside, the entrance to Banteay Srey leads across two stone bridges over moats. The inner enclosure of the compound included temples and 2 libraries, but the structures are now collapsed.
Banteay Srey has three main towers. The middle tower symbolizes Shiva, while the two smaller towers symbolize Vishnu and Brahma.
On the walls of the temple, there are many sculptures of girls of mysterious and charming beauty. Patterns, lions and gods are created in a sophisticated way. Each wall or each sculpture represents a unique story related to Hindu epics.
The temple was originally named Tribhuvanamahesvara, and considered a center of religious images. Many towers called Isvarapura surround the temple. Later, the temple was renamed Banteay Srei. The temple was expanded in the 11th century and remained in use until the 14th century.
After being forgotten for centuries, along with more than 45 other relics of Angkor, the temple was rediscovered in 1914 by French archaeologists. Nowadays, tourists can contemplate the beauty of this temple in their Cambodia Tours.
In 1923, a 22-year-old French writer Andre Malraux and his wife and friend stole some statues weighing more than 600 kilograms, transporting them by bullock cart and boat to Phnom Penh to sell. They were quickly arrested and sentenced to three years. Though the sentence was not implemented, this case was widely publicized, raising the role of the Cambodian government in the preservation and protection of the valuable architectural relics of Angkor. Banteay Srei Temple was the first to be restored by archaeologists using the anastylosis method, with a focus on using the original architectural elements. The writer Vuong Hong Sen visited Banteay Srei in 1940 and realized that it was not damaged after being restored, but it was in the middle of wild jungle.
It is said that the sculptural work in Banteay Srei is of the same quality as that of a goldsmith or woodcarver. The work of these talented artists has made Banteay Srey a magical attraction for anyone who sees it. It is among the most prominent wonders from the empire of Angkor in Cambodia. It is also the most unforgettable destinations in Cambodia Discovery journey.
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