It was first found by a Portuguese missionary at the end of 16th century. He reported his discovery to his superiors. He told them about an incredible deserted city, deep in dense jungle in Indo China. In his report he said that he had seen ruined palaces, halls and temples of surprising size and beauty but nobody believed him. His story was regarded as no more than an imaginary tale. In 1601, the lost city was discovered for the second time by another Portuguese called Quiroga de San Antonio then for the third time, by a French missionary, Pere Cheveuil in 1672. They met the same result, nobody believed their stories.
It was first found by a Portuguese missionary at the end of 16th century. He reported his discovery to his superiors. He told them about an incredible deserted city, deep in dense jungle in Indo China. In his report he said that he had seen ruined palaces, halls and temples of surprising size and beauty but nobody believed him. His story was regarded as no more than an imaginary tale.
In 1601, the lost city was discovered for the second time by another Portuguese called Quiroga de San Antonio then for the third time, by a French missionary, Pere Cheveuil in 1672. They met the same result, nobody believed their stories.
After being forgotten for nearly two hundred years, it was finally discovered for the fourth time by a French naturalist named Henry Mouhot. Mouhot realized that he had found the fabulous capital of Kambuja, the ancient name of the region that is now Cambodia. He immediately made a detailed description of his discovery. Fortunately, his government was very interested. France was politically concerned in Indo China but Cambodia in those days was ruled by Siam (or Thailand), and a French expedition would not be welcomed.
Then the wheels of politics turned. By the end of 19th century the area of ruins, which was called Angkor, had become French territory. The French government sent a big team of archaeologists, engineers, scholars and architects to study Angkor. They were to save it from further damage, and find out who built it and why.
They found that the ruins actually consisted of two parts. They were Angkor Thom, the old city, and Angkor Wat, the great temple. Angkor Wat is now one of the world’s wonders.
Compared to the surroundings temples (about 600 of them), Angkor Wat is the giant. It measures 1,500 by 1,200 meters. Within it stands the centre tower, 60 meters high.
Angkor Wat is composed of beautifully carved galleries, stairways and pinnacles. There are 20,000 splendid statues representing religious ceremonies and historical events during the era of Cambodia’s ancient rulers.
A deep moat, 60 meters wide, was dug around the great temple. It was so skillfully and accurately constructed that the error in measuring it was found to be less than two centimeters.
The old city of Angkor Thom was also constructed on a big scale. The walls of the city are massive, eight miles long, with five magnificent gates.
An inscription found in a temple told the archaeologists what a big, crowded city Angkor Thom must have been. It said that 306,372 servants from 13,500 villages worked in the city. To feed them 35,000 tons of rice was needed every year. The whole population of Angkor Wat was estimated to be between one and two million.
French scholars gathered much evidence from inscriptions. They told of the man who had built Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. More than a thousand years ago, the natives of Cambodia, the Khmers had established the finest civilization in South East Asia. They were very sophisticated people who had built a complicated and efficient irrigation system. This enabled the Khmers to control the River Mekhong, for watering their land so that it produced good crops continually.
The Khmers also had considerable military skills. They were the first inventors of fire-rockets and arrow-firing machines, the most powerful weapons in those days. To support their army, the Khmers established a special regiment of 20,000 highly trained war elephants.
With this military force it was not surprising that the Khmers took large numbers of prisoners from neighboring countries and made them slaves.
In about 900 A.D. the Khmer king was Jayayvarman II. Worshipped as a god king, he ruled the country for 48 years. It was during his reign that Angkor Thom, the capital City, and Angkor Wat were built. Thousands of prisoners of war dragged the huge blocks of stone 20 miles from the quarries to the building sites. The city soon grew and flourished, and Cambodia reached its glory.
But it didn’t last very long, In the middle of 15th Century, the Siamese, the Khmers’ old enemies, made a surprise attack. The Khmers fought back very bravely to defend their city, but in vain. They were not well prepared to face the sudden attack, and the Siamese captured Angkor Thom. The victorious invaders plundered the city and destroyed the intricate irrigation system. Then they took many of Angkor Thom’s population to Siam as slaves.
The destruction of the irrigation system had sad results. The unfortunate remnants of the Khmers could no longer control the River Mekhong, which soon flooded. With the flood came mosquitoes and malaria. The survivors had to abandon the city, leaving a once great empire behind them. Within a few years Angkor Thom turned into jungle. Not even the Khmers remember where the city had been.
When it was found again by Henry Mouhot, the French government spent much money in order to restore Angkor, one of the great man-made marvels of all time. After many years of hard working, Angkor was brought back to something like its original glory. Visitors from all over the world flew in to a special airport to admire the old city.
Sadly, today Cambodia is once again torn apart by war. No tourists can visit Angkor now; all the years of patient work were for nothing. Angkor has again turned into jungle.