"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Sunday, 27 September 2015

34. Angkor - As You've Never Seen it Before (Part II)

My last post seemed to draw a lot of interest from WOWchitecture readers. Clearly, there is a sizeable demand to see beyond the cliched views provided by media, movie makers and promotional materials. That's not surprising. Angkor Archeologial Park is 400 square miles, and there's so much more to see than just Angor Wat, Angkor Tom, 900-year-old celestial nymphs, and trees devouring buildings. So let's carry on for another post.

You can tell a site is really beautiful when even the behind-the-scenes repair work looks artistic. Check out the temporary supports propping up buildings awaiting the installation of something more permanent by UNESCO:

This close-up of the window looks even more artistic:

One of the most under-promoted and underrated features at Angkor are its doors. For most ancient cultures living at the same time as the Khmers - like the Maya of Central America and Mexico - a doorway was just the empty space in between archway supports. But look at this gem at East Mebon:

Or this amazing jewel of an entryway at Banteay Srei:

Seen here in it's full glory:

Where the portals, when open, reveal even more fascinating treasures:

Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women) is both special and unique within the Angkor sphere of influence. It is the only major complex not built at the behest of a king, but rather by one of his advisors. Construction was completed in 967, some 200 years before Angkor Wat, and it is said to reflect the most Indian-like style at Angkor. It's on a much smaller scale than Angkor Wat, and Tourism Cambodia likes to refer to it as, "an exquisite miniature; a fairy palace in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest."

Most significantly, whereas most Angkor structures are covered in laeterite - a hard and difficult material to carve - Banteay Srei was built of soft, pink sandstone which gives way to an artisan's tools like a knife going through wood.
By any yardstick, Banteay Srei's buildings - its temples, towers, libraries, lintels and pediments, are the most ornate in the entire Angkor empire:

Banteay Srei is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva (aka "The Destroyer) and draws on the panopoly of devils and demons that populate Hindu mythology:

Despite all this splendour, if you show up at Banteay Srei first thing in the morning, you'll probably have the place all to yourself for the couple of hours it takes to see it. Why? Because it's about 23 miles north of Angkor Wat. And in the heat and humidity of the Cambodian jungle, that's about 45 more tushy-jarring minutes on a tuk-tuk than your average tourist is willing to put up with. Their loss. Your gain.