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Peerless in urban planning, the Khmer's cities and temple complexes are the envy of the world, the towers of their shrines spearing high over the surrounding lands.

Located at an intersection between the great cultural hubs of India and China, the Khmer kings ruled over an immense land empire with territories sprawled across Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. They are known for the highly sophisticated infrastructure of the cities they developed and their monumental building programs.

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At the turn of the ninth century, after seizing power in Vyadhapura on his return from exile, Jayavarman II built a powerful centralized state that encompassed the petty kingdoms of Chenla. After becoming sacred king of the Khmer people, he built his capital city between the sacred mountains of Phnom Kulen and lake Tonlé Sap. His successors continued to build an empire centered around the great lake and the Mekong river, which they expanded in the 13th century to include most of the Indochinese Peninsula. The Khmer kings were accomplished builders who established a vast collection of smaller cities around the capital of Angkor. These cities were connected to a complex hydraulic network that supplied water to support agricultural production. The vast monumental temple complexes constructed there were dedicated to either Hindu or Buddhist divinities—depending on the religion of the commissioner—and decorated with numerous bas-reliefs. The Angkor Empire’s advantageous location in the gulf of Thailand at the mouth of the Mekong and Chao Phraya rivers brought in substantial trading revenue from these great trade routes and from agricultural production. However, palace revolts and changing climatic conditions in the peninsula would have a long-lasting impact on Khmer dynasties starting from the 13th century.

Did you know?

After being hidden under thick vegetation for many centuries, the site of Angkor is studied today using airborne laser scanners and satellite technology. This research has made it possible to establish the size of the urban area, which at its peak covered more than 400 square kilometers, making it the largest urban area of the preindustrial era.