Thursday, January 20, 2005

The temples in the jungle outside Siem Reap - Angkor Wat is just the biggest of them, but it's become a kind of synecdoche for the whole vast complex - were built by the great Khmer empire between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D. Historians speculate that perhaps a million people lived in the area at that time, far more than Cordóba's mere 100,000 inhabitants, the largest city in Europe at that time (and part of a Muslim empire, incidentally).

Bayon, with 37 towers and four tremendous smiling faces on each tower. Ta Prohm, fantastical, banyan trees like a vegetable version of an octopus slowly trying to grip and grow their way through the temple. And Angkor Wat itself, surrounded by manmade lakes and endless walls, a huge stone walkway leading from the gate into the temple itself, with its elaborate carvings and dizzyingly steep steps: the reward is watching the sun set, but the payment is the terrible climb down.

I was prepared, so seeing these three didn't quite take my breath away as when I wandered the first time in the Medina of Fez during Aïd al Kebir, or gazed at the impossible architecture of the unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, two places that photographs cannot possibly capture in any way. Not unlike the temples in the jungle outside Siem Reap that they call Angkor Wat.

The Swedish word for the day is färdig. It means finished.

- by Francis S.

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