In 1586 the Portuguese Capuchin Friar António da Madalena travelled to Cambodia and stumbled across something. When describing it, he wrote that a pen could not do justice to the sheer genius that lay behind the construction. Nearly 300 years would pass before António da Madalena’s discovery was rediscovered by a French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. His description of the discovery had him call it more magnificent than the temple of Solomon.
The discovery both these men were talking about was that of the temple city of Angkor Wat. Sadly, both the discoverers were unable to see the scale of what they had unearthed. António died just three short years after discovering the city when he was shipwrecked off Natal. Henri too did not get the opportunity to see his discovery through. A year after discovering Angkor Wat, he succumbed to a bout of malaria in 1861.
In this video from the channel Timeline – World History Documentaries, the discovery of the Angkor Wat is explored. It shows the extent to which archaeologists have gone to, to understand of how vast the temple city really is. And it investigates what life in the city would have been like for its residents.
Further research on Angkor Wat showed that it dated back to the 12th century and was bigger than some of the biggest cities of the time. It is estimated that Angkor Wat was home to around 100,000 people. The architecture of the temple and the surrounding city shows an extremely high level of sophistication. It has numerous interconnected streets and waterways spread all around the temple. Henri Mouhot also described it to be something more magnificent than anything left behind by the Greeks or the Romans.
It was made in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. Later it became a Buddhist monastery before the entire settlement was abandoned following a war with a neighbouring tribe.
Today, Angkor Wat stands as a UNESCO world heritage site. It also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest religious structure ever built spanning an area of 162.6 hectares. It is also the place that you will see hundreds of tourists jostle for space as they wait to capture the sun rising over the magnificent temple.