The City Gates of Angkor Thom

Constructed when: late 12th to early 13th century
Constructed by: King Jayavarman VII
Religion: Buddhism
Architectural style: Bayon
Location: Angkor Thom, four points of the compass, plus Victory Gate at north end of the east wall

North Gate Angkor Thom
The North Gate of Angkor Thom

The city of Angkor Thom lies on the right bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru. Another gate — the Victory Gate — is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.

Angkor Thom Gates - photo album

The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates (which are later additions to the main structure) take after those of the Bayon, and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these. A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors. The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists.

Asuras on the right hand side of the causeway leading to the South Gate, because of looting and damage over the centuries, most of these heads are reproductions or have been moved to this location from another gate to make this a more spectacular entrance for visitors.

At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrong — corner shrine — built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east.

Historical information and some descriptions of temple sites are sourced from the Angkor series of Wikipedia articles. This text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. The main Wikipedia page on Angkor can be found at -