Ta Prohm’s Crumbling Towers (Angkor Monuments) :
The so-called ‘Tomb Raider Temple”, Ta Prohm monuments is cloaked in dappled shadow, its crumbling towers and walls locked in the slow muscular embrace of vast root systems. Undoubtedly the most atmospheric Angkor monuments, Ta Prohm should be high on the hit list of every visitor. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other Angkor monuments, it has been swallowed by the jungle, and looks very much the way most of the Angkor monuments appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them specially with its crumbling towers and trees growing from it’s crevices.
Built around 1186 and originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm monuments was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is one of the few temples in the Angkor region where an inscription provides information about the temple’s dependents and inhabitants. Almost 80,000 people were required to maintain or attend at the temple, among them more than 2700 officials and 615 dancers.
Ta Prohm is a temple of towers, closed courtyards and narrow corridors. Many of the corridors are impassable, clogged with jumbled piles of delicately carved stone blocks dislodged by the roots of long-decayed trees. Bas-reliefs on bulging walls are carpeted with lichen, moss and creeping plants, and shrubs sprout from the roofs of monumental porches. Trees, hundreds of years old, tower overhead, their leaves filtering the sunlight and casting a greenish pall over the whole scene.
Architecture vs Nature :
Had Ta Prohm been diligently maintained from its construction in 1186 to the present day, it would be just a footnote to the larger Angkor Wat temple. But while Ta Prohm lay forgotten and neglected by men, the Cambodian jungle wasted no time in devouring it. Silk-cotton and strangler fig trees took root in the loosened stones of the temple, which was built entirely without mortar. Their roots wound through the structure, creating an astonishing merger of nature and architecture.
Built at the height of the Khmer Empire by Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and center of learning, Ta Prohm has a traditional Khmer structure consisting of a series of gradually smaller enclosures, the largest of which is about 1000 by 650 meters. The sanctuary is centered around the huge, elevated stone face of Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, whose features were modeled after those of the king’s mother.
When Angkor was rediscovered in the early 20th century by French archaeologists, all of the temples had become overgrown–but none so spectacularly as Ta Prohm. Nevertheless, as they excavated and restored the other temples, the archaeologists had to make sure that the giant tree roots enveloping Ta Prohm would not further deteriorate the structure or make it dangerous to visit. Though Ta Prohm may look like nature unfettered, the appearance of neglect is in fact fastidiously maintained.
Ta Prohm’s popularity has soared in recent years along with the rest of the Angkor complex, but especially because of its appearance in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Be sure to check out the controversial Dinosaur of Ta Prohm in a corner of the Ta Prohm temple with a strange story of its own.
Ta Prohm Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
View more photos of Ta Prohm temple here.