email
The Silk Route - World Travel: Beng Mealea, Cambodia
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

Cambodia: Beng Mealea
November 2015

Cambodia, Beng Mealea

 

The tumbled ruins of Beng Mealea, on the verge of being reclaimed by the jungle, are remote, peaceful and very atmospheric. One of our favourite temples.

 

Beng Mealea
The broad southern approach.

 

Beng Mealea was included in our itinerary by special request - we wanted to visit a really remote site, where few other people get to. Beng Mealea certainly satisfied all our criteria.

We started at 7 a.m. as it is a two hour drive to get there, but the drive is very interesting, through towns and villages. We passed many stilt houses with huge jars outside, especially in the countryside; these are used to collect rainwater for the dry season.

Beng Mealea
A fabulously well-preserved naga.

Beng Mealea is a chaotic ruin, though much also remains standing, probably built around the same time as Angkor Wat. It is also vast, covering 108 hectares and once surrounded by a 45m wide moat.1 The remains of the moat can still be seen, a grassy stretch which still fills with water in the wet season.

Though, as usual, the main entrance is on the east side, we approached from the south, along a broad road with naga balustrades.


Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
The north east "library" within the third enclosure.
The causeway is heading south to the "cruciform cloister" located between the east gopuras of the second and third enclosure walls.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


Rubble from collapsed buildings pours through the south entrance, as if there has been an earthquake.

 

Beng Mealea
The south east "library" within the third enclosure.

 

The temple has three enclosures, two  "libraries" north and south of the east entrance between the second and third enclosure walls, and, unusually, two annexes either side of the causeway linking the south gopuras of the second and third enclosures. Within the first enclosure are two smaller libraries

Beng Mealea
A tower stood on each of the corners  of the third enclosure wall - this is looking east, in front of the south east "library", towards the south east tower.

Beng Mealea
East entrance to the south east annex.
Beng Mealea
East face of south east annex: south false door and east entrance.
Beng Mealea
The south east annex inside the collapsed third enclosure wall.
The annexes are thought to have been later than the rest of the temple because of their very unusual design: blank walls apart from a string of high openings.4

 

Beng Mealea
South east annex.
The annexes were built very close to the third enclosure wall.
Beng Mealea
South false door and carved fronton on the east face of the south east annex.
The carving probably shows Shiva on the bull Nandin.
Beng Mealea
Carved fronton above the east entrance to the south east annex.
Note the man lying underwater at the bottom of the carving - he may be Shyavana, a holy man who meditated in a river.2
Beng Mealea
False door and carved fronton on the east face of the south east annex, north of the entrance.

 

 

The attraction of Beng Mealea is not in identifying the component parts, however, or admiring fine carving (of which little remains) but in its atmosphere of jungle ruin.

From the sunny dappled entrance we ventured into the tree-shrouded ruins, a temple slowly crumbling under the forces of nature but still redolent with the grandeur of what once was here.

Beng Mealea
South false door, east side, south west annex, fronton detail below.
Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea

 

Beng Mealea
North false door, south west annex, fronton detail below.
Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea




Beng Mealea
Looking south to the remains of the south gopura of the third enclosure. To right and left are the south west and south east annexes respectively.

 

 

Beng Mealea
This jumbled area of square pillars is what remains of the "cruciform cloister" between the east gopuras of the second and third enclosure walls.

Beng Mealea

 

Beng Mealea
This collapsed corridor leading to the east gopura of the second enclosure clearly shows how corbelling works to create an arched roof.





Beng Mealea
The narrow space on the east side between the first and second enclosure walls.
Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
The first enclosure, still regarded as a sacred place: lotus flower offerings.


Beng Mealea
Vishnu, in his avatar of a turtle, supports the churning pole.
Beng Mealea
Fallen lintel of the north east "library" within the first enclosure. It depicts the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk where gods and demons tugged on either end of a naga, wrapped around a pole, to stir the ocean to bring for the elixir of immortality. As is the way of these things, they churned up a lot more than they bargained for!
Beng Mealea

 

A wooden walkway has been constructed to help visitors navigate the more tumultuous areas of the ruins.

Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea

I don't know how many people visit here, we were the first of the day and had it pretty much to ourselves. A group of Cambodians, who our guide said were attending a local wedding, marched in convoy at some speed straight through the ruins, barely pausing for breath!

Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
The causeways were once supported by these columns, all decorated with carved patterns, as were the edges of the causeways.

Our guide told us that 700-800 guests can be invited to a traditional wedding, so it is very expensive, but each guest will give money, typically $20. However, the drawback is that the invitation is reciprocated by all your guests to their family weddings, and you are expected to give a bit more back!

Beng Mealea

 

Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea

We made our way through the centre of the first enclosure, the most sacred area, and out into the wider space of the third enclosure, then west and south around the ruins, spotting beautiful carved decoration, some gripped by trees, graceful female figures, and passing multitudes of tumbled stone.

Beng Mealea
West gopura, third enclosure.
Beng Mealea
Collapsed causeway leading to the west gopura of the third enclosure.
Beng Mealea

 

 

References

  1. A Guide to the Angkor Monuments Maurice Glaize
  2. Asian Historical Architecture: Beng Mealea