Things to See and Do - Siem Reap, Cambodia
Beng Mealea - Siem Reap
40 km due east from Angkor Wat. Take the road to Banteay Srie, but at the fork 2 km before Banteay Srei (31 km from the Grand Hotel, Siem Reap and 17.5 km from the village of Phum Pradak) take the right fork.
Continue for 8 km and at the crossroads turn right. After anther 26 km you reach a T-junction; turn left hear and after 11 km you reach the south gate of the temple. Enquire about the condition of the road before setting out; it may be impassable in the wet season and certain makeshift bridges may be unsafe. A total of 77 km from Siem Reap.
Though unrestored, and in a fairly ruinous state, the large temple of Beng Mealea ('Lotus Pond') some 40 km due east of Angkor on the ancient royal way to the 'great Preah Khan' of Kompong Svay (another 60 km further on), is one of the major monuments of the classical period, in the style of Angkor Wat and roughly contemporary with it. Whoever built it must have been a figure of some importance, but he remains unknown,
Many of the early French scholars thought highly of this temple for both its architecture and its decoration. Coedes made a special study of its carving, and Groslier considered it to be a prototype, with a "harmony, powerful and sober". Its history is completely unknown, and it can be dated only by its style, which is of the mid-12th century. Beng Mealea was built of blue sandstone from local quarries, and while there are no narrative bas-relief panels as at Angkor Wat, there is a fair amount of decoration on walls and pilasters, all of a high standard, as well as apmras, lintels and few pediments. The religious history is also unknown, with carvings showing legends of Vishnu, Shiva and the Buddha.
The temple marked the centre of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025m by 875m, and 45m wide. Four paved avenues lead via cruciform terraces to the entrances at the cardinal points, and it is oriented to the E. Directly to the E of the complex is a large baray, with a small island containing a shrine in its centre, as usual. In plan, Beng Mealea reminds one of of Angkor Wat, though all at ground level with no temple mountain. There are three concentric enclosures, each one set back slightly to the west, with the central shrine at the intersection of the axes (and so the intersection of the town's avenues as well). These enclosures are tied together with 'cruciform cloisters', just as at Angkor Wat, and in the NE and SE corners of the enclosures are shrines of the kind known wrongly as 'libraries'. Also as at Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea has some impressive stone vaulting, and half-vaults that work as a kind of buttressing.
Unlike Ta Prohm's controlled 'wild' state where the undergrowth is cut back, Beng Mealea is genuinely uncleared - the real thing for would-be explorers. You will need the services of a local guide, which is to say one of the villagers, and by the end of the visit you will be happy to pay for being taken around the tortuous route. This involves clambering through small spaces and along roof tops, although in time this may become restricted as access comes under the control of the Angkor authorities.
Map of Beng Mealea
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