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Thirteenth - Century Angkor Was Home To More People Than Modern Boston

by Priti Sharma

February 18, 2023

The Southeast Asian city of Angkor, famous for the Angkor Wat temple, had between 700,000 and 900,000 residents in the 13th century. With this number, Angkor becomes one of the biggest cities before the modern era. It's also comparable in size to many modern cities; Boston, for example, had around 693,000 residents in 2019.


The city’s remains, currently in northwest Cambodia, are well-known for their stone temples, structures, and infrastructure. With the use of scanning technology, archaeologists could spot the remains of buildings made of wood and less resilient materials outside Angkor's "downtown" region.

They have vanished without a trace since the majority of their structures were built of wood, thatch, and bamboo. The remnants of Yasodharapura's walls, reservoirs, roadways, and, most importantly, its religious structures—which were constructed of stone and laterite to worship the Buddha or a pantheon of Indian gods—are how we learned about this city that was abandoned in the sixteenth century. When Angkor Wat was first constructed, Suryavarman II was a strong ruler who used it as both a mausoleum and a monument. Over a square mile is devoted to the Vishnu shrine. The Ramayana, an Indian epic, as well as incidents from Suryavarman's life are shown in the base relief's exquisite carving. They also display the god of the underworld, Yama, sending people to heaven or to hell.


A sophisticated culture, "Angkor" had its rulers at the top of the social hierarchy. The majority of those who constructed the temples and produced sustenance for the aristocracy were rice farmers, and they employed methods that have largely remained unchanged to the current day. The Khmer people were skilled carpenters and gifted stone and wood carvers. Impressive reservoirs and razor-sharp roadways connecting Cambodian cities were built by Khmer engineers, and many of the temples still bear intricate inscriptions that were written by Khmer poets. Warriors from Cambodia assaulted nearby kingdoms and guarded Yasodharapura against invasion. Many of these "ordinary" contributions are overlooked when we visit the temples or see the ethereal traditional dance of Cambodia.


After Jayavarman's demise, Yasodharapura continued to be a magnificent and rich city for at least two hundred years. Following a Thai army assault in 1431, it was mostly abandoned. Soon after, the center of government in Cambodia moved to the south. A Cambodian monarch visited the old city in the 1500s, repaired a few temples, and presumably spent some time living in Yasodharapura. Angkor Wat was often visited by pilgrims, and a Buddhist monastery stood next to the temple for many years. However, Yasodharapura was abandoned by the outside world, and the jungle gradually took it over.


The amazingly creative and engineering prowess that the ruins show makes up for its "heritage." In addition to the open-minded, resourceful, and tough people who struggle to make ends meet in their impoverished, congested country while keeping testimony to their magnificent heritage, these abilities are on display today in Cambodian classical dance.

A tropical metropolis, Angkor endured centuries of political and climatic unpredictability. Urban planners may be able to better grasp some of the limitations that an increasing number of the world's cities confront by tracking the phenomenon's development and tipping point.


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