The legacy of French naturalist Henri Mouhot is indelibly linked to the majestic Angkor Wat temple, located in the heart of Cambodia. His discovery of the temple complex between 1858 and 1860 represents a significant milestone in the field of archaeology, reorienting Western understanding of Southeast Asian history. Henri Mouhot’s explorations and subsequent publications brought the fascinating history of the ancient Khmer civilization and Angkor Wat’s abandoned past to the attention of the Western world.
The Angkor Wat Temple, discovered by Mouhot, is a remarkable architectural marvel of the 12th century, conceived and constructed under the reign of King Survayarman II. This monumental edifice, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, served as both a state temple and a funerary tomb. Unusually oriented to the west rather than the east, which is a typical feature of most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat symbolizes the setting sun and death, reflecting the grandeur and impermanence of human achievements.
The Angkor Wat history further reveals its architectural design intricately tied with Hindu mythology. The temple complex is surrounded by a vast 200-meter-wide moat, symbolizing mythical oceans, while its towering edifices represent Mount Meru, the sacred five-peaked mountain of Hindu mythology. Following King Survayarman II’s death, the temple was continuously occupied, thereby avoiding total ruination.
Despite its abandonment in the 15th century due to the decline of the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat managed to retain its aesthetic and historical significance over centuries. Its rediscovery in the 19th century marked a turning point in its history, propelling it to global prominence as one of the most vital archaeological sites worldwide. The UNESCO recognized this historical and cultural significance by declaring Angkor Wat temple a World Heritage Site in 1992.
Thus, Mouhot’s discovery not only unveiled a monumental architectural masterpiece but also opened a window into the rich cultural history of the Khmer civilization. His contribution to archaeology and history stands as a testament to the enduring allure of Angkor Wat, which continues to captivate scholars and tourists alike with its ancient charm and archaeological significance.