Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City

The Asian Civilizations Museum has a great exhibit going on right now. It’s called “Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City” and takes you through the historical timeline of Angkor Wat from its discovery to its significance today.

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We are heading to Angkor Wat this weekend with Cecilia so wanted to make sure we got to see the exhibit before our trip!

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Located in the heart of the Central Business District, the Asian Civilizations Museum is one of Singapore’s premiere institutions. The museum was opened in 1997 and moved to its current building in 2003. It seeks to explore the artistic heritage of Asia with a focus on the ancestry of Singaporeans!

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Singapore is a very transient city. Residents hail from every country imaginable and the country’s location as a port city in the heart of Asia ensured its history of bringing people together from all over the world. The Asian Civilizations Museum maintains a roster of educational and interesting exhibits celebrating the deep connections that Singapore and Singaporeans have to the rest of the world.

We arrived to the museum just in time for a free guided tour. Always check the tour times! It is so helpful to have someone with a wealth of knowledge about the exhibit walk you through and it also usually takes just about the same amount of time you would take meandering around on your own!

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Our tour guide introduced herself to our group and off we set. Past the lion statue guardian of the temple outside and up the stairs and into the exhibit which is packed with artifacts, statues, paintings, and drawings of the famous templed city.

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The exhibit is part of a collaboration with the Guimet Museum in Paris which houses one of the finest and most extensive collections of Asian art in the world.

Until the 19th century, there wasn’t much known about Angkor Wat as it lay largely undiscovered by the Western world. Our view and narrative of Angkor Wat and its inhabitants – the Khmer people – were developed by French tourists and naturalists, the first to reach Angkor Wat and bring news of the templed city back to Europe. It was extremely interesting to see this Western/French perspective reflected in the pieces and see how the nationalistic view of West over East permeated through the documents and drawings that formed the basis of the knowledge and records of this highly sophisticated city.

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Angkor Wat is the largest religious construction in the world. It was built in the 12th century and dedicated to the god Vishnu.

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It was the largest city existing at that time and one of the most advanced, too. The Khmer people developed an extremely sophisticated irrigation system that captured rain water in a large reservoir that was then distributed to the rest of the city through chutes and canals.

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Despite all this, the largely accepted view of the one of the first Frenchmen to visit Angkor was a grandiose templed city filled with an uncivilized people. In one picture, Louis Delaporte, who was integral to disseminating information and details about Angkor Wat from his travels, stands looking out at his discovery with two small children in loin clothes crouched beneath him.

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As time progressed, Angkor Wat evolved, reflecting the changing religions of the rulers and historic periods around it. The development of Hinduism and then the switch to Buddhism can be seen in the deities portrayed from the different time periods. Often, a statue or piece of art would be tweaked in some way to update it to the new religion – instead of creating an entirely new piece.

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Similarly tracked on the walls of Angkor are the culture and art along the trade routes through Cambodia during this time.

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Angkor Wat is a UNESCO world heritage protected site and is known for two things. First, it is an incredibly famous temple, intricately decorated, sophisticated beyond its years and absolutely massive for its time.

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The second part of its fame stems from the detailed carvings and murals that decorate the facades and walls of Angkor that tell the story of the Hindu epic poems.

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It also used to be one of the seven great wonders of the world!

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“Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City” is open at the Asian Civilizations Museum until Friday, July 27. Tickets are $20 and only $10 if you go on Friday evening. Can’t wait to apply all of our new found Cambodia knowledge to our trip this weekend!

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