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    Cambodia’s Citadel of Women: Banteay Srei

    1/30/2024 1:29:41 AM

    Constructed in 967 CE, the Banteay Srei temple, also known as the "Citadel of Women," is believed by many to have been built by the hands of women, exuding an enchanting, feminine sentiment with its delicate pink-stone carvings. Despite its modest size among the temples of Angkor, Banteay Srei is hailed as the “jewel of Khmer art,” consistently making its mark on the world’s top lists of finest carving artworks. Adored by all who visit, the temple remains remarkably well-preserved to this day, serving as a dedicated place of worship for the Hindu deity Shiva. Embark on a journey with VietnamStay to uncover the unparalleled beauty and charm of this renowned “Citadel of Women."

    The reown pink-stone carvings of Banteay Srei

    I. Origin and history

    1. 10th Century

    The story of Banteay Srei dates back to the 10th century when it was completely constructed on April 22, 967 CE. Like many temples of its time, it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. However, what sets it apart is that instead of being commissioned by a monarch, it was one of the few temples built by courtiers, believed to be tutors of Jayavarman V.
    Originally named Tribhuvanamahesvara, meaning "lord of the threefold world," the temple was structured into three parts, each dedicated to different gods, Shiva and Vishnu.
    The three columns dedicated to the gods Shiva and Vishnu
    Its modern name, "Banteay Srei," meaning "Citadel of Women," reflects its renowned intricate carvings. The temple's fame stems from its pink sandstone creations, giving rise to its nickname, the "pink temple." Legend has it that it was built by women due to the exceptionally fine craftsmanship, attributed to a group of female artisans led by Princess Jayarajadevi, who took charge of the construction when King Rajendravarman fell ill during a military campaign.
    A carving of Indra and his vehicle – “king of elephants” Airavata

    2. 12th Century

    In the early 12th century, Banteay Srei underwent expansion and continued to be utilized until the 14th century. While the precise date of its abandonment remains uncertain, historians speculate that it likely occurred during the same period as the other Angkor temples, around the 15th to 16th century.

    3. 20th Century

    Banteay Srei was rediscovered in 1914. When it was first rediscovered, many assumed that it could date back to the 13th or 14th century, as it was thought that the refined carving came at the end of the Angkor period. 
    Since being rediscovered in the 20th century, Banteay Srei has been carefully preserved and restored from the outside threads of robbery and environmental corrode. In 1923, after World War One, Andre Malraux, a French writer and minister, attempted to steal four devatas but was apprehended, and the stolen artifacts were returned intact. Subsequently, in 1930, Banteay Srei became the first major temple restoration project undertaken by the EFEO, utilizing the anastylosis method. This endeavor proved highly successful, paving the way for larger restoration projects such as the Bayon Temple.
    However, during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979 and the subsequent civil war, Cambodia, including Banteay Srei, fell victim to rampant looting and destruction.

    4. 21st Century

    Today, Banteay Srei is equipped with modern amenities such as plumage to prevent flooding, and parking lots to cater to tourists while preserving its rustic and authentic appeal. However, regrettably, due to theft, numerous original creations have been replaced with concrete replicas or safeguarded in museums.
    Nevertheless, despite these challenges, the temple has emerged as one of the most beloved attractions in the Angkor Archaeological Park, drawing hundreds of visitors daily.
    Banteay Srei nowadays

    II. Cultural Meaning and Architecture

    1. Overall Construction

    Banteay Srei stands out not only for its intricate pink-stone carvings but also for its complex and precisely symmetrical architecture. The temple lies within square-shaped outer walls, surrounding a 3-layer enclosure, each consisting of buildings with different carvings, meanings, and purposes. 
    Bird’s-eye view of Banteay Srei
    The whole temple is adorned with these gemstones, each covering a different meaning and story, but all are carved with great craftsmanship and dedication. Some of the famous carvings include women with lotus flowers in their hands, clad in traditional Cambodian attire, and scenes from the epic Ramayana. Mythical guardians stand watch, tasked with safeguarding the sanctity of this remarkable place.
    The mythical guardians of Banteay Srei

    2. Banteay Srei Complex Breakdown

    Visiting the Banteay Srei temple is like unveiling an art gallery of Cambodian culture, layer by layer. Upon entering through the eastern gate, a causeway guides you to the imposing east gopura, a Hindu entrance tower. 
    A gopura at Banteay Srei

    a. The third enclosure

    Inside this third enclosure, there is a wide moat. The principal structure, consisting of the first and second enclosures, almost resembles a temple on an island. 
    View inside the third enclosure

    b. The second enclosure

    Continue walking past the next gopura, you are now entering the second enclosure, in which the area is called “the inner courtyard”. Besides obtaining the first enclosure, the second one is also the place for 6 meditation houses and a carving representing the fight between a demon who seizes Sita, Rama’s wife. 
    Carving of demon Ravana abducting Sita

    c. The first enclosure

    The first, or inner enclosure is the most exciting, as this is the most decorated, and the most successfully restored part of Banteay Srei. Here, three sanctuary towers stand in a north-south alignment, dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The central tower, preceded by a Mandapa hall, is connected to it by the Antarala corridor.
    Carving of Shiva performing a dance of creation, preservation, and destruction
    Infront of the santuary towers are the two libraries facing eachother from two sides and a sanctuary in the middle. These two libraries are made from bricks, laterite, and sandstones. Here, visitors can witness some of the finnest carvings done during the Kmer empire that you might not see anywhere else.
    For instance, a carving on the southern library portrays the multi-headed demon-king of Lanka, Ravana, exerting force upon Mount Kailasa, where Shiva and his consort Uma reside. 
    Carving of Demon Ravana shaking Mt. Kailasa with Shiva and Uma on top
    Meanwhile, on the western facade of the same library, Kama, the deity of love, is depicted launching an arrow towards Shiva. Additional panels feature scenes from Vishnuite mythology, such as the west pediment of the northern library, illustrating Krishna's confrontation with his malevolent uncle, Kamsa.
    Carving of Krishna’s confrontation with Kamsa
    At the sanctuary, six stairways lead to a platform guarded by statues of kneeling figures with animal heads, adding to the mystical ambiance of this extraordinary temple complex.

    III. Guide to Banteay Srei

    1. Location

    Banteay Srei is situated approximately 32 kilometers northeast of Siem Reap and 21 kilometers northeast of Bayon. The route is well-marked with signs, and the road is paved for the entire journey. A car ride from Siem Reap typically takes around 45 minutes, while a remork (a type of local transportation) might take about an hour. To reach Banteay Srei, you can depart from Siem Reap, passing through Angkor Park via Srah Srang and Preah Dak, then continue northward along Road 67.

    2. Transportation

    Most visitors opt for a remork or taxi to reach Banteay Srei. When hiring a moto or remork driver, it's wise to negotiate the fare upfront, as they may request extra for the trip. 
    However, if you're an avid cyclist, the 35km ride might appeal to you. Keep in mind that you'll need to cycle back, doubling the total distance to around 70km. Only consider this option if you're confident in your fitness level for the return journey. Given Cambodia's hot climate, be sure to bring an ample supply of water to stay hydrated throughout your ride.
    A remork in Cambodia

    3. Tours

    The peak visiting hours at Banteay Srei are typically between 9:00 am and noon, offering optimal lighting for the front of the temple. However, the afternoon showcases the back in a more favorable light. Given its popularity and relatively small size, the site can become crowded quickly. For a quieter and more immersive experience, it's advisable to arrive no later than 8:00 am.
    Tourists return from visiting Cambodia’s temples on remorks
    Banteay Srei's compact nature allows for thorough exploration in about 45 minutes, with an additional 1 hour and 30 minutes allotted for further exploration of the surrounding area. Many visitors choose to incorporate Banteay Srei into their Angkor Wat tour or combine it with nearby attractions such as the Cambodian Landmine Museum and the Butterfly Centre.
    Carving of a Devata

    4. Visit notices

    When visiting Banteay Srei and other temples in Cambodia, consider the following to ensure having the best experience while showing respect to the country’s sacred destinations and culture:
    • Visit in the early morning or late afternoon visits to avoid crowds and excessive heat.
    • Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking on uneven terrain and climbing stairs.
    • Bring sunscreen, a hat, and water bottles to stay hydrated in Cambodia’s warm climate.
    • Consider hiring a local guide to gain insights into the temple’s history and cultural significance.
    • Dress modestly and refrain from loud or disruptive behavior.
    • Don’t touch or climb on any temple structures or carvings to prevent damage and comply with conservation laws.

    IV. Final word

    Aside from the famous Angkor Wat, Cambodia sure knows how to keep you lingering with its magnificent cultural structures that deliver in-depth historical layers and meaning. Banteay Srei, often referred to as the “Citadel of Women”, stands as a testament to Cambodia’s rich history and cultural heritage. From its intricate pink stone carvings to its fascinating architecture, this temple offers visitors a glimpse into the artistic and spiritual legacy of the Khmer Empire.
    Book your trip now with VietnamStay and prepare to be enchanted by the splendors of Cambodia. Click here for more further information on Cambodia travel itineraries.


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