It’s not the architectural grandeur of its dozens of towers. Or the engineering prowess of it being built in 1186. And not even what life must have been like there then, with thousands of people swarming around it. The focus of their fascination was the jungle. The jungle that had invaded it, which had conquered it, which magically and powerfully sprouted between its ruins, making it the most impressive temple in the archaeological site of Angkor, in Cambodia. Ta Prohm is unique. And wild.
The temple, which in its day formed part of the capital of the Khmer Empire, peeks out shyly between the enormous roots of trees that are hundreds of years old. The vegetation grips onto its statues and is encrusted onto its facades, as if it were trying to make them disappear, to devour them. And it wouldn’t be the first time that it had done so. With the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temples were abandoned and forgotten. 400 years later, European explorers discovered them. The appearance that the temple has now is very similar to when it was found, as it was decided to leave Ta Prohm exactly as it was. The reason was to demonstrate the power of nature over man. And its photogenic qualities too. In Ta Prohm, the only changes that have been made have been to stop it collapsing. This allows its visitors to feel the tingle of adventure today that the French explorers who found it felt at the time. They can walk along narrow paths while the tops of the trees eclipse the sun and the humidity of the jungle envelops everything.
The appearance that the temple has now is very similar to when it was found, as it was decided to leave Ta Prohm exactly as it was.
Before its decline, Ta Prohm was an important Buddhist monastery and university. It was built by King Jayavarman VII in honour of his mother, whose image was used for the main statue of the temple, Prajñaparamita, the symbol of wisdom. An inscription in Sanskrit gives us an idea of its importance: almost 80,000 people were responsible for its maintenance, and guarded over 500 kilos of gold, 35 diamonds and several thousand precious stones in its interior. The wealth of the temple can also be deduced from its size: with its 39 towers it is one of the largest in the Angkor complex.
To relive its glorious past, you now need to beat a path between branches and roots and walk along the large chain of buildings that are connected by dark passages. Nature has turned it into a labyrinth that forces visitors to come with a good map or with a guide who knows the way. The thrill of the visit, as the French explorers who reached Ta Prohm knew, also lies in being able to return and tell the tale.