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Banteay Samré  and other flat temples in the style of Angkor Wat
Besides temple-pyramids or temple-mountains (with central buildings on elevated platforms) there are some more temple comlexes of impressive size in Angkor, but built only on ground level. They are called flat temples. All temples on ground level, of course, are flat temples in a wider sense. But small temples consisting of single or triple Prasats are usually not called "flat temples" in a narrow sense. All in all, there are many more of these ordinary temple towers than those huger monastic complexes consisting of whole groups of at-grade temple buildings, arranged in concentric enclosured compounds. Most of these vast flat temple complexes are from the Buddhist Bayon-period, constructed by Jayavarman VII about 1200. You can read more about them clicking to our separate page about Angkor Jungle Temples.

But some flat temples belong to the classical Angkor Wat style at the beginning till the middle of the 12th century. At least two of them are of dimensions comparable to those later Bayon style flat temples, one at Angkor and the other one in 30 km distance, Banteay Samré and Beng Mealea respectively. Thailand’s vastest Khmer temple compound Phimai is partly in the Angkor Wat style, too, but most of it is even earlier. Some more fat temples in the style of Angkor Wat in and around Angkor are medium-sized, namely Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda and Wat Athvea.
 
The classic flat temples in the style of Angkor Wat style are clearly dominated by their central tower. Bayon style flat temples have central Prasats, too, but less distinguished, their central sanctuaries are nearly undiscernible in size and design among surrounding Prasats.
 
The shape of central Prasat towers at classic flat temples from the Angkor Wat period is similar to that of the five towers of the Angkor Wat. Their design resembles fir cones. The first example, predating Angkor Wat, is Phimai. The silhouttes of Ankor Wat style conical spires resemble lancet bows with two conic lines crossing at the top, wheres Prasats of flat temples in the Bayon style have horizontally structured roofs.
 
Flat temples in the style of Angkor Wat have more elaborated Mandapa antechambers than their successors, Mandapas of Bayon style flat temples the Mandapas are almost undiscernbable from normal corridors and instead of one dominant Mandapa hall they have more in different directions.
 
Classical flat temples were predominantly Hindu, wheres Bayon style flat temple were Buddhist. "Predominantly" means: Flat temples in the Angkor Wat style were dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu and originally had icons of one of those two Hinbu deities in their central sanctuaries, but Phimai (Thailand) was Buddhist, and Angkor's classic temple complexes were not exclusively Hindu, some of their carvings can be Buddhist, too. On the other hand, later on Bayon style flat temple had sculptures of Mahayana-Buddhist saviour figures in the centre, but had satellite temples dedicated to Hindu gods as well as some decoration depicting Hindu mythology.      
 
The classical ornamentation of sculptures in wall niches is more sophisticated and meticulous than that at more hastily carved ones in the Bayon style later on. In particular female sculptures are more lively in the classic style of Angkor Wat, their garments and haircuts are complex and they were adorned with fancyful diadems.

A much earlier flat temple is the most beloved Khmer monument from the Angkorian era, Banteay Srei. But on this website you will find a webpage for Banteay Srei on its own.

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Flat Temple

Banteay Samré

Banteay Samré is the most significant flat temple and the second most important example of the classical style of Angkor Wat, though not of such enormous size as Beng Melea outside Angkor or Phimai in North East Thailand. Like Angkor Wat, Banteay Samré was obviously dedicated to Vishnu, though there was found no inscription to confirm this. It is a matter of debate whether Banteay Samré was built by Angkor Wat founder Suryavarman II or by one of his high-ranking court officials or by Suyavarman's less significant immidiate successor Yashovarman II.

Like Angkor Wat, Banteay Samré is approached by a long, raised causeway, leading to a cruciform terrace. Probably it is of a later date, because the design of the cylindrical columns is of the Bayon style, though with lion statues very similar to those of the Angkor Wat. Unlike Angkor Wat, Banteay Samré is oriented to the east. But there is a second causeway at the back side in the west connecting the temple to the south-east corner of the former reservoir East Baray in about 300 m distance.

Banteay Samré has two quite different and contrasting enclosures. The outer (83m x 77m) is a laterite gallery in a warm reddish tone, the inner court and its edifices are completely built in sandstone, which is of a grey colour. Both enclosures' gate pavilions, at the cardinal points, are decorated with excellent reliefs. These sandstone carvings are strikingly deep. The outer enclosure was framed by a colonnade, the tiled roofs are vanished. In places, it is a real symphony of columned windows. An interior moat with laterite paving, filled with water after heavy rainfall till the present day, is a unique feature inside a Khmer temple complex.

The sandstone buildings inside the central (first) enclosure are framed by narrow platforms. There is a stone coffin in the central Prasat. Originally there was a Vishnu statue in that central tower.

The sandstone buildings bear scenic reliefs at pediments and lintels and at the bases of the pilasters. Their sculptural decoration is of exceptional quality. Many of them depict groups of monkeys, indicating scenes from India's Ramayana epic. Some reliefs on the upper levels of this Hindu sanctuary show Buddhist subjects. Surprisingly, this temple in the style of Angkor Wat has no Apsaras.

Unfortunately, many sculptures and some carvings of Banteay Samré were stolen between 1945 and 1947 and during the Cambodian civil war from 1980 to 1995.

Banteay Samré is not a jungle temple any more. The vegetation was removed. But due to excellent restoration work, according to the anastylosis method, Banteay Samré is the most complete and intact Khmer flat temple at all.

Banteay Srei is not situated along the Small or Grand Circuit roads of the Angkor Archaeological Park, but 4 km farther east than the East Mebon. But there are two flat temples of considerable size from the Angkor Wat period within the core zone of Angkor. The "sister temples" Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda are situated in the forest to the east of Angkor Thom, on both sides of the Small Circuit.
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Banteay Samre


Thommanon

Thommanon is a small compound and a flat temple with only one Prasat, but the core temple structure, with a cruciform Prasat main tower, an Antarala passageway, and a Mandapa hall, is of a considerable size. It is an example of elegant classical Angkor-Wat-style design in sandstone, the temple proper is well preserved and restored.

Gopuram gates in the east and west and a library building in the south east corner are in a good condition, too, after Thommanon underwent restoration in the 1960s by French archaeologists, who supplemented the broken roof by adding concrete ceilings.

The highly stylised Devata semi-goddesses (often called Apsaras) of the outer walls are of excellent quality. The Devata sculptures have flower crowns, necklaces, armbands, belts and ankle bands. They are well-known for their complex mudras, particularly those hands gripping flowers, holding the ring and middle fingers against the thumb. They depict two completely different styles of sampot skirts, besides some in the Angkor Wat style others resemble those of much earlier periods.

Superimposed pediments are decorated with reliefs, too. Inside the Mandapa and the Antarala are well preserved lintels above doorways, but not easily to study because of the darkness. With a torch you can see Vishnu on the Garuda bird and Indra on the Airawata elephant.

Other interesting Thommanon panels show the death of monkey-king Valin, which is a topic of the Ramayana legend, demon-king Ravana shaking Mount Kailash to disturb Shiva's and his followers meditation, Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana in order to protect his followers from Indra's rainstorm. The west Gopuram depicts Shiva meditating (as Mahayogi) at its south side, the churning of the milk ocean at the north side, and Vishnu on Garuda fighting against an Asura demon.

Thommanon is often paired with the nearby Chau Say Tevoda just across the Small Circuit road, as both were built by Suryavarman II, and appear almost similar in size and style.
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Thommanon

Chau Say Tevoda

The flat temple Chau Say Tevoda is located just south of the similar Thommanon. It is linked to the Siem Reap river by a sacred avenue, which is a later addition from the 13th century. A cruciform terrace with serpent-body balustrades is the eastern entrance platform to the temple.

The 42 metres long and 33 metres wide temple wall, made of laterite, has four Gopuram gateways in the cardinal directions. Gopurams and the other monuments are built from sandstone blocks. Two depictions of Ramayana scenes, including the death of Valin, at the south side of the east Gopuram, are in a sound condition. The causeways connecting the Gopurams with the main shrine again are later additions from the time of Jayavarman VIII (1243-95).

There are two edifices called libraries in the north-east and south-east corner of the enclosed temple compound. The central main structure is a cruciform Prasat temple tower with a single Mandapa antechamber to the east. It is slightly smaller than the neighbouring Thommanon sanctuary. Compared to the Thommanon, the sculptural decoration is of the same artistic quality, but in a poorer condition, due to vandalism. The exterior wall of the Mandapa is covered with a floral pattern inscribed in geometrical squares and decorated with stone flowers similar to the famous stone carvings of Banteay Srei. A panel on the ground to the south possibly is an illustration of a maternity hospital.

Chau Say Tevoda was a syncretistic Hindu and Buddhist temple, as there are not only Hindu topics depicted in the lintels' and pediments' stone carvings, but Buddhist legends, too, the popular story of Preah Visadatara in particular.

Chau Say Tevoda was constructed in the style of Angkor Wat in the middle of the 12th century, it is a few decades later than the neigbouring Thommanon temple.
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Chau Say Tevda

Wat Athvea
 
There is another flat temple in the style of Angkor Wat, even larger than Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda and very well preserved, but without sculptural decoration. This rarely visited impressive monument is situated within the compound of the modern monastery Wat Athvea, at the southern edge of Siem Reap. You can find more detailed information about Wat Athvea on our separate page Siem Reap Temples.
 
 
Beng Mealea
 
The hugest flat temple from the classical period is Beng Mealea to the east of Angkor. Its ground plan is strikingly similar to that of Angkor Wat, except one important feature that makes a significant difference: Beng Mealea is a flat temple, whereas Angkor Wat is a temple mountain with structures on different levels.

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