Bayon: The Ancient Temple Complex Of 200-Smiling Faces

The Bayon Temple is a temple complex in the center of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, which is located in the region of Angkor, Cambodia.

The Angkor complex, including Angkor Thom, was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1992.

Built at the end of the 12th century, it was completed during the reign of Jayavarman VII. It was created in Buddhist style. The temple is oriented towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis.

Bayon, Khmer temple constructed in the late 12th or early 13th century and located in the ancient city of Angkor, today Cambodia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

It is best known for its 54 towers and more than two hundred Buddha faces which give off a sensation as if they were staring at you with a relaxed, calm, and beatific look.

The massive stone-heads transmit serenity and are what many people who have traveled there claim to have felt.

Bayon served as the state temple of the new capital of Jayavarman, Angkor Thom, occupying its center given the centrality of Buddhism in the Khmer empire.

Face-towers depicting Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Bayon-temple in Angkor, Cambodia (late 12th to beginning 13th century). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike the other temples built by the Khmer, Bayon is unique in that it was the only state temple built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha.

After the death of Jayavarman, the characteristics of the temple were altered according to the religious belief of their successors, so they contain Hindu and Theravada Buddhist elements that were not part of the original plans of the temple.

However, this mixture of different styles is precisely what makes this fascinating temple so mysteriously beautiful.

Without a doubt,  from all of the original characteristics of the temple, there are more than 200 gigantic stone faces that stand out and are what nearly all tourists remember best from the temple complex.

Bayon, Angkor Thom‎, Cambodia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

These faces, built in groups of four and of nearly identical design point to a cardinal direction, symbolizing the omnipresence of the person whose face is being represented.

It is believed that the statues represent the face of the Avalokitesvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is variably depicted, described and is portrayed in different cultures as either female or male.

This idea is supported by the peculiar characteristics of the face, in particular, the closed eyes and the mysterious smile which, as many experts claim, are believed to represent a state of enlightenment and tranquility.

Curiously, just as with Angkor Wat, the Bayon temple complex is filled with bas-reliefs,  which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes.

One of the 200 faces at the Bayon temple complex. Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The temple complex has a total of 1.2 km of ornamentations in stone that incorporate more than 11,000 figures in total. The Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.

It’s a massive open-air museum.

The ancient temple was built in three levels, which are accessible through narrow corridors where light is extremely scarce.

The good part of these corridors is that during days of extreme heat, the interior is much colder, offering a perfect relief in the scorching summer days.

Featured image credit: Shutterstock.

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