(Note: George Groslier was Director or Cambodian Arts and Curator of the Cambodian Museum. He was born in Phnom Penh and was sent to France for his education. He came back to Cambodia in 1909 and had written several books about Cambodia art and dance.)
You should not visit the great temple in the morning for it merely stands out, a dark silhouette against a white sky and looses its grandeur and the richness of its varied planes. We must choose the afternoon when the sun is behind us and follows us as we pass eastwards, throwing every half hour new lights and shades upon it, up to the apotheosis of sunset. These effects are so engrossing and so harmonious as to imagine that the architect had himself conceived them, foreseeing and profiting by them. Whilst the most celebrated sanctuaries in the world display their splendours to the east, to the cold and the pale morning sun, this exceptional and unrivalled Khmer temple spreads its flowing beauties to the red evening sky. Thus century after century Kambujian twilight is mingled symbolically with the twilight of the day.
Whilst waiting for this glorious climax, one of the most beautiful sights that man can hope to see upon earth and in the course of his short life, let us face the glowing two-o’clock sun. Let us cross the moats in which the water is drying up more and more each year though scarcely ten years ago one could still sail a boat upon them. The roadway stone-setts scorch our feet. A Naga-balustrade forms the boundary. In the centre, two flights of steps and stairways lead to the water. On the western face the first enclosure, which on the other three sides is composed of a solid laterite wall, makes room for a gallery resting on a wall and pillars, flanked outside by a half gallery. In the centre, the magnificent entrance to the temple stands forth with its triple door surmounted by three now summit-less towers : it ends north and south in a new door under cross vaultings without any stairways or steps, it being designed as a passage for elephants and chariots.
As our steps resound in the shades of this mighty entrance, we discover the work of the orderly Khmers and also the controlling will of a genial architect. Again we see the ground stone, the corbelled vault, the solid pillars, the capitels adorned by lotus leaves, already noted hundreds of times. There is no change in the plan of the doorway, and the towers are like all others. The general proportions are those met everywhere else and if we search carefully we shall discover certain childish faults in the construction noticed in former shrines. But the walls are splendidly finished, the whole scale has grown, the proportions of the gateways being almost doubled.
For the first time since we wander in ancient Cambodia and in its capital, do we feel that we are confronted by real architects, specially when, standing in the central doorway on the Eastern side, under the glowing sky, we see two hundred yards away the whole temple framed before us against the horizon. The architects of Angkor Thom waiting for us asit were at each of its magnificent gateways exclaim: “I am Life, I am Culture, I am Wealth”. But from the minute we set foot in Angkor Vat, its master genius cries to us : “I am Order and Reason”.
George Groslier, (Director of Cambodian Arts and Curator of the Cambodian Museum), Angkor, Paris, 1933.
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