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Baphuon Temple at Angkor – the World’s Largest Jig-saw Puzzle

Prior to the construction of Angkor Wat itself the mid-11th century Baphuon¬† – royal temple of King Udayadityavarman II, (trying saying that after a couple of Angkor beers) – was the largest temple of the Angkor empire and with it’s main tower surmounting the massive sandstone pyramid, said to have been clad in bronze, and its spectacular raised entrance causeway Baphuon must have been a truly impressive sight.

East face of the massive Baphuon pyramid temple
East face of the massive Baphuon pyramid temple

Unfortunately for many years the partially collapsed edifice has actually been one of the sadder sights of the Angkor temple complex until its restoration and re-opening was completed in April 2011 allowing visitors to finally see the temple in, if not exactly its full original glory, some recognizable semblance of it’s former spectacular self.

Eastern gopura seen from above
Eastern gopura seen from above

It was probably just too massive a construction in the first place with the shear weight of millions of tons of sandstone and laterite being too much for the sandy base before an attempted Buddhist makeover in the 16th century proved probably to be the final straw. When French archeologists began turning their attention to the crumbling pile in the late 1950s it was already beyond repair and in 1960 a decision was made to dismantle the temple, consolidate the foundations and reconstruct the entire 50m tall structure. Some 300,000 sandstone blocks were then carefully numbered and laid out on the ground around the temple’s base.

Note, even after completion of restoration the ground in front is still littered with blocks
Note, even after completion of restoration the ground in front is still littered with blocks

Clearly a painstaking and slow task and with the increasing intensity of the fighting with, and coming to power in 1975 of, the Khmer Rouge, work was interrupted. Worse than this the actual plans – the key to the 3rd of a million stone blocks’s location – was lost, (or some sources say destroyed by the Khmer Rouge!) In 1995 when renewed peace allowed archeologists onto the site once again they were faced with a partially dismantled and partially collapsed mega-structure, a sea of lettered and numbered stones stretching off in every direction and….no plan for what had become the world’s largest jig-saw puzzle!

Visitors can at last climb up the pyramid's 5 levels
Visitors can at last climb up the pyramid’s 5 levels

Computer simulations were attempted and even some of the original stone masons from the 1960s were recruited to help out and finally after 16 years of work on the puzzle the temple of Baphuon was officially re-opened in April 2011. Yes, several thousand unfitted pieces still litter the surrounding area including numerous carved sections and it’s unlikely that all the pieces will ever be replaced but visitors are today permitted to visit the entirety of the construction.

Baphuon reliefs
Baphuon reliefs

A visit to Baphuon temple is included in the afternoon of day 2 of our Angkor itinerary during our walking tour of Angkor Tom. Further details of our small group Cambodia Overland tour can be found by clicking the preceding link whilst our full range of Cambodia tours can be found here.  Cheers!