East Mebon Temple is a phenomenal ancient wonder in Siem Reap. Being constructed in 953 AD, this is officially the oldest temple that we visited in Cambodia. Despite its age, its architectural beauty and remarkable framework remained intact. Wonderfully sculpted elephants and lions decorate all of the four angles of this marvelous structure.
Because of its height, this temple may seem like a temple-mountain like the Pre Rup Temple. The fact is that it used to sit on top of an artificial island in the middle of East Baray reservoir which is now totally dry. Unlike most of the temples that were built centuries after its construction, this temple is made out of small bricks with lighter colors.
History of East Mebon Temple
This temple was constructed in the middle of the 10th century under the rulership of King Rajendravarman. This was dedicated to the parents of the king and the Hindu deity Shiva. The temple was designed by Kavindrarimathana who is the one and only architect of the Khmer empire during that time.
This used to be called Yasodharatataka – ‘the reservoir of Yasodhara’. Steles with poems declaring the protection of deity Ganga were placed in all of its corners.
Exploring East Mebon Temple
We visited this site after our short exploration of the Ta Som Temple. It was a pleasure to see its distinctness. Among all of the temples that we visited, this is the only one that is made out of small bricks. The bright and lively color of this temple has a sharp contrast to the temples that we recently visited which seemed darker and gloomy.
On a closer look, the bricks looked like sponges that are dry and brittle. They seem to be less robust and intact unlike the big blocks used in the temples that were constructed centuries after it. What’s amazing is how this temple managed to stay stronger with lesser damage despite its age and its type of materials.
The statues of the elephants perhaps were the largest statues that we’ve seen in Siem Reap. It’s puzzling why we didn’t find large statues like those in the bigger and newer temples in the area. Large lion statues seem to be the most common because we’ve seen a lot of them in the previous temples that we visited. The quality, details and the fine finishing of those statues were simply superb for its era.
The doors in this temple are the grandest that we’ve seen among all of the temples that we explored within the Angkor Archaeological Park. They’re clearly a replica of the old ones but it gives you a great look and feel of how the ancient doors looked a long time ago. Their intricate design is mesmerizing and extravagant.
One of the towers has an altar with a Buddha statue wearing a shiny golden robe. This indicates that this temple is regularly visited by locals because of how clean the altar’s fabrics are. The number of incense that was recently used on it gives a good indication as well. It was great to see the paintings sold on this temple because it shows how Cambodia’s artistic tradition continues to thrive like in its ancient days.