You watched the trooping armyís fluttering banners; horses draped in gold;
with red umbrellas; and behind them all, the king standing on an elephant, its
shining with gold.
It was 1297 and your diplomatic trip to Angkor was over, Zhou Daguan, but you
reluctant to leave the thriving city of seven-hundred-and-fifty thousand people
heart of the Khmer Empire.
It was so beautifully ordered, how could you describe it to your Emperor? Angkor
was the most palatial temple you had ever seen. It evoked Mount Meru, font of
cosmos, with its five gilded towers rising like peaks, and its immense
symbolising the oceans. Its sacred reservoirs were practical too, storing
to guarantee harvests; they were the source of the cityís six centuries of
But the system had become too ambitious, too reliant on a stable climate.
When the first drought hit, the empire lost its outlying lands. When the next
hit, the city failed. Angkor fell to invaders. They tried to use its
infrastructure, but it was beyond repair.
The largest city in the pre-industrial world was abandoned, reclaimed by the
the wonders of the Khmer Empire were forgotten by all.