Location: inside the enclosure walls of the Royal Palace
Access: walk over the Terrace of Elephants and through the east gopura of the enclosure wall encircling the Royal Palace. You are on the principal access to the temple. Alternatively, follow the pathway between the two terraces, bearing left through a breech in the enclosure wall, close to the north-east gopura. The temple’s tiered platform will be visible from here to the west
Tip: for those who want to climb to the top, use the west stairway
Date: 10th century-early 11th century
King: Rajendravarman II (reigned 941-968)
Art style: Kleang
Phimeanakas, located inside the Royal Palace compound, was the temple where the king worshipped. I t must originally have been crowned with a golden pinnacle, as Zhou Daguan described it as the ‘Tower of Gold’. I t is small compared with others, but, even so, it has appeal and is situated in idyllic surroundings. Although its construction seems to have been initiated by Rajendravarman II, subsequent kings made additions, Suryavarman I in the 11th century made the most significant ones.
This temple is associated with a legend that tells of a gold tower (Phimeanakas) Inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great, where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmers was perpetuated.
Your prelude to Phimeanakas is through the cruciform east gopura. Its lintels are of Kleang style with a central motif of a kala head; inscriptions on the door frames detail an oath of fidelity for dignitaries of the empire. Continue walking west until you reach the temple. The general plan of Phimeanakas is rectangular with cruciform gopuras. The temple, built of laterite and sandstone, originally consisted of a central sanctuary on a tiered platform and an enclosure wall. The grounds around the sanctuary included several courts and ponds that were part of the Royal Palace. A second enclosure wall, surrounded by a moat (now dry) was built at a later date.
CENTRAL SANCTUARY (3)
The single sanctuary stands on a base with three laterite tiers and is approached by four steep stairways, one on each side (1). These stairways are framed by walls with six projections – two per step – decorated with lions. Elephants once stood on sandstone pedestals in the corners of the base, but, today, they are mostly broken.
The upper terrace affords a fine view of the neighboring temple of the Baphuon. A narrow, covered sandstone gallery (2) with windows and balusters at the edge of the upper terrace is the first appearance of a stone gallery with a central sanctuary. There were small pavilions at the corners, but only vestiges remain.
To the north of Phimeanakas, there are two ponds that were part of the Royal Palace compound. The smaller and deeper pond, known as Srah Srei or the women’s bath, which is closest to the main road, is identified by moulding and laterite steps. The other larger pond or the men’s bath directly to its west, can be reached by a footpath to the right of Phimeanakas. Follow it, and until you come to a large pond paved in laterite with sandstone steps. Continue walking until you are standing on the north edge of the pond. Then turn back and look at the amazing sculpted borders, in two tiers and carved in high relief, on the opposite side. You will see nagas sculpted in animal and human form surrounded by naga-princesses; on the top there are male and female garudas and mythical winged figures. This entire area was probably crowned by a platform with a naga balustrade, and may have served as a gallery for the sovereign and dignitaries of the court.