the Terrace of the Elephants

Date late 12th century
King Jayavarman VII
(posthumous name: Maha paramasangata pada)
Clearing de Mecquenem in 1911 and H. Marchal in 1916

The terrace of the Elephants in its present form extends in length for over 300 metres - from the Baphuon to the terrace of the Leper King - though the two extremities remain imprecise in their layout and the terrace itself shows evidence of additions and alterations.

Along the square it presents five stairways, three of which dominate. The southern of these is framed by motifs, already found on the gates of Angkor Thom, of three elephant heads with trunks forming pillars tugging at lotuses.

The same arrangement can be seen on the two secondary stairways which frame the central perron. As the most imposing, this has its side walls - as well as the walls of the terrace itself up to the secondary stairways - sculpted with lions and garudas "as atlantes". Above, the various changes in level are marked with lions sculpted in the round and naga-balustrades on blocks with garudas on their hoods, clearly in the style of the Bayon - except for a few earlier ones that have no garuda.

The northern extension has, rather than an axial stairway, two steep symmetrically arranged stairs. Another stairway on the northern fašade is, like that on the southern, sculpted partly with garudas and lions "as atlantes", partly in a bas-relief of horizontal bands representing scenes of sport, wrestling, chariot racing and polo - which originated from India.

The other panels have been sculpted for their entire length in a high relief of elephants mounted with drivers. Represented in profile and almost full in size, they are depicted with some realism in hunting scenes and surmounted by a naga-balustrade on blocks.

The upper terrace - from where one can see the enclosure walls and the eastern gopura below of the earlier Royal Palace - has two levels with a four metre wide border towards the square and an upper platform of 10 metres, with a base sculpted with "Hamsas" (sacred geese). It certainly occupied by light-weight palatial pavilions, whose nature one can only guess at. The remains of some laterite blockwork lie just in front of the northern end which must have been clad with sandstone bas-reliefs.

An excavation undertaken just in front of this blockwork showed that the layout of this area had been altered. One can see - effectively in a kind of pit - a panel sculpted in high relief that can only have been part of an ancient fašade, with expressive craftsmanship showing some remarkable modelling. It represents a horse with five heads - the king's horse sheltered under tiered parasols - surrounded by apsaras and menacing genies armed with sticks who chase some terrified smaller figures. Finot and Goloubew suggest that this was a representation of Lokesvara in the form of the divine horse Balaha.

On the second southern stairway of the central group, another excavation has revealed some superb garudas and lions "as atlantes" in perfect preservation and aligned with the front of the main fašade. This would seem to prove that this stairway was an addition.(12)