| the Royal Square, Angkor Thom
Just north of the Bayon, two parallel roads running north-south frame a long rectangle of 720 metres by 80, intersected towards their middle by a road that runs east from the axis of the ancient Royal Palace and leads to the Victory Gate (the east side of Angkor Thom). These roads serve, on the one side, the monuments to the west of the royal square so defined - the Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants with the Royal Palace and its temple the Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Leper King, Tep Pranam and Prah Palilay - and on the other, the monuments situated to the east - the prasats Suor Prat, the two Kleang and Prah Pithu.
The royal square as such, today cleared of the trees which once crowded it, forms a vast court of about 550 metres by 200 that must have lent itself admirably to the display of processions and military parades. From the reign of Jayavarman VII, the builder of the Elephant Terrace towards the end of the 12th century, the king and his courtiers were able to view these proceedings from the Terrace - that was probably embellished with elegant light-weight tribunes.
In 1296, towards the end of the period of glory, the Chinese envoy Tcheou Ta-Kouan wrote an informative description for us of some of these festivals:
"In front of the royal palace a great platform is raised, sufficient to hold more than a thousand people, and decorated from end to end with lanterns and flowers. Opposite they construct a high timber scaffolding on top of which rockets and firecrackers are arranged. As night falls, the King is besought to take part in the spectacle. The crackers are set off and the rockets, big as cannons, are fired - shaking the whole city with their explosions...
"Every month a festival is held. In the ninth month the entire population of the kingdom is summoned to the capital to pass in review before the palace. With the fifth month comes the ceremony of "washing the Buddhas". Then Buddhas are carried from all over the kingdom, water is procured and the king lends a hand in the cleansing ...
"... When the King leaves his palace the procession is headed by cavalry - then come the flags, the banners and the music. Three to five hundred gaily dressed palace girls, with flowers in their hair and tapers in their hands, are massed together in a separate group. The tapers are alight even in broad daylight. Then come other girls carrying gold and silver vessels from the palace and a whole collection of ornaments, of a very particular design, whose uses were strange to me. Then come still more girls, the bodyguard of the palace, holding shields and lances. They, too, were separately aligned. Following them come chariots drawn by goats and horses, all adorned with gold. Ministers and princes, mounted on elephants, are preceded by countless bearers of scarlet parasols. Close behind come the royal wives and concubines, in palanquins and chariots, or mounted on horses or elephants, to whom are assigned at least a hundred parasols mottled with gold. Finally the Sovereign appears, standing erect on an elephant and holding the sacred sword. This elephant, his tusks sheathed in gold, is accompanied by bearers of twenty white parasols with golden shafts. All around is a bodyguard of elephants, drawn close together, and still more soldiers for complete protection, marching in close rank."
Can we not see such a parade represented on the bas-reliefs of the Bayon?
We recommend that a visit is best made in the morning to the monuments situated on the west of the main road, where one can wander along the Elephant Terrace - gaining access by its central stairway - to then visit successively the Terrace of the Leper King, the Buddha of Tep Pranam, Prah Palilay, the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, to finish with the Baphuon. The monuments situated on the eastern side of the square should then be viewed in the afternoon, when the light is more favourable.