the Western Mebon

Date second half of 11th century
Cult Brahmanic
Clearing and partial anastylosis by M. Glaize from 1942 to 1944

The Mebon forms an island in the middle of the western baray and is only accessible by boat since the raising of the water level. To visit, one should be accompanied by a guide.(45)

In some ways reminiscent of the delightful ensemble of Neak Pean - built a century later in the middle of the Prah Khan baray - the Mebon was formed by a levee of earth that encloses a square of a hundred metres. This was then excavated as a basin and lined with sandstone steps. The centre is marked by a platform, also in sandstone, of a dozen metres each side joined by a laterite and sandstone causeway to the eastern dike. Some fragments of naga-balustrades on blocks have also been found.

The surrounding bank has three small entry pavilions on each side with two opposing doors, all in sandstone, set about 25 metres apart and in the form of a single tiered tower with a large eight-petaled lotus crown. Unfortunately badly ruined they now remain only as piles of rubble, except for the central eastern and southern towers which, crumbling and quite unstable, have been the object of some clearing and restoration work. The bases of some walls still stand on the north (central and eastern towers), south (central tower) and east (north tower) sides. Each pavilion is square in plan, measuring 2m.40 overall and 1m.28 internally.

The style is clearly that of the Baphuon, with nagas framing the frontons with their rounded form, the organic decoration crowded with small animals on the tympanums, the pilasters with their vertical "herringbone" line, and the vertical bands of the corner piers, ornate in some places with foliated scrolls and in others with small animals set in panels. The best preserved frontons are those to the north side (eastern tower), which are purely ornamental with a motif of superimposed vertical bands and large scrolls. The eastern lintel of the central tower, eastern bank, in which three figures grasp the branch at its centre and quarters, also shows remarkable fluidity. The door frames are constructed with a half-mitre, and some fragments of colonnettes show that they were of a type rarely used, with sort of vertical channels.

The towers were linked to one another by a sandstone enclosure wall pierced with numerous small openings rising just to the moulded and decorated cornice - which had a coping curiously treated in imitation of a gallery vault, with an edging band of lotus petals. Nearly the whole of this wall has fallen, and its ruin would appear to be caused primarily by the unfortunate combination - frequent in the 11th century - of stone and doubled wooden beams.

The platform situated at the centre of the basin must have carried some masonry or light-weight structure, though there remains no trace. The excavations detected the presence of a well, first octagonal in section and 0.m55 across and then circular and a metre in diameter, with the base lined in sandstone at a depth of 2m.70, carefully dressed with radiating joints. Part of the facing had been detached, so enlarging the cavity wherein was found, in 1936 - following the premonition of a local to whom the Buddha had appeared in a dream - an important fragment (the head and part of the body) of a gigantic bronze statue. Now in the National Museum, Phnom Penh, this is a work unique in the art of the Khmer by virtue of its size. Representing a reclining Vishnou with four arms, once gilded and encrusted with precious stones and with an overall length that must have exceeded four metres, it appears to be contemporaneous with the monument. It was no doubt the "recumbent bronze Buddha, from whose navel flowed a steady stream of water" placed by Tcheou Ta-Kouan, perhaps mistakenly, at the centre of the "oriental lake"- relating more readily in association to the western Mebon than to the eastern. Immediately behind the well, to the east, is a 2 metre square tank lined with sandstone.

According to the legend, it was here that a young princess, the daughter of one of the kings of Angkor, was devoured by an enormous crocodile, who, after his mischief, escaped by digging a large hole in the bank of the baray - which one can still see to the west of the village of Svay Romiet. When captured and slain, the beast carried the still living victim in its belly.