"The ancestor Keo"
Skirting Ta Keo by its western and southern boundary, one leaves the small circuit at the crossing corresponding to the south-east corner of the temple to take the route Batteur to the left. The simple, massive form of the monument then appears framed by the large trees at the end of the axial causeway. It is quite different in appearance to the other temples constructed so far, since the building remained undecorated. It also distinguishes itself by the unusual emphasis placed on the arrangement of the various horizontal elements of the pyramid in the composition - in elevation, the towers themselves, arranged in a quincunx, appear as the silhouette of a single group, seemingly joined by the projection of their avant-corps.
It is not known why work on this temple - which might have been included with the best - was abandoned just after the start of its ornamentation. Perhaps the successor to the founding king did not want to detract from the religious merit of his predecessor by completing the task and taking credit for himself - or maybe he had some other personal work of his own that was of more interest to him. Whatever the reason, the style and the quality of the partial decoration is sufficient to place the monument in time, and close study undertaken by Madame de Coral-Remusat and Mssrs Goloubew and Cdes, from differing points of view, has allowed them to place it between the extreme limits of Banteay Srei and the gopuras of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom. It appears therefore to be from the period between the end of 10th century and the first years of the 11th. The inscriptions engraved on the door jambs of the eastern gopuras, relating to donations made to the temple but not to its foundation, date from 1007.
Ta Keo is a pyramid of five levels reaching a total height of 22m.00 - the first two form the base of two enclosing courtyards, one surrounded by a simple wall and the other by a gallery, while the last three, with their various elements conforming to the usual rule of proportional reduction and so narrow that one can barely walk around them, are but a massive artificial plinth for the quincunx of sanctuaries.
This is the first realisation in sandstone of such a structure - generally dedicated to some deified nobility - after the temple of Bakheng which crowned a natural hill that served as its base. Its construction was consequently far more delicate and has been undertaken with much more care in the systematic cutting and placing of the enormous blocks of stone, whose arrangement, in the absence of any moulding or decoration, remains perfectly clear. The gallery, on the other hand, must be practically contemporaneous with the somewhat restrained sandstone gallery of Phimeanakas - but here one will see that there are no remains of any stone vault. It is probable, to judge by the rubble found during clearing works and the existence of corbelled brick vaults on the wings of the gopuras - a technique similarly used at Banteay Srei and on the entry pavilions of the Royal Palace - that the galleries at Takeo were themselves also vaulted in brick, rather than in any light-weight structure.
The access to the monument from the east is gained across a moat by means of a paved causeway, preceded by lions in the style of the Bayon and lined with bornes. If one follows its extension to the east for 500 metres to the bank of the eastern baray one comes to a terrace on two levels.
The external enclosure wall forms a rectangle of 120 metres by 100 and is in sandstone on a laterite base. The gopura - all in sandstone and partially sculpted - has three independent passageways and a central tower with reducing upper tiers. Frontons reconstructed on the ground show the style of the purely ornamental decoration. From the courtyard - open to the faithful - the view of the pyramid was entirely masked by the gallery of the next high tier. To the east, on either side of the axis, long rooms of 22 metres by 2m.75 served perhaps to shelter pilgrims. Preceded by a portico and followed by a smaller annexe, each was covered in wood and tiles and illuminated by a series of windows on either side with slender balustrades.
The second terrace dominates the first by 5m.50 in height with an imposing moulded laterite base and four axial sandstone gopuras. It is gained by steps of 0m.40 in height. To the east, the stone has received the beginnings of an ornamentation on the upper elements. The surrounding sandstone gallery, of 80 metres by 75 and 1m.40 in width, has no external openings and is only lit by windows towards the interior - the exterior being decorated with false balustered windows. There remains no trace of vault nor roof covering - only the corner pavilions, which are less prominent, are vaulted in sandstone.
The offsetting of the pyramid's axis towards the west has enabled the placing on the eastern side of two buildings, similar to the long rest rooms on the first terrace, though much less developed and poorly lit, and also of two "libraries" which open to the west and have a false upper storey pierced by long horizontal windows. Again there remains neither vault nor roof covering.
From the courtyard, standing in front of the three tiers that form the 14 metre high central pyramid, one is struck with a powerful impression. The stairs are, abnormally, of a constant width and rise in a single flight with steps from 0m.40 to 0m.30 in height, while their retaining walls to either side ascend in six steps. The strong moulding of opposing diamonds with a broad central roll gives a sense of force without detracting from the other elements of the decoration. Though only applied on the eastern side, and there badly damaged, this is remarkable in its composition, sculpted on a base of large flaming scrolls and horizontal diamonds. A rather scrawny Nandin (sacred bull) was found at the foot of the eastern stairway, confirming the Shiva´te destination of the temple.
The upper platform is 47 metres square and almost entirely occupied by the quincunx of towers in their unfinished form. These open to the four cardinal points by means of as many projecting vestibules which are doubled for the central sanctuary. The corner towers are set on a 0m.80 plinth and are clearly dominated by the central tower. This is raised by 4 metres, with the further development of its porticoes and frontons adding to its grandeur. The internal sanctuary chambers measure 4m.00 and 3m.50 each side respectively. They are remarkably constructed and have the inside of their upper tiers carefully faced, with no decoration other than an elegantly sculpted internal cornice. Fragments of pedestals and of lingas have been found both in and around the towers, as have several statues.
Because of its orientation, a visit to Takeo should best be made in the morning, and early so that its abrupt stairs do not appear too daunting.