The Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia.
At the heart of Angkor Thom is the 12th-century Bayon, the mesmerising, if slightly mind-bending, state temple of Jayavarman VII. It epitomises the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king. Its 54 Gothic towers are decorated with 216 gargantuan smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara, and it is adorned with 1.2km of extraordinary bas-reliefs incorporating more than 11,000 figures.
There are some 50 towers around the ruined temple, with over 200 faces showing varying degrees of erosion and wear. Each face is 4 metres high and is facing one of the cardinal directions of the compass. They all have the same serene smile, with eyes closed, representing the all-knowing state of inner peace, and perhaps even a state of Nirvana. There are also many complicated and exquisite bas-reliefs around the temple, with scenes depicting land and naval warfare, market scenes and others depicting the construction of the temple itself.
Known as the 'face temple' thanks to its iconic visages, these huge heads glare down from every angle, exuding power and control with a hint of humanity. As you walk around, a dozen or more of the heads are visible at any one time, full face or in profile, sometimes level with your eyes, sometimes staring down from on high.
The basic structure of Bayon comprises a simple three levels, which correspond more or less to three distinct phases of building. The first two levels are square and adorned with bas-reliefs. They lead up to a third, circular level, with the towers and their faces. The famous carvings on the outer wall of the first level depict vivid scenes of everyday life in 12th-century Cambodia.