Preah Khan Temple (built 1191)Preah Khan was built in 1191 during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. He was a warrior king celebrated for reconstructing the Khmer Empire after a period of fragmentation. Jayavarman first made a name for himself in 1165, when news of a rebellion reached his ears. Rushing home from the Cham Kingdom, where he resided, he arrived too late to stop the usurper Tribhuvanadityavarman from crowning himself King of the Khmers. Jayavarman was powerless to interfere,
but waited patiently for an opportunity. Finally in 1177, the Cham kingdom sent an invasion force against the Khmer usurper, joined by native elements, that toppled him in a bloody campaign. Fighting even reached Angkor, laying waste to the capital. The victorious Cham occupied Khmer territory as a foreign power, but their rule was not to last long.
Jayavarman jumped in with his own private army, striking headlong at the Cham forces. He won a spectacular naval battle on the Great Lake that crippled the Cham fleet. This opened the door to a wholesale invasion that not only drove out the foreign occupiers, but struck against native kinglets that resisted his "liberation". Only in 1181 was he confident enough to crown himself King, taking the reign title Jayavarman VII.
The King commissioned Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples as monuments of his rule. Preah Khan was probably built on the same spot where previous kings had kept their palaces. Preah Khan was more than just a monastery—it was an entire city enclosing a town of 56 hectares. About 100,000 farmers produced rice to feed about 15,000 monks, teachers, and students. Subsidiary buildings included a hospital, rest house, and rice granary.
The central Buddhist temple at Preah Khan included an image of the Boddhisattva Lokeshrvara, carved to resemble the King's father. There were 282 sub-deities around the main statue, including Khmer heroes and deceased officials. There was even a statue of the usurper-king in front of the temple. Though this seems odd, the Khmers believed that all past kings, even usurpers, guarded the country after death.
An architectural detail typical of Jayavarman VII's reign are the free-standing statues that flank the gateways.