There are no massive city gates to welcome you here, or stone covered causeways over gigantic moats to traverse. But what Banteay Srei – Khmer for Citadel of the Women* – lacks in monumental scale and significance, it makes up for with its exquisite sculptural adornment. Each intricate, carved inch of its centuries old, pink sandstone surface, proclaiming the supremacy of art over architecture.
Glorious depictions of scenes from the Hindu epics, in styles almost more Indian than Khmer, are splashed across every lintel and pediment of the three shrines, and even a pair of libraries facing them. While door and window frames, mimic the filigreed intricacies of traditional woodwork! Some of the most elaborate carvings are to be found on the library pediments, a few of which, along with the Uma & Shiva sculptures from the central sanctum, have been removed to museums. The rest need to be viewed from behind rope barricades, erected in 2010 to contain damage.
If you go, try and time a visit in the early hours of the morning, when the facade is illuminated by sunlight. We went late afternoon (having clubbed this with Beng Mealea) and although the light was wonderful, and brought out the colour of the sandstone, the sun directly behind the temple wasn’t ideal for photography.
Until next time…………….happy travels, no matter where life takes you.
*This name is attributed to the delicacy of the bas relief, implying that they were perhaps designed by women!