Angkor Thom (Khmer: អង្គរធំ pronounced [ʔɑːŋ.kɔː.tʰum]; literally: "Great City"), (alternative name: Nokor Thom, នគរធំ) located in present-day Cambodia, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII.:378–382:170 It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. It is also a very big tourist attraction, and people come from all over the world to see it.
Angkor Thom (Khmer: អង្គរធំ) is the transform name from another alternative name of Nokor Thom (Khmer: នគរធំ), which is believed to be the correct one, due to neglect of calling it in incorrect pronunciation. The word Nokor (Khmer: នគរ) is literally derived from Sanskrit word of Nagara (Devanāgarī: नगर), which means City, combining with Khmer word Thom (Khmer: ធំ), which means Big or Great so as to form Nokor Thom then being altered to current name of Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building program. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.:121
Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name.:138 The name of Angkor Thom—great city—was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived.
Angkor Thom was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato".:140 It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000–150,000 people.
Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.
The city lies on the west bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru.:81 Another gate—the Victory Gate—is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon. It is around 30 minutes from central Siem Reap.
The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates, which are later additions to the main structure, take after those of the Bayon and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these. A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself,:82 would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors.:82 The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists. At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung—corner shrine—built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east.
Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.
Most of the great Angkor ruins have vast displays of bas-relief depicting the various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism). Mingled with these images are actual known animals, like elephants, snakes, fish, and monkeys, in addition to dragon-like creatures that look like the stylized, elongated serpents (with feet and claws) found in Chinese art.
What one sees are roundels depicting various common animals—pigs, monkeys, water buffaloes, roosters and snakes. There are no mythological figures among the roundels, so one can reasonably conclude that these figures depict the animals that were commonly seen by the ancient Khmer people in the twelfth century.