Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–c.1218) established a new capital, Angkor Thom [the great Angkor], north of Phnom Bak Kheng. The buildings of an already existing city were used as residential palaces and governmental buildings; an excellent system of moats and canals was constructed. At the four entrances of the capital, there are gateways; they open onto four avenues that meet at the Bayon, the temple in the center of the city. Before each gateway is a bridge decorated with a balustrade in the shape of a giant Naga, supported on each side by 27 carved figures. Above the gates are carved imposing stone faces, generally thought to symbolize the Bodhisattva Lokesvara.
Jayavarman VII erected the Bayon as a Buddhist sanctuary, but it underwent alterations during a later Hindu period. The central tower bears a giant image of Buddha, which has been interpreted as the incarnation of Jayavarman VII. Surrounding the main structure is a forest of more than 50 smaller towers studded with multiple heads of the king as a Buddhist god. The buildings are covered with elaborate decoration, more spontaneously and realistically rendered than that at Angkor Wat and again illustrating historical episodes from the king's life.
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