Ta Keo Temple
What happened during the construction of Ta Keo temple?
Is it unfinished, or did the child-king decide he wanted his temple to stand apart?
Unlike the single-story Banteay Srey Temple, Ta Keo (Khmer: ប្រាសាទតាកែវ) is a towering temple-mountain in the ancient city of Angkor. With five sanctuary towers on a five-level pyramid, Ta Keo looks like it was primed to be one of the greatest Angkor temples. However, something happened during the building process that halted construction forever, and left the temple in a perpetual state of incompletion. Experts today still can’t agree on what went wrong, but they do have a few interesting theories…
What to Expect at Ta Keo Temple
Just outside the ancient Angkor city of Angkor Thom, Ta Keo Temple juts up against the East Baray and is just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood’s favorite temple, Ta Prohm. Even if you only have a single day to visit, Ta Keo temple is in the thick of it all, and is well worth a visit.
Although construction was never completed, as it stands today, Ta Keo is an imposing sight even from afar. The main temple is five tiers high, with the final pyramid rising more than 14 metres from the second terrace. Its’ outer walls are flanked by five large towers arranged in a geometric quincunx (five points arranged in a cross). These outer walls and towers are surrounded by a moat and are said to symbolically depict the holy Hindu mountain Mount Meru.
A Blank Slate & Windowless Rooms
The enormous Ta Keo remains are made even more imposing by the exterior’s lack of outward-facing windows or decorative carvings. The temple gallery’s windows are lined with balusters, but it is only possible to look through these from the interior, as the outer balusters are blocked from view by a stone wall. Although there are some damaged floral carvings just barely visible on the east side, the detail doesn’t even come close to the intricate carvings depicting Hindu lore on temples like Banteay Srey.
View from the top
If you’re up for the climb once you’ve explored the inner gallery and libraries, there are four continuous and very steep stairways that lead to the temple summit. At the foot of the eastern staircase is a beautiful statue of a kneeling Nandi, which confirms that Ta Keo was – at least in part – dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. From the top, you can see for miles. To the western side, you’ll look out over acres upon acres of scrubland and lush rice paddies. To the east you’ll look out over the now-dried-up East Baray, which was full of water year round at the peak of the ancient Angkor civilization.
The Mystery of Ta Keo
Was the temple meant to be left without classic Angkor carvings? Did those ancient Angkor builders stop carving for some reason? Although there are some visible etchings on one exterior wall of the temple, some sources maintain that the particular kind of sandstone used to build Ta Keo is exceptionally tough and would be too difficult to carve. This theory is bolstered by archaeologists’ theory that Ta Keo was the first building built entirely of sandstone by the ancient Khmer society.
In recovered inscriptions, one high priest wrote that lightning struck the unfinished temple, which is considered an evil omen, so construction was halted. Some experts have also theorized that construction stopped when child-king Jayavarman V struggled to maintain his throne. Even after his early death, the struggle for succession continued for years.
From Your Hotel to Ta Keo Temple
As mentioned earlier, Ta Keo is the next door neighbor of Angkor Wat and the city of Angkor Thom. This means it fits right in with a day tour of the temples. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to explore the inner courtyard and towers – plus it’s unique enough to be well worth the stop.
As the temple is renowned for its particularly stark outer appearance, we recommend that you visit Ta Keo earlier in the morning before the light is too harsh. If you have any questions about the city’s history or you’re wondering what locals think of the legends of the unfinished temple, don’t be afraid to ask your private tuk-tuk driver. We keep a small team of lovely tuk-tuk drivers on retainer for our guests, and they are always more than happy to share what they know of their beloved Angkor temples.