The temple and perimeter walls are all that remain today of this once flourishing city of 20,000. Both are striking, especially the temple structure, not only for their size but also their design, carvings and visual impact. The temple's central column rises over 65 meters from ground level. In 1586 a visiting Portuguese monk wrote "it is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen since it is like no other building in the world".
The temple structure sits close to the perimeter wall on one side. As the land was flat, in order to enable it to reach celestial heights and stand out above the forest it was built on top of an earth mound. It was built as three platforms in a pyramid shape, a stepped pyramid, with each platform smaller than the one below it. The top platform and most sacred part of the temple is a walled area of 19 square meters with columns (prasat) at each corner and a central prasat rising over 42 meters. It is these prasats that are the most striking feature of Angkor Wat. They are conical in shape, tapering to the top, stepped and tiered and carved with numerous projections and recesses.
These five prasats represent the five peaks of Mt Meru, the mythological home of the gods with the central prasat also representing the center of the universe. The central prasat has a greater diameter and is much taller than the four corner prasats and it dominates not only the temple but the whole site.
Another feature of the ruins which adds to their magnificence is that most of the sandstone walls and columns of the temple and other structures are exquisitely and intricately carved. Much of the carving relates to the mythology of Vishnu but there are also carvings of Suryavarman II himself; the soldiers and battles of the empire; royal courtiers; more than 1500 devatas (goddesses) and apsaras (dancing nymphs); animals and depictions of the inhabitants and their daily lives. Tiles can be seen on some roofs but they're not tiles at all, the blocks of stone have been carved to look like roof tiles.
Archeologists think Angkor Wat was abandoned around 1432, it is thought it was sacked by an opposing army at some point and that water and food resources became scarce, but it is not well known what was happening at this time. The temple has maintained its significance in Khmer history and is depicted on the Cambodian flag to this day.