The height of Khmer art and architecture dates from the Angkor period. All the surviving monuments are built of stone or brick, and all are religious buildings. The culture and art of the early kingdoms of Funan and Chenla were central to the evolution of Angkorian art and architecture. Relics of the pre-Angkorian periods have been found all over South-Cambodia. Most of it is Hindu art, but a number of Mahayana-Buddhist Bodhisattvas have been found also. During Angkor period, architecture and its decoration were governed by a series of mystical and religious beliefs.
Common motifs in Khmer sculpture are apsaras (celestial nymphs), which have become a kind of symbol of the Khmer culture. The apsaras are carved with splendidly ornate jewellery, clothed in the latest Angkor fashion and represented the ultimate ideal of feminine beauty of that time. Other motifs are nagas (sacred aquatic snakes), which play an important part in Hindu mythology and are possibly more than any other motif charac-teristic of Southeast Asia. Most of these motifs have been taken from Indian art and have been modified into what is now known as traditional Khmer art.
Temples were designed to represent the cosmic Mt. Meru, the home of the gods of Indian cosmology, surrounded by oceans. Angkor literally means "city" or "capital", Wat means "temple". Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the architectural masterpieces of Cambodia and probably the largest religious building on earth. Conceived by Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat took an estimated 30 years to build. It is generally believed to have been a funeral temple for the king. It has been continuously occupied by monks and is well preserved.
Intricate bas reliefs surround Angkor Wat on four sides. Each tells a different story. The most celebrated of these is "The Churning of the Ocean of Milk", which is located on the east wing. Again, the central sanctuary of the temple complex represents Mt. Meru, the five towers symbolize Meru's five peaks, the enclosing wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world and the surrounding moat, the ocean beyond.
The symmetrical towers of Angkor Wat are stylized on the Cambodian flag and have become a symbol of Khmer culture.