Researchers now believe they know why the ancient city of Angkor was abandoned – and warn that modern-day cities could fall victim to the same fate
Through dense foliage, five spires pierce the forest canopy, exalting the presence of a longstanding man-made structure. Beneath the trees, a temple: walls imbedded with stone effigies, pathways leading to sheltered galleries, and a serene moat carved around the entire complex. Moss, lichen and roots have crept in over time to cover and crack the stone structures, and still the temple stands.
This is Angkor Wat: a cornerstone of Cambodian culture and history that has endured for more than 800 years. Though it is now one of a handful of temples still standing in the forests north of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat once stood at the heart of a sprawling metropolis home to more than 750,000 people.
The Khmer Empire was the most sophisticated and prosperous kingdom in preindustrial Southeast Asia, and the city of Angkor was its most developed metropolis. First founded in the 900s, the capital grew and flourished over time to become the world’s largest city at the turn of the 13th century. With its terraces, pools and palaces, the city’s immense size rivalled that of present-day cities like Los Angeles and Berlin.But the prosperity did not last. A recent report published in Science Advanceshas shed light on the reason why this ancient megacity crumbled into ruins, and more pertinently, includes a chilling premonition of how its demise could provide important lessons for Southeast Asia’s modern metropolises.
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