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Terrific terraces

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To the north of the famous Terrace of the Elephants in Angkor Thom is the Terrace of the Leper King. It dates from the Bayon period and was built in the late 12th or early 13th century. It has seven spectacular tiers of reliefs, depicting Apsaras and scenes from the king's court, as well as hundreds of human figures. There is some speculation about the meaning of the terrace. At the top of the terrace is a statue that, when discovered, was covered in moss, giving the impression of leprosy. It was believed to represent Jayavarman VII.  There is a legend, depicted in the Bayon temple, that the king fought a giant snake that spat poison at him, and he contracted leprosy. The original figure carved in the 14th century was moved to the National Museum in Phnom Penh and is now thought to be Yama, the god of death. Behind the terrace lies an older gallery that was concealed until it was exposed during restoration work in the late 1990s. The hidden carvings are easily accessible down a narrow corridor, with modern concrete supporting the original structure. The entrance has animal figures, including Mekong dolphins, crocodiles, fish and crabs. The narrow terrace zigzags behind, with hundreds of figures including spectacular nine-headed Nagas. Both the Leper King and Elephants terraces are best seen and photographed in the mornings.

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