It's difficult to understand why anyone would find this image from Art Wolfe boring. Is it because such people have seen so many very fine images of the temples at Angkor that this particular one seems jaded by comparison? Or is it because some viewers have little knowledge of Angkor and therefore no associations that spring to mind?
For the benefit of those who don't already know, the Khmer civilisation with its centre at Angkor Wat in Cambodia was once the greatest empire in the region during the Middle Ages. It was the largest preindustrial city in the world with an elaborate system of infrastruction connecting an urban sprawl of 1,000 square kilometers.
These ancient people had no trouble subduing the Vietnamese, a task in which the Americans failed misearably a thousand years later.
The Khmers were eventually conquered by the Thais around 1431, so history tells us. But there's new evidence that the Thais had a lot of help from Climate Change.
Those of us who have been following the climate change debate will know that the 'alarmists' (those who think our CO2 emissions are responsible for the current change in climate) produced a graph a few years ago, known as the 'Hockey Stick', which implied that the Medieval Warming Period never existed, a position which is clearly in conflict with other evidence such as the inhabitation of Greenland by the ancient Vikings during this warm period and their eventual abandonment of that island as it became increasingly uninhabitable due to the effects of The Little Ice Age (from about 1250-1850).
It is now believed, through the study of tree rings, that this transition from the MWP to the LIA, also caused massive climate change in Cambodia, a country that relies upon the melting snows in the Himalayas and the regular appearance of the monsoon rains every year. This weather pattern which kept the reservoirs full and provided sufficient water for a very bountiful rice harvest was a strong component in the success of this empire.
After a few years of unusually cold weather in the Himalayas, causing a disruption to the annual melting of the snow which fed the great Mekong river, plus the frequent non-appearance of the annual monsoon during this transition period from the MWP to the LIA, would have caused havoc and would have severely weakened the Khmer empire, making it vulnerable to attack from the neighbouring Thais.
Now what has this history lesson got to do with Art Wolfe's image, you might ask?
Whenever I see an image of the ruins at Angkor, these are the thoughts that spring to my mind, particularly because this ancient civilization left no books, nor literature nor philosophy as the ancient Greeks and Romans did. Almost the entire creative output of these people was channeled into the construction of magnificent temples adorned with magnificent, bas-relief carvings of bare-breasted women, as well as other bas-reliefs depicting various battles, myths and their general culture and way of life.
If you'd been there a thousand years ago, you would not have seen the current, dull brown temple spires rising above the green foliage of the jungle, but brilliant white spires imitating the shape of lotus flowers. Yes! They painted their temples white, and the carvings of celestial dancing girls and other depictions of members of the royal family would have been painted with red ochre and black, and other parts covered with gold leaf.
The lifestyle was hedonistic and the Khmer women had such a reputation for their beauty and friendliness that many a Chinese sailor would jump ship, whenever a ship was berthed in the vicinity of Angkor, in order to spend the rest of his life amidst such alluring splendour.
(Sorry! Art. Not quite a thousand words ).