Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey is a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva at the foot of the Phnom Dei hill in Siem Reap. Consecrated in 967 AD, it is popularly known as the Citadel of the Women or Citadel of Beauty today, presumably due to the temple’s tiny dimensions and elaborate wall carvings.
Located about 25 km north of the Angkor temple grounds, it took my Mom and I a little less than 2 hours by tuk-tuk from our hotel (I suppose it would be quicker by car). We were in Siem Reap over the 2011 Easter holidays and stayed at Hotel De La Paix, a boutique hotel in the city that has now been turned into the Park Hyatt Siem Reap (Sivutha Boulevard).
Banteay Srei is built predominately of hard red sandstone that can be carved like wood, thereby providing a medium for the intricate bas relief carvings on the temple walls. The temple is known for its beautifully carved pediments and lintels. A pediment is the triangle-like structure above a rectangular doorway and a lintel is a horizontal beam spanning the gap between two posts.
Interestingly, Banteay Srei was the only major temple in Angkor not to have been commissioned by a monarch, but instead by a courtier named Yajnavaraha who served as a counsellor to King Rajendravarman II. It is believed that Yajnavaraha, grandson of King Harsavarman I, was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those who suffered from illness, injustice, or poverty.
The temple was built as a dedication to Lord Shiva, originally carrying the name Tribhuvanamahesvara, meaning Great Lord of the Threefold World, in reference to the Shiva linga that served as its central religious image.
Banteay Srei is much quieter than the other temples in Angkor, and a must see for those coming to Siem Reap.