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The Indonesian island of Java is home to the stunning temple compound of Prambanan

Registered as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1991, the Hindu temple compound of Prambanan is one of the most-visited sites in Central West Java in Indonesia. This Hindu temple compound is the perfect answer to the Buddhist wonder of Borobudur, which also astonishes visitors.

Reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in terms of its towers and carvings, Prambanan features one central tower and eight surrounding lesser towers. Around these towers stand the ruins of hundreds of other towers. The compound has been carefully restored. While it does not match its original grandeur, it is still impressive. Beautiful decorations abound, including statues within the towers, bas-reliefs portraying legends adapted from the Ramayana, sculptures of animal heads, reliefs of the sacred tree Kalpatura, or Heaven Tree, and humanoid bird figures known as Kinara.

Built in the 850s under the reign of King Rakai Pikatan of the Medang Kingdom, the colossal tower compound was used for solemn religious rites and sacrifices. Modeled after Mount Meru, the spiked towers were marvels of civil engineering. Dedicated to the God of Creation Brahma, the God of Preservation Vishnu and the God of Destruction Shiva, Prambanan emerged as the religious hub of the Medang Kingdom. However, its glory was short-lived. By 930, the court at Medang was moved to East Java by King Mpu Sindok. After that, Prambanan was abandoned and largely forgotten.

Visitors to Prambanan will find it hard to imagine that this gigantic compound was flattened by a massive earthquake in the 16th century. In 1811 the Scottish surveyor  Colin Mackenzie stumbled upon Prambanan by chance and informed his boss, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the lieutenant-governor of Java. Raffles ordered a survey of the site and sent home news of a fantastic temple compound hidden in the jungle. It was not until 1918 that restoration begun. By 1930 the reconstruction was well underway.

Day after day, thousands of visitors flock here from throughout the world to marvel at the towers set against the azure sky and the temples’ breathtaking stone reliefs. These sculptures have survived the atrocities of time to tell a silent story about the long-ago Medang Kingdom, which once flourished on Java Island.