Two pagodas of Wat Ratchaburana in central Ayutthaya are almost 600 years old, but their beauty is still visible due to conservation efforts. The remaining stucco and plaster at both stupas (prang and mondop), the Buddha statues at the Prang, the floral decoration at the east face of the prayer hall and the stucco at a small pagoda — they have been preserved partly as a result of a German conservation project in close co-operation with the Ayutthaya Historical Park and Unesco Bangkok.
Over the weekend I went to Ayutthaya to see the restoration works by the German team working at Wat Ratchaburana. This 15th century wat, built in Khmer style, features a lotus shaped prang (tower) that sets it apart from most of the temples in the complex, and most readers familiar with Khmer temple architecture would recognise it immediately.
Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015
The German team, led by Prof. Hans Leisen, is just wrapping up their season this week, and I had a close look and appreciation for their work. The project began after the 2012 floods, and the focus started by looking at some of the stucco reliefs found at the lower levels of the temple. Remarkably, these reliefs were relatively undamaged as it turned out.
Prof. Hans Leisen, head of the German team working on the restoration of Wat Ratchaburana
Stucco reliefs at the base of the temple. These were the reliefs that were exposed to flood waters in 2012, but they seem to have survived relatively well.
The stucco on the upper levels of the building was another matter, and so the project has turned their attention there. At time of writing there was a scaffold built around the northern face of the main prang which gives researchers access to the features on the outside of the building.
View from the scaffold.
Restoration on such a building is always a patchwork process. Various restoration works have been carried out over the years, by different agencies. This means there are several layers of restoration that can be seen in different parts of the building.
The southwest face was restored the season before. Previous restoration have used concrete, while new processes now require that surfaces be cleaned extensively before any treatment. This leads to the building looking like a bit of a patchwork.
Identical garuda, different corner. This one is located ion the northeast corner, and still has traces of the (presumably) original stucco on it, making its stabilisation even more important.
Earlier restoration efforts have relied on cement to restore some of the features, with mixed results. Concrete is much harder than the brick and lime that the temple has been originally built, so this has caused more problems as the materials expand and contract at different rates, causing more fissures in the structure. Like Angkor, plants are also a problem as they can take root between the cracks and as they grow force the cracks to widen. This Garuda in the northeast corner is one such example.
These rubber bands anchoring the base of the northeast garuda are to prevent is from toppling – the cracks are formed by plants taking root between them and it takes a fair bit of work to get rid of all the plant matter.
Getting up the scaffold was a really cool experience (I haven’t done so since my MA research) and it was a real treat to see some of the architectural features up close. I also too the opportunity to give my quadcopter another spin and get a quick aerial video of the site.
Standing Buddha in the northern alcove. If you look carefully, you can see some of the red and gold pigments that have survived the passing of time.
Ayutthaya is about an hour away from Bangkok and a great day trip if you’re ever there, although, there are more than enough temples to make it more than a day.