A couple of weeks ago, I visited Thailand and made a trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, capital of the Siamese kingdom from the 14th to 18th centuries. The city eventually fell to the Burmese, and the kingdom moved the capital to what is known as Bangkok today. But the ancient city still endures, and today it’s a World Heritage Site that’s a great way to spend a day or two if you’re based in Bangkok. In this post I’ll highlight some of the major sites and ruins in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
But first, a little history… Ayutthaya’s a little island sitting at the confluence of the Chao Praya, Lopburi and Pasak rivers that became the second capital of the Siamese kingdom (the first was Sukhothai, another World Heritage Site) and was founded in 1350, where it became the seat of the Siamese kingdom until 1767, where, after a series of battles with the Burmese, it was sacked and razed. Despite the total destruction of the royal city, people eventually repopulated the area. Some of the ancient structures were restored during the reign on Rama IV (King Mongkut, who reigned from 1851-1868), and in 1991 the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya was inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
[/caption]Today Ayutthaya is a popular tourist destination, and an easy day trip from Bangkok where it’s possible to take a train, bus or boat up. The eastern side of the island is now dominated with modern buildings, shophouses and guesthouses mostly, while most of the city’s ruins lie on the western side of the island, along with several sites dotted along the “mainland”. In this post, I’ll cover the royal administrative centre Wat Phra Sisanpetch, the residence of the Buddhist leaders Wat Maha That, Wat Ratchaburana and the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Wat Maha That 
At the centre of a Buddhist kingdom is the temple, and in Ayutthaya, the most sacred temple is Wat Maha That, which was built in 1367 during the reign of the second king, Ramesuan and was also the royal monastery. As you can see, the temple compound was razed by the Burmese in 1767, and the large mound at the back is all that remains of the principal pagoda (prang) which only collapsed a hundred years ago. Excavations in the collapsed central pagoda unearthed a seven-layered reliquary containing the relics of the Buddha, which is now housed in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. This temple is also famous for the picturesque Buddha head enclosed within the roots of a tree.
Wat Phra Sisanpetch 
The administrative centre of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Sisanpetch (sometimes known as Sisanphet) was established from the very start of the Ayutthaya capital, and continued expanding with new buildings until the beginning of the 16th century. Dominating the wat’s landscape is the very familiar row of chedis. The ruins of the surrounding buildings include remnants of throne halls, royal residences and administrative offices.
Wat Ratchaburana 
One of the most intact massive prangs left among the ruins is Wat Ratchaburana, north of Wat Maha That. This Khmer-style prang carries a interesting but tragic story behind its construction in 1424. Following the death of King Intha Ratcha, his two sons battled for the through – leaving both dead. A third son, Chao Sam Phraya subsequently ascended to the throne and built Wat Ratchaburana in memory if his father and brothers. Atop the main prang, the Fine Arts Department has built a narrow (and rather scary staircase) that leads down into the vault 12 metres inside the heart of the structure. The interior of the vault it covered with murals, still unrestored. The gold ornaments stored inside these vaults were looted by robbers, although some of them were recovered and are now displayed in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
I did manage to take quite a few good pictures in Ayutthaya and I might do a wallpaper thing with them, like what I did with Angkor. Look out for them in the near future.