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Ayutthaya: The Royal City of Three Rivers

July 29, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The ancient city of Ayutthaya was the Thai capital city for 417 years and ruled by some 33 kings of different dynasties until it was sacked and destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Founded by King U-Thong in 1350/51 on an island with a former port called Ayodhya, the city is located at the junction of three rivers, namely the Menam Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pasak Rivers linked by a network of natural and man-made canals. No wonder that the city was proclaimed as “Venice of the East” by the early European visitors in the 16th and 17th centuries at the peak of its power and glory – long before the name was transferred to Bangkok.

Actually, many ancient temples and art works can be seen in Ayutthaya. The extensive ruins and the remaining historical records demonstrate that Ayutthaya was one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous cities. The oldest monastery in the city is located on the riverbank of the Menam Chao Phraya opposite the island to the south, where Wat Phutthaisawan was constructed in the area of Wiang Lek. It was here that King U-Thong and his followers first migrated for the establishment of a new city. Still older temples are Wat Phananchoeng, which was built in 1325, exactly at the confluence of the Menam Chao Phraya and the Pasak River, and the Sukhothai-style Wat Thammikarat at the Khu Muang Canal in the north. Wat Khun Muang Chai must be an abandoned temple of the city center of old Ayodhya, which was settled by a Mon-Khmer population.http://www.itehcmc.com/

There are three palaces in Ayutthaya, namely the Grand Palace, Front Palace and Rear Palace. The old royal capital was originally circled by 12-km-long walls, where today the main highway of the U-Thong Road goes. From this road it is easy to explore the ancient city with most of the significant temples such as Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Phra Ram, Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. At the southeast corner of the city is the restored Pom Phet Fort, from where watchmen had a good view of ships and boats approaching Ayutthaya from the sea.

The important Chao Phrom Market is at the east side of the old city near the Pasak River, while the antique market of Hua Ro is in the north near the Front Palace, also called Chantharakasem and built in the reign of King Maha Thammaracha (1569-1590). Not to be missed is the Queen Si Suriyothai Memorial Pagoda, which is located in the west part of the city and built in dedication to the queen, who was killed in battle on elephant-back in 1548.

Called the Angkor Wat of Thailand, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is located outside the southwest side of the city along the Chao Phraya River and was built by King Prasat Thong (1629-1656). Wat Na Phra Men is across the Khu Muang Canal in the north and the impressive Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is located outside the city to the southeast with a large chedi commanded by King Naresuan (1590-1605) to match the large chedi of Wat Phukhao Thong located out in the northwest.

Furthermore, there were the important old settlements of the Portuguese, Dutch, French, British and Japanese, all located outside the royal island city. But the main attraction of Ayutthaya is the large bronze-cast Buddha image covered in gold leaves at the Vihan Phra Mongkol Bophit, which was first at the east of the Grand Palace and later relocated by King Song Tham (1610-1628) to the west. The present vihan was lastly built in 1956 by Prime Minister General Plaek Pibunsongkhram. Interesting to note is that the nearby San Phra Kan seems to be the old Lak Muang of the city, where in a ruined Khmer prang were found the statues of Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha.

For educational reasons it is worthwhile to visit the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, where are allocated two rooms for the golden and brilliant items found in the crypts of Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Mahathat. An indigenous elephant kraal can be viewed around 4 kilometers outside the city on the way to Lopburi. Ayutthaya is some 80 kilometers north of Bangkok and is easy to reach by bus, car or train.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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