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Lopburi: City of the Monkeys

July 22, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Actually, Lopburi must be one of the oldest cities in Thailand. Normally by-passed by tourists on their wayfrom Bangkok and Ayutthaya to the North of the country, the city was known as Lavo or Lavapuri and was a former port town in the time of the Mon Dvaravati Kingdom (7th-11th centuries). At that time the sea was much further inland than today and ships sailed up the Menam Chao Phraya and Lopburi Rivers. Indian traders came to trade and brought their religious beliefs and culture to the local people.

Around the mid of the 11th century, Lopburi was dominated by the Khmer, who expanded their kingdom out of Angkor in Cambodia to the Central Plain of today’s Thailand, practicing a kind of Mahayana Buddhism. When the Thai people took over in the 13th century they brought their Theravada Buddhism developed in Sukhothai and later made the town a part of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350-1767). So it is no wonder that the so-called U Thong style of Buddha images to be found in Lopburi is a mixture of Dvaravati, Khmer and Sukhothai.

When King Narai (1656-1688) established a palace in Lopburi, the town became so important that it developed into a Thai Versailles and welcomed the French ambassador in 1685-86. Even the influential Greek Constantine Phaulkon used to live there until the palace revolution of 1688. In the Rattanakosin period, King Rama IV (1851-1868) chose Lopburi to become his second capital city, while in modern times Field Marshal Plaek Phibul Songkram developed the town into a military center during 1938-1944.

Nowadays, Lopburi is well-known as the city of monkeys. According to the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epos, the monkey general Hanuman lived here and all the monkeys to be seen are still venerated as his descendants. Actually, most monkeys live in the town near the railway station and gather in the old temples there.

San Phra Kan is the most sacred place in the city. On the ruins of an old Khmer prang made totally out of laterite, there is a relatively modern building, which houses the image of Chao Pho San Phra Kan, which is a carved stone image of the Hindu God Vishnu plastered with gold leaves. At any time of the day, the local people gather to pay homage to the deity. Just opposite the railway line is Wat Phra Prang Sam Yot, which is an old Khmer temple (12th-13th centuries) comprising three prang towers linked by a covered corridor. It originally housed the Mahayana Buddhist trinity of Buddha on a Naga, Avalokitesvara and Prajnaparamita (Bayon style). In front to the east, there is a brick vihan built during the reign of King Narai.

The most important Buddhist sanctuary is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat just opposite the railway station. This is a temple with many prangs and chedis gathered around a principal prang from the 14th-15th centuries. Another interesting ruined temple to study is Prang Khaek, which dates from the 10th-11th centuries.

Wat Sao Thong Thong shows a Persian style of architecture, while the ruin of the Wichayen House was the former residence of Constantine Phaulkon, who was a kind of trade minister of King Narai. Actually it was built in a Western style, when the king received the French ambassador in 1685-86.

But it is the Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, which is the most attractive place in town to visit. It includes the Reception Hall for Foreign Visitors in the reign of King Narai and elephant stables among other buildings. The Somdet Phra Narai National Museum even displays artifacts from prehistory and other periods of Lopburi until the time of Rama IV. Also, a throne hall and the private residence of King Narai can be seen in the palace, where he died. That the king was interested in astronomy, the Wat San Paolo Observatory stands for. The observatory and the church were still not completed and were abandoned when the king had passed away.

Rows of wooden houses that are more than 100 years old can be seen between the palace and the river at the Tha Khun Nang community, which is the place to meet the people. Also busy is the Talat Lang trading area, Talat Tha Pho and Talat Bon Muang. To see the architecture of the period of Field Marshal Plaek Phibun Songkram you have to go to the new town with the Sa Kaeo Roundabout and the Phra Narai Roundabout, where many buildings in Art Deco style still mark the planned city. Thus, there is much to be seen in Lopburi, this ancient city of the monkeys.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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