The ancient city of Ayutthaya was the Thai capital for over 400 years and one of the largest and most magnificent cities in Southeast Asia. Impressive ruins of temples and palaces show the remains of this once glorious city ravaged by war.
The kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand) had its beginnings in the kingdom of Sukkothai (1238 - 1438) which was subsequently followed by the kingdom of Ayutthaya (1350-1767). Both monarchies were located in the central region of modern Thailand. The former, on the banks of the Yom River, a tributary of the great Chao Phraya River, some 430 Kilometres north of Bangkok, and the latter, in the lower valley of the Chao Phraya, about 75 kilometers north of the current Thai capital.
Wat Mahathat prangs - The temple Mahathat has dozens of these domed pagodas.
The ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya flourished considerably and in its heyday became one of the wealthiest cities in Asia and one of the most populous, with over 300,000 inhabitants. Historical records describe the city as a large conglomerate with numerous palaces and about 400 monumental Buddhist temples. Architecture, art, literature and commerce thrived in the great city. Development was vastly the result of a dynamic commercial activity initially with traders from China, Vietnam, India and Japan, and later on with European merchants from France, Holland, Spain and Portugal.
Some prangs still retain nicely decorated plaster surfaces; others are now just plain brick mounds.
Unfortunately, in the mid-18th century, following centuries of conflict between the kingdoms of Burma (modern Myanmar) and Siam, the Burmese armies attacked Ayutthaya twice, first in 1760 and then in 1767. The second invasion resulted disastrous for Siam. Two Burmese armies with a total of nearly 40,000 men converged on Siam and attacked Ayutthaya. After 14 months of siege, the Burmese army overcame the defenses of the city, and they looted, burned and destroyed the palaces, temples and libraries. The kingdom of Ayutthaya was in chaos. The Siamese King Ekkathat died of starvation Thousands of prisoners were relegated to Burma.
Old brick platforms used to hold dozens of Buddha images. Most of them were destroyed following the Burmese invasion.
The glorious city that had developed as a major religious, commercial and cultural center for over 400 years was left in ruins. However, the control of Burma over Ayutthaya was brief. The kingdom fortuitously escaped the Burmese domination by a timely invasion of China into Burma. The Burmese armies were forced to return to strengthen the defense of their homeland against the Chinese invasion. King Taksin, who took over the Siamese government after the death of Ekkathat, established the new capital of Siam in Thonburi, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River on the opposite side of Bangkok, the present capital.
Elephant parking area. Visitors can view the ruins of the historical city of Ayutthaya by riding Thai-style on peaceful elephants.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya never recovered to its historic splendour. All that remains of the legendary metropolis are the impressive ruins of the vast royal palace, many destroyed temples and toppled Buddha statues. Some of the structures have been restored, but centuries of neglect have caused the disappearance of numerous large buildings from which most of the relics and even the bricks have been stolen. A few kilometers from the ancient city of Ayutthaya, a new city was founded, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, which is now the capital of the Province of Ayutthaya.
Left of the picture: The Pavillion in the Lake (Phra Thinang Aisawan Thipaya) at Bang Pa-In Palace, built in 1876, is one of the most beautiful structures in Thailand.
Right of the picture: The Thewarat Khanlai Gate. The building is not really a gate but rather a boat house designed by an Italian architect hired by the Thai king.
In 1991, the ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya and "associated historic towns" were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The ruins of the Buddhist temple Wat Chaiwatthanaram are part of the best known and most visited structures of Ayutthaya. Some sections of the historic city can be seen by riding on an elephant.
Another interesting place to visit in the area is Bang Pa-In Palace, the ancient summer residence of King Prasat Thong of the late Ayutthaya Period. The palace is on a small island in the Chao Phraya River located about 30 kilometers south of Ayutthaya. Some sections of the palace have been beautifully restored and many new buildings were constructed between 1872 and 1889.
The Chinese Pavillion (Phra Thinang Wehat Chamrun). Buildings at the Bang Pa-In Palace have been restored and beautifully decorated. They are currently used for official functions by the Thai royalty.
The historic ruins of Ayutthaya can be reached on a long-day trip from Bangkok. Some visitors take a train or bus from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and return by river-boat cruise from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. However, hiring a taxi for the day, driven by a knowledgeable tour guide, is also a good alternative.
(The video below can be seen through the link to YouTube).