Mathilde HK – in Ayuttahia – Archaeology

You like Ancient Temples?
You are interested in lost empires?
You enjoy visiting Ruins?

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War Chai Watthanaram , 1630, picture@mathildehk

For the Summer break, I suggest I tell you more about an amasing  historical park in Thailand that is very easy to reach from Hong Kong or from Bangkok and that is in the taste of Angkor: the city of Ayuttahia, the ancient Thai Capital.

From August 10 to August 15, I went on a cultural trip to Thailand and I discovered the sacred city of Ayuttahia,  80 km North away from Bangkok. This ancient Siamese capital, founded in 1350, was completely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. It remained an archaeological site of great value and  has been registered by UNESCO as an Universal Heritage in 1991. The many ruins covering the city , more than 20 monasteries and temples, still gave me a good idea of the past splendor of what is now considered as the golden age of Thai Art. The Siam art in Ayuttahia was inherited from the Khmer Kingdom and was a key point to create Bangkok temples and monuments after the eighteenth century.

I read of that abandoned city in the Biography of Jim Thomson, the American silk business man who was passionate about Siam and collected Thai art during the 1950’s, making many purchases to antic dealers in Ayuttahia. I wanted to see the place to better understand Siamese Art myself. I only focused on Wat and ruins in Ayuttahia and paid no attention to nineteenth century royal palaces that time.


Map of Ayuttahia Archaeological sites,

The elements I learned about: The Wat and the Prang

The word Wat, mentioned next to each sites, designates a Buddhist Temple complex in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia. The Wat to be found in Ayuttahia embrace the same structure; the different buildings are forming a kind of inner city in the city which always consists of two parts: The Phuttha-wat, dedicated to Buddha, and the Sangha-wat, synonym to monastery, where the monks were living.

This repartition is till in fashion for contemporary temples in Thailand.

In terms of architectural ornaments and styles, the Wat in Ayuttahia have common characteristics but only a few ornaments remained until nowadays. The buildings layout consist in Chedi and Prang that are almost the only remaining signs of the past gilded architecture.

The Chedi are pagoda towers in a bell-shape used as funeral or relic chambers. They were very sacred rooms decorated with golden leaves on the outdoor surface, which is now completely gone. The Prangs are a second type of towers  with a large base getting narrower towards the top. They bear entrance on their 4 sides.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Chedi in ruin, 1592, Ayuttahia, picture@MathildeHK

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Wat Phra Ram, Prang in good shape, 1369, Ayuttahia, picture@MathildeHK

The temple I liked the most:

Among that extensive amount of archaeological sites, the Wat Phra Sri Samphet was the most preserved temple. With an ensemble of several inline Chedis, that monuments housed the royal remains of three royal figures from the fifteenth century. What I enjoyed the most was the quiet atmosphere of the place: very few visitors, many walls and statues lying on the ground, an Asian version of eighteenth century ruinism! The Wat has been under the protection of theThai Fine Arts Department since 1927 and the institution displayed old photographs of its surrounding before any renovations took place. So, the French traveler Henri Mouhot (1826-1861) made sketches of the Chedis forming the core of Wat Phra Sri Samphet during his exploration of 1860, when the city was still abandoned and hidden by the jungle.


Sketch of Wat Sri Sanphet, Ayutthaya, Henri Mouhot




Topics and Keywords:

Solo: topics to focus on

Antiquities, Archaeology, ruins, Siam, Rama Dynasty, Decorative Arts,  Craftsmanship, architecture, Wat, Thailand, Sukhothai, Lop-Buri.

Combo: on the same topic

– Temples perdus, Et Henri Mouhot decouvrit Angkor by Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison, CNRS editions, 2013, Paris

Jim Thompson, The unsolved Mystery by William Warren, edm edition 2013, Singapore

Voyages dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge et de Laos by Henri Mouhot, eForge Edition 2014, Paris





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