In 400 years, Ayutthaya went from a prosperous trade and political capital to a completely defaced city – plundered, burned and abandoned to ruin. The city was under a constant power struggle with neighbouring Burma; nevertheless it remained a flourishing centre for regional trade and a burgeoning metropolis where art and culture merged.
With economic prosperity, Ayutthaya’s Kings poured the kingdom’s wealth into the construction of temples and religious monuments as well as the arts.
Exhibiting sophisticated techniques and styles, Ayutthaya’s architectural heritage is an amalgam of Lopburi, Sukhothai, Dvaravati, U-Thong, ancient Khmer and Persian styles. Today, Ayutthaya’s temple and palace ruins serve as a powerful reminder of Siam’s glorious past as well as haunting memories of one of the darkest periods in Thai history.
Ayutthaya was chosen as the capital city for strategic reasons: It is surrounded on all sides by rivers and a man-made canal, which acted as natural barriers against Burmese invaders. The inner city’s northwestern corner is the site of the Royal Palace and Royal Chapel (Wat Phra Si Sanphet) – the political and spiritual heart of the kingdom.
To the east of the Royal Palace, the Ayutthaya Historical Park houses four spectacular temples of the Early Ayutthaya Period (1350 – 1529). Here, rising amongst the trees and clusters of ruins, are the magnificent sandstone prangs in the classic Lopburi-Khmer style.
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Highlights and Features
- Buddha’s Head at Wat Mahathat: One of the popular icons of Ayutthaya, located alongside a wall of ‘Viharn Lek’ (small chapel). The site of the lone Buddha’s head entrapped by the roots of an overgrown banyan tree has become a famous – and not to miss – tourist attraction.
- Wat Mahathat: Set at the epicenter of inner Ayutthaya city, the principal prang (now collapsed) used to house a miniature casket containing the Buddha’s relics, buried 17 metres deep into the ground under its base. The casket is now on display at the Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
- Wat Yai Chaimongkol: One of the best-preserved ancient royal monasteries, situated in the old Ayutthaya City (Ayodhya), the temple is famous for its large reclining Buddha and a 62-metre inverted bell-shaped chedi (pagoda) built to commemorate a victory against the Burmese.
- Bang Pa-In Summer Palace: Constructed during the reign of Somdet Phra Chao Prasat Thong (1629-1656), this palace complex (20km south of Ayutthaya) is set on a lovely landscaped lake garden that was once an island itself. Abandoned after Ayutthaya fell, it was rebuilt by King Rama V (r. 1868-1910) who commissioned additional buildings in an eclectic style that blends European neoclassical and Victorian architectures with Early Ayutthaya and Chinese palace styles.
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet: Serving as the Royal Monastery from 1350 to 1448, the temple occupies expansive grounds inside the walls of the now-defunct Royal Palace. The three iconic chedis – housing the royal relics of three Ayutthaya Kings – are among a few structures left standing in the temple grounds, which is itself a must-see ruin site.