Text and photos by Jojie Alcantara (published in SunStar Davao, April 2014)
“The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a monumental site of outstanding value to humanity.”
The historic City of Ayutthaya (1351-1767), was the second capital of a flourishing Siamese Kingdom (Thailand’s old name). For 417 years from the 14th to the 18th centuries, it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a most important center of global diplomacy and commerce during its time. It was said to be beautiful, luxurious and fabulous… think wild Paris of ancient history.
Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island in the midst of three rivers connecting to the sea. Based on ancient maps and historical records, the prosperous kingdom was laid out according to a systematic and rigid city planning grid consisting of roads, canals, and moats around its principal structures. It had a technologically advanced hydraulic system for water management which was unique in the world. It developed into a major rice farming area. Located upstream at the head of the Gulf of Siam, it protected the city from failed attacks of seafaring warships and seasonal flooding. Eventually, it gave in to persistent invasion from the Burmese armies.
The city was finally burned down by the Burmese army in 1767 forcing the inhabitants to abandon their homes. Art treasures, libraries of literature and archives of historical records were almost totally destroyed. Most of its statues were decapitated, leaving headless Buddha statues everywhere. What remained of its former glory were ruins of the royal palace. At present, it is located in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya District, the central provincial capital.
Today, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya is now regarded as one of the most impressive archaeological ruins in history, characterized by the remnants of massive prangs (towers) and vast Buddhist monasteries in splendid architecture, attesting to its excellent period of impressive and original Central-Thai art and cultural development.
Due to its history as a previous capital of Thailand with a close connection to Europe by its Kings (33 kings of 5 different dynasties, to be exact) through signed treaties between Siam and other nations, the palaces have its distinct European influence. In those days, any traveler would come all the way to visit Ayutthaya first to see Siam for trading between European merchants and Asian traders.
Once a powerful global center of politics, economics, religion and economic trade and an important connecting point between the East and the West, the former capital is now managed as a historical park. The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a monumental site of outstanding value to humanity. The total area of the World Heritage property is 289 hectares. Today, visitors come in droves to explore its mystery and experience the serenity and deep history found within these immense walls.
A Master Plan to commit legal protection for its protection, restoration and development has been established. A budget for the conservation of the Historic City of Ayutthaya is allocated by the government, private sector, and heritage conservation groups. New regulations for control of construction within the ancient property’s extended boundaries are being tasked to ensure that the values of the once splendid city are protected.
A day tour to the legendary city from Bangkok only takes less than an hour, and is a must visit destination during your stay, particularly for photographers and artists looking for inspiration from ancient legacies of mankind. Look for the most iconic image in Wat Mahathat, that of the Head of Buddha which is embedded and entwined in a vine overgrowth of a mammoth banyan tree, cradling it protectively and sacredly from further harm and vandalism. Pay proper respects while doing your selfie, but brace yourself for goose pimples as well.