Ayutthaya, or in its full name – Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, was established back in 1350 by king U-Thong, and served as the capital of Thailand (then known as Siam) for 417 years (1350-1767). During this time, which was known as “the Ayutthaya period”, 33 kings have ruled, from 5 different dynasties. Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam kingdom, after its first one – Sukhothai. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was built in a strategic location, surrounded by 3 rivers which created an island between them – the Chao Praya, Lopburi and Pasak rivers. The city was surrounded by a 12-km wall, which was 5 meters thick, with 100 gates and entrances linked to roads and canals which led to the fertile plains around the city.
Ayutthaya prospered between the 14-18 centuries and became one of the biggest, most Cosmo political cities in the entire world, serving as a center for international diplomacy and trade purposes. At the time, the city was built following a careful planning – routes, roads and canals, tunnels and walls were all built around the main buildings; the water transfer system was innovative and one of a kind in the entire world.
Ayutthaya’s excellent location, between China, India and Malesia, turned the city into Asia’s trade center. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but in the 17th century, it was one of the largest cities in the world, population wise, with some million residents, merchants from across the world – Arab countries, India, China, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands, France…All of them visited Ayutthaya regularly and even built their offices and homes there, describing it as the most beautiful city in the world, back in the days.
Ayutthaya was a focal point connecting the east to the west, and the reports from back then describe a spectacular, magnificent city, with elegant buildings adorned and designed in various styles, drawing inspiration from Sukhothai, Japan, China, India, Persia and Europe.
The City’s Cosmo political nature was reflected through various ritual sites for all religions – hundreds of Thai temples were built alongside Chinese and Persian temples and European churches; the freedom to follow and practice all religions prevailed. A large part of what is known today as Thai cuisine, stems from the fusion and integration of various styles from those ancient times.
Everything ended when the Burmese occupied Ayutthaya in 1767, after a 2-year siege, as the city fell on April 7, 1767, and the Burmese burnt and destroyed it almost entirely, while driving its residents away. What was left is mostly temples and palaces, as these were the only structures made of stone back then.
Today, some of the relics can hint to the city’s lost magnificence and glory. Their historical value was recognized in 1991, when Ayutthaya was declared as a USESCO World Heritage Site.
The kingdom of Siam regained its independence rather quickly but Ayutthaya never came back to its greatness. The capital of Thailand moved some 80 km south of Ayutthaya, first to Thonburi, and then to Bangkok (in 1782). Today, Ayutthaya is a modern city with many relics and remains, indicating its rich, splendid history.
In conclusion: if you’d like to experience some of the Thai history and culture – I highly recommend you visit Ayutthaya!!
That being said, visiting multiple temples and historic sites can become redundant and overbearing; it’s very important to carefully pick your destinations and places of interest when visiting the city. You wouldn’t want to waste your time on more of the same…
For your consideration: in Ayutthaya, you’ll find both historic temple relics and active temples, where daily activity takes place. In the second article in the Ayutthaya series, you can find a review of many temples in the city, which will hopefully assist you in picking the right sites upon your visit.
My Opinion: if you carefully pick your local destinations and places to visit in Ayutthaya, and should you find the Thai culture and history interesting – I highly recommend visiting the city!!