Restoring a national treasure fit for a king

Restoring a national treasure fit for a king

Chan Kasem Palace, Ratchawanlop Mansion to undergo restoration

The Ratchawanlop Mansion is a two-storey European neo-classical style building decorated with traditional Thai motifs and architecture, located inside the Ministry of Education compound. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
The Ratchawanlop Mansion is a two-storey European neo-classical style building decorated with traditional Thai motifs and architecture, located inside the Ministry of Education compound. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Like many former royal residences in Bangkok, Chan Kasem Palace, now the site of the Education Ministry, on Rattanakosin Island is full of historic structures and archaeological items.

The most remarkable and recognisable of them is Mansion, a two-storey European building in the neo-classical style building mixed with traditional Thai motifs and architecture.

The palace was built in 1909 on the orders of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to serve as the residence of then-Crown Prince Vajiravudh, who later became King Rama VI.

However, the prince succeeded his father before the palace's completion in 1911, and the place was never used as royal residence.

After Prince Vajiravudh was crowned king of Siam, Ratchawanlop Mansion was used as an infirmary for courtiers and government officers.

It was also used as the headquarters for the Department of Theatre or Krom Mahorasop and the Department of Thai traditional Orchestra or Krom Peepasluang, during a period in which the king aimed to develop a policy to restore Thai arts.

He wanted to promote Siamese (former name of Thailand) nationalism in response to the threat of European colonialism.

In 1937, during the reign of Rama VIII, ownership of the palace, including the Ratchawanlop Mansion, was transferred to the Ministry of Public Instruction, which later became the Ministry of Education in 1941.

Since then, Ratchawanlop Mansion has served as a command centre for Thailand's education ministers an as a workplace for the various educational agencies.

However, over the years, the 105-year old mansion has slowly deteriorated amid a lack of interest in protecting it.

Though its foundations remain in good condition, obvious damage can be seen on roof, doors and windows, main floors and balconies.

In an effort to preserve its structure, a major rehabilitation plan for Ratchawanlop Mansion and the surrounding area has been announced by the Ministry of Education.

According to Education Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, the restoration project requires a budget of 170 million baht, the full amount of which will be pledged by the Crown Property Bureau.

The Fine Arts Department will provide technical assistance.

"Ratchawanlop Mansion is considered a sacred place for all the Education Ministry's employees, so we want to keep this historic structure standing tall and looking as beautiful as it used to be,'' Gen Dapong said.

Gen Dapong revealed that the project aims to lend a high level of authenticity and accurately replicate the historic materials and techniques that were used to build the mansion.

He added that modern techniques would only be used if they are not obvious and do not compromise the historic character of the structure's appearance.

Nevertheless, the building will be made accessible to the handicapped, with elevators, lifts and easy-to-reach bathrooms, he said.

"Since it was built, the mansion has never undergone any major repairs, so this is the first time that the 105-year old building will get a facelift," Gen Dapong said.

He said a working team from the Fine Arts Department has surveyed damage to the structure and estimated that maintenance will be completed by next year.

During the site's survey, he said, the team found an unexpected concrete symbol of "Ratchawanlop" or the King's Guard, on the mansion's portico which has been hidden behind the Education Ministry's wheel of life or Dharmachakra symbol for many years.

"The Ratchawanlop symbol is one of the highest honours bestowed by the king, but nobody had noticed it until the discovery of the survey team.

"Therefore, in this restoration process, we will strip away the Dharmachakra label ito show out the authentic symbol of Ratchawanlop Mansion," Gen Dapong said.

The word "Ratchawanlop" written in Thai, means "a person who is dearly loved by the King".

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