A land steeped in history

The main stupa (Phra Prang) of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Lop Buri, is a must-see. Its stucco art, especially the south-facing pediment's bas-relief depicting the seated mediating Lord Buddha and the sitting angels, resembles that of Wat Phra Phai Luang in Sukhothai. Scholars believe this Lop Buri art style also influenced the Sukhothai art. The Phra Prang is about 100 years older than the establishment of Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1350. According to historian Phuthorn Bhumadhon, the laterite Phra Prang is where relics of the Lord Buddha were said to be enshrined. A stone slab thought to be 1,500 years old was found here. It bears inscriptions detailing two major tenets of Buddhist teachings: patijja samuppabat (the causes and effects of everything) and ariyasajja sii (the Four Noble Truths). This artefact is now stored in the Somdet Phra Narai National Museum. (Photos by Jetjaras Na Ranong)

Ketsurang, an archaeologist, miraculously travels back in time from the present day to the reign of the Ayutthaya Kingdom's King Narai the Great (1656-1688). She enjoys the traditional way of life and the beauty of many places in Ayutthaya and Lop Buri.

Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong and Pichaya Svasti


In Lop Buri, she visits the royal palace (Phra Narai Ratchaniwet), some temples, and the residence of senior official Chao Phraya Wichayen. This popular period TV series Bupphesanniwat (Love Destiny) has prompted many Thais to visit cultural heritage sites in Ayutthaya and Lop Buri where Ketsurang lives and visits. The Fine Arts Department recently hosted a study trip to Lop Buri's Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Wat San Paolo, Phra Tamnak Thalay Chupson (Kraison Siharat Hall or Phrathinang Yen) and Ban Wichayen.

"I can say that Lop Buri is probably the only [Thai] city with clear evidence of continuous human settlement from the prehistoric to Rattanakosin periods," said Anandha Chuchoti, director-general of the Fine Arts Department.

To Anandha, a reliable theory says that King U Thong had governed Lop Buri before establishing Ayutthaya in 1350 given that there were a lot of influences in terms of religious art, beliefs, politics and national administration from Lop Buri upon Ayutthaya, such as Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat.

King U Thong later appointed his son Phra Ramesuan as ruler of Lop Buri, which was an important city (muang luk luang). However, the expansion of Ayutthaya's power to further areas caused other towns to become more significant, such as Phitsanulok, which later became the city of the viceroy. Lop Buri became less important as a fourth-grade satellite town (hua muang jattawa) although it remained rich in culture. Later during the reign of King Narai, the monarch revived and made Lop Buri, or Lawo, the second capital, which developed and flourished. Written documents by foreigners, such as French diplomat Simon de la Loubere, mention the royal palace, places and prosperity of Lop Buri.

According to Anandha, thanks to the TV series craze, the number of visitors to historic sites in Lop Buri, especially Wat San Paolo and Ban Wichayen, has increased sharply. In the past, popular destinations were Phra Kan Shrine, Phra Prang Samyot and Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace only.

"When we come to Lop Buri, we can see various historic sites ranging from Prang Khaek, Phra Prang Samyot and Phra Kan Shrine with the art influence of the ancient Khmer Empire to the Dvaravati Period's Wat Nakhon Kosa, and the Pre-Ayutthaya Period's Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, especially Phra Prang. This temple went through different ages and was greatly restored by Ayutthaya's King Maha Chakraphat. Good examples of those of the reign of King Narai are Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, Wat San Paolo, the city moat and walls, Chai Chanasongkhram and Pratu Tha It fortresses, Pratu Chai Gate and Ban Wichayen, which has many remaining traces of the Ayutthaya Period's Western-style architecture," the director-general said.

Phuthorn Bhumadhon, a local historian, said Lop Buri is where people of different races, including Thais, Mon, Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese, live together and preserve their own traditions and dress culture. Lop Buri has both old and modern cultures and its heritage sites date to the Dvaravati to Rattanakosin periods.

According to him, Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace reflects the contacts between Lop Buri and the outside world as well as the use of technologies, such as tap water and water drainage systems, fortresses, canals and water management, for public interest.

Lop Buri also boasts many interesting attractions, including extinct volcanoes in Chai Badan district, Sap Langka Forest in Lam Sonthi and Chai Badan, the Sirindhorn White Champak Forest in Tha Luang district and tree fossils in Khok Charoen. Food enthusiasts must try fish dishes, local food like hor mok and curry and custard apple.

Lop Buri is 153km north of Bangkok. Travellers can get there by car, train, bus and van. The main route is Highway 1 past Saraburi.

Phra Narai Ratchaniwet is an old palace dating to the Ayutthaya Period. It holds historical and architectural significance. On King Narai the Great's command, the palace was designed and constructed by French and Italian architects and engineers in 1666. It served as King Narai's second palace where he oversaw national affairs, received guests and relaxed. In his reign, the palace was divided into three zones — the outer, middle and inner zones. The outer part consisted of four structures — the tap water pond, sipsong thong phra khlang or warehouse, the reception hall for foreign diplomats where King Narai threw a party for the French delegation led by Chevalier de Chaumont in 1685, tuek phrachao hao or the hall for enshrining Buddha image Phrachao Hao, and the living quarters for royal elephants and mahouts. The middle part boasts Chandraphisal Throne Hall for the king to discuss national affairs and meet privy councillors and Dusit Sawan Thanya Maha Prasat Throne Hall for the king to receive foreign dignitaries. The inner zone has Suthasawan Hall, the living quarters for King Narai. Historical records say the hall had a glazed yellow tiled roof and was surrounded by a wall and four ponds and decorated with replicas of rock mountains and trees. King Narai died in this hall in 1688. Later in the reign of King Rama IV of the Chakri Dynasty, the monarch had more buildings, including two throne halls, built on the palace grounds. In the middle zone, Phiman Mongkut Complex served as the living quarters of the king while Thim Dab was the living quarters for royal guards. The inner zone had the kitchen, the pantry and the living quarters for palace ladies.

At present, Phra Narai Ratchaniwet is the Somdet Phra Narai National Museum. Chandraphisal Throne Hall boasts replicas of historic paintings and artefacts related to the reign of King Narai, such as the paintings of King Narai meeting foreign diplomats. Phiman Mongkut Hall has a permanent exhibition on the history and development of Lop Buri from prehistoric to present times. On the ground floor of this three-storey building, artefacts and art objects telling the history of Lop Buri from the prehistoric period about 3,500 years ago to the Dvaravati Period are on view. On the second floor, artefacts on Lop Buri from the Dvaravati Period to the times of Khmer art and the Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods are displayed. The third floor which was King Rama IV's bedroom houses the king's bed, apparel, photos, portraits, silver coins, crystal glasses and royal dinnerware. The palace's inner zone currently boasts an exhibition on the local way of life in the Central Region of Thailand. Located on Sorasak Road in tambon Tha Hin, Muang district of Lop Buri, the museum is open 9am-4pm on Wednesday-Sunday. Call 036-411-458.

Phra Narai Ratchaniwet is an old palace dating to the Ayutthaya Period. It holds historical and architectural significance. On King Narai the Great's command, the palace was designed and constructed by French and Italian architects and engineers in 1666. It served as King Narai's second palace where he oversaw national affairs, received guests and relaxed. In his reign, the palace was divided into three zones — the outer, middle and inner zones. The outer part consisted of four structures — the tap water pond, sipsong thong phra khlang or warehouse, the reception hall for foreign diplomats where King Narai threw a party for the French delegation led by Chevalier de Chaumont in 1685, tuek phrachao hao or the hall for enshrining Buddha image Phrachao Hao, and the living quarters for royal elephants and mahouts. The middle part boasts Chandraphisal Throne Hall for the king to discuss national affairs and meet privy councillors and Dusit Sawan Thanya Maha Prasat Throne Hall for the king to receive foreign dignitaries. The inner zone has Suthasawan Hall, the living quarters for King Narai. Historical records say the hall had a glazed yellow tiled roof and was surrounded by a wall and four ponds and decorated with replicas of rock mountains and trees. King Narai died in this hall in 1688. Later in the reign of King Rama IV of the Chakri Dynasty, the monarch had more buildings, including two throne halls, built on the palace grounds. In the middle zone, Phiman Mongkut Complex served as the living quarters of the king while Thim Dab was the living quarters for royal guards. The inner zone had the kitchen, the pantry and the living quarters for palace ladies.

Ban Wichayen was constructed in the reign of King Narai as the residence of French ambassador Chevalier de Chaumont who visited the king's court in 1685. It also served as a reception hall to welcome French delegation members Simon de la Loubere and Claud Ceberet du Boullay who visited Siam in 1687. That year, the French diplomat departed and Constantine Phaulkon known as Chao Phraya Wichayen was assigned to look after the buildings. Therefore, the residence was mistaken as Phaulkon's own residence and later called Ban Wichayen. The building can be divided into three parts: west, central and east — and easily noticed by the front gate of each part. The central and east structures were connected in terms of function, such as a chapel known as Notre-Dame de Laurette, and a large two-storey building to accommodate and entertain foreign diplomats. The group of buildings in the west part consisted of the residential hall, banquet hall, storage room and kitchen. The residence was registered by the Fine Arts Department as a historic site in 1936.

Wat San Paolo was a Christian church for Jesuit missionaries who travelled from France to Siam during 1685-1687. King Narai the Great bestowed the land for the construction of the church called San Paolo. Archaeological findings are the three-storey octagonal astronomical observatory and ruins of an extended building believed to be a residence for priests. It might have been built around 1686 or after December 1685 after the Jesuit priests showed King Narai how to observe the lunar eclipse at Phrathinang Yen in 1685. The king was satisfied and ordered then Phraya Wichayen and the priests to find a place to build an astronomical observatory, church and residence. A memo written by French Jesuit priest Guy Tachard in 1687 mentioned that the construction was completed and that King Narai gave a land ownership document to 100 Jesuit priests and followers. An oil painting by a French artist depicts the complex of an octagonal observatory, residence and church.

The main stupa (Phra Prang) of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Lop Buri, is a must-see. Its stucco art, especially the south-facing pediment's bas-relief depicting the seated mediating Lord Buddha and the sitting angels, resembles that of Wat Phra Phai Luang in Sukhothai. Scholars believe this Lop Buri art style also influenced the Sukhothai art. The Phra Prang is about 100 years older than the establishment of Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1350. According to historian Phuthorn Bhumadhon, the laterite Phra Prang is where relics of the Lord Buddha were said to be enshrined. A stone slab thought to be 1,500 years old was found here. It bears inscriptions detailing two major tenets of Buddhist teachings: patijja samuppabat (the causes and effects of everything) and ariyasajja sii (the Four Noble Truths). This artefact is now stored in the Somdet Phra Narai National Museum. Jetjaras Na Ranong

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