The city of Ayutthaya was founded around 1350 by Ramathibodi I (1351–69), who came here to escape an outbreak of smallpox at Lop Buri. By the early 15th century Ayutthaya had become a major power. Sukhothai fell to Ayutthaya in 1438. Western traders arrived in the early 16th century, and wrote vivid accounts of Ayutthaya’s splendor. In the early 18th century, after years of war, decline set in, and in 1767 the Burmese sacked the city. Today, the ruins stand among the modern buildings of the provincial town.
Wat Phra Mahathat
Wat Phra Mahathat is one of the largest and most important wat complexes in Ayutthaya. It was almost certainly founded in the late 14th century by King Borommaracha I (1370– 88). Other buildings were subsequently added by his successor, Ramesuan (1388–95).
Across the road from Wat Mahathat is Wat Ratchaburana, its prang now restored. It was built in the early 15th century by King Borommaracha II (1424–48) on the cremation site of his two brothers, who died in a power struggle. Both had wanted to succeed their father, Intharacha I (1409–24), to the throne. Robbers looted the crypt in 1957 and escaped with a huge cache of gold artifacts, only a few of which were recovered. A narrow staircase descends to the crypt where visitors can see the remains of Ayutthayan frescoes
Chan Kasem Palace
In the northeast corner of the main island stands the Chan Kasem Palace or Wang Na. It was built in 1577 by the illustrious Naresuan, the son of King Maha Thammaracha (1569–90), before he became king. When Naresuan came to the throne in 1590, the palace became his permanent residence. The buildings seen today, however, date from the reign of King Mongkut (1851– 68), as the palace was razed by the Burmese in 1767. It houses a large collection of Buddha images and historical artifacts. Behind the Chan Kasem Palace is the Pisai Sayalak Tower, once used as an astronomical observatory by King Mongkut.
At this picturesque site are the dilapidated remains of a large, early Ayutthayan, octagonal chedi surrounded by stucco and brick lions, or singhas. Beside the chedi is the ruin of a wihan, slowly succumbing to weeds and trees. A beautiful U Thong Buddha head recovered from here is now in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
To the west of Wat Thammikarat is Wang Luang, the northern extension of the royal palace built by King Borommatrailokanat (1448–88) in the mid-15th century. Successive monarchs added a number of pavilions and halls. Wang Luang was razed by the Burmese in 1767. The best preserved of the former royal palace buildings is the Trimuk Pavilion. It was built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868–1910) on the site of earlier foundations.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
This wat contains one of Thailand’s largest bronze Buddha images. Now gilded, it probably dates from the late 15th century, though it has undergone numerous restorations. In 1767 Burmese invaders destoyed much of the wihan and damaged the image’s head and right hand. The image was left open to the sky until the 1950s, when the wihan was rebuilt.
Wat Phra Ram
A chronicle relates that Wat Phra Ram was built in 1369 on the cremation site of King Ramathibodi (1351–69) by his son, Ramesuan. The elegant prang visible today, however, is the result of later renovation by King Borommatrailokanat (1448–88). The prang is decorated with garudas, nagas, and walking Buddha images. Surrounding the prang are wihans and a bot. The wat casts beautiful and photogenic reflections in the nearby lily ponds.
Wat Lokaya Sutharam
This wat is the site of a 140-ft (42-m) long, whitewashed reclining Buddha image. Large Buddha images such as this do not always depict the Buddha’s death, but sometimes, as in this instance, an occasion when the Buddha grew 100 times in size to confront the demon Rahu. The image now lies in the open air, the original wihan, having been destroyed by the Burmese; 24 octagonal pillars are all that remain of this wihan. The wat also houses the ruins of a bot and chedis.
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
Among the exhibits here is a small collection of gold artifacts, including a jewelencrusted sword, gold slippers, and jewelry. Discovered in the crypt of Wat Ratchaburana’s central prang when it was looted in 1957, they are among the few items from the wat to have survived the sack of Ayutthaya by the Burmese. Other artifacts include bronze Buddha images and wooden door panels from wats around Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya Historical Study Center
This study center houses interesting audiovisual displays depicting Ayutthaya’s history and trading relations. There is also a reconstructed model of Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Another part of the study center stands in what was the Japanese quarter at the time when Ayutthaya was at the height of its power.
Wat Suwan Dararam
This temple was completely destroyed by the Burmese but later rebuilt by Rama I (1782– 1809). The ubosot is usually locked, but it is worth requesting the key to see the murals commissioned by Rama VII (1925–35), depicting scenes from the time of King Nare suan. Among them is a mural of the Battle of Nong Sarai, which was fought against the Burmese in 1593.
Nearby to Wat Suwan Dararam is a section of the old city defenses, Phom Phet, which were a strategically important lookout post over the Chao Phraya River.