Built at the same time as Wat Phra Kaeo, the Grand Palace was the king’s official residence from 1782 to 1946, although King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was the last monarch to live here. Today, the royal family resides at Chitrlada Palace. Throughout the palace’s history, many structures have been altered. Within the complex there are a few functioning government buildings, such as the Ministry of Finance, but most others are unused. Important ceremonies are still held in the Dusit Throne Hall and the Amarin Winichai Hall.
Dusit Throne Hall
This cross-shaped throne hall was originally built in 1784 as a reproduction of one of Ayutthaya’s grandest buildings, Sanphet Maha Prasat. Five years later the hall was struck by lightning and rebuilt on a smaller scale. Crowned with a sumptuously decorated tiered spire, it is one of the finest examples of early Rattanakosin architecture. Inside is a masterpiece of Thai art: the original Rama I teak throne, inlaid with motherof-pearl. In the south wing is a window in the form of a throne. The hall is used for the annual Coronation Day celebrations.
King Mongkut (Rama IV) built this small wooden structure as a royal changing room for when he was giving audiences at the Dusit Throne Hall. The king would be carried on a palanquin to the pavilion’s shoulder-high first step. Inside the building he would change into the appropriate apparel for the occasion. The pavilion’s simple structure, complemented by its elaborate decoration, makes it a building of perfect proportions: indeed, it is considered a glory of Thai architecture. It inspired Rama V so much so that he had a replica built at Bang Pa-in.
Chakri Throne Hall
Also known as the Grand Palace Throne Hall, Chakri Maha Prasat was built in Neo-Classical style by the British architect John Chinitz. Rama V commissioned the building in 1882 to mark the centenary of the Chakri dynasty, a fact reflected in the theme of the sumptuous decoration. The structure was originally intended to have a domed roof, but the royal court decided that a Thai-style roof would be more appropriate, in keeping with the area.
Housed on the top floor of the Central Hall are the ashes of royal monarchs, and the first floor – the only floor open to the public – acts as the main audience hall where the King receives ambassadors and entertains foreign monarchs; artifacts from the King’s armory are on display here.
Behind the Niello Throne in the Chakri Throne Room is the emblem of the Chakri dynasty: a discus and trident. The paintings in the room depict diplomatic missions, including Queen Victoria welcoming Rama IV’s ambassador in London. The East Wing is used as a reception room for royal guests. The long hall connecting the Central Hall with this wing is lined with portraits of the Chakri dynasty. In the West Wing is the queen’s personal reception room. Portraits of the principal queens of Rama IV, Rama V, and Rama VII decorate the hall between the Central Hall and this wing.
Phra Maha Monthien Buildings
This cluster of connected buildings, located to the east of the Chakri Throne Hall, is the “Grand Residence” of the palace complex.
The focal point of the 18th-century Amarin Winichai Hall, the northernmost building of the group, is Rama I’s boatshaped Busabok Mala Throne. When an audience was present, two curtains hid the throne as the king ascended, and, with an elaborate fanfare, the curtains were drawn back to reveal the king wearing a loose, golden gown and seeming to float on the prowlike part of the throne. In the 19th century two British ambassadors were received in such manner here; John Crawfurd by Rama II and Sir John Bowring by Rama IV. The hall is now used for some state ceremonies.
Connected to the hall by a gateway through which only the king, queen, and royal children may walk is the Phaisan Thaksin Hall. This was used by Rama I as a private hall when dining with family, friends, and members of the royal court. In 1809 a Borom Rachaphisek Ceremony was performed in this hall to mark the coronation of the new king, Rama II. On the high altar is the Phra Siam Thewathirat, a highly vener ated guardian figure, placed here by Rama IV.
The third building is the Chakraphat Phiman Hall. It served as a residence for the first three Chakri kings. It is still the custom for a newly crowned king to spend a night here as part of his coronation
Behind a gateway to the left of the Chakri Throne Hall is the entrance to the Inner Palace, which is closed to the public. Until the time of Rama VII, the palace was inhabited solely by women of the royal family: principal wives, minor wives, and daughters. Apart from sons, who had to leave the palace on reaching puberty, the king was the only male allowed to live within its walls. The palace functioned as a small city, with its own government and laws, complete with prison cells. Under the strict guidance of a formidable “Directress of the Inside,” a small army of uniformed officers policed the area.
Rama III renovated the overcrowded and precarious wooden structures, and, in the late 19th century, Rama V built small, fantastical Victorian style palaces here for his favorite consorts. Because his successor, Rama VI, had only one wife, the complex was left virtually empty, and it eventually fell into disrepair.
One of the palace buildings that continues to function is the finishing school for the daughters of high-society Thai families. The girls are taught flower weaving, royal cuisine, and social etiquette.
These beautiful gardens, which are sadly now closed to the public, lie east of the Inner Palace and contain the Phra Buddha Ratana Sathan, a personal chapel built by Rama IV. The pavilion is covered in gray marble and decorated with white and blue glass mosaics. The marble bai sema (boundary stones) are inlaid with the insignia of Rama V, who placed the stones here, Rama II, who had the gardens laid out, and Rama IV.
The Neo-Classical Boromphiman Mansion in the gardens was built by Rama V as a residence for the Crown Prince (later King Rama VI). The building served as a temporary residence for several kings: Rama VII, Rama VIII, and Rama IX (King Bhumibol). Today it is used as a guest house for visiting dignitaries.
Visible from outside the palace walls, this chamber – Phra Thinang Sutthaisawan Prasat – is located between Thewaphithak and Sakchaisit gates. It was built by Rama I as a place to grant an audience during royal ceremonies and to watch the training of his elephants. Rama III strengthened the wooden structure with brick, and decorative features were added later. These include the crowning spire and ornamental cast-iron motifs.