Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries ayutthaya was one of the most important trading centers in asia, attracting not only merchants but also missionaries, adventurers, and mercenaries from around the world. portuguese visitors arriving in the 16th century found a riverine city of canals and magnificent flotillas of barges. they brought firearms to trade and military advisers to help ayutthaya against the Burmese. the Dutch and english followed in the 17th century and established trading warehouses. the Japanese came to buy animal hides, while French Jesuits and persians competed for religious converts. some foreigners, including constantine phaulkon, sought political influence.
Lacquerware was a specialty of Ayutthaya. Like other aspects of life in the city, the decorative arts reflected the influence of foreigners or farangs. These doors depict farang traders.
Map of Ayutthaya
The involvement of Europeans in Siamese affairs led to the publication of several maps of Ayutthaya. This French map, probably an 18th-century copy of one drawn in the 17th century, shows the location of the French, Portuguese, and Siamese quarters. The European spelling of Ayutthaya at that time was Iudia.
The first French to arrive in Ayutthaya, in 1662, were Jesuit mission aries. In 1681 the French asked permission for a full diplomatic mission to visit the city. It arrived in 1685, headed by the envoy from Louis XIV, Chevalier de Chaumont. A Siamese envoy later returned with him to France. This painting shows him being received at court by the Sun King, Louis XIV.
French Jesuit missionaries came to Ayutthaya to convert King Narai to Catholicism. They failed in this but encouraged him to cultivate an interest in astronomy. This illustration shows him watching a lunar eclipse in 1685. Following the Jesuits’ tutelage he watched a partial solar eclipse in 1688. Narai favored the Jesuits and gave them land to build churches and schools.
Chilies were first imported from South America by the Portuguese, who established a trading treaty with the Siamese in 1516. They quickly grew in popularity, and today chilies are an essential ingredient in numerous Thai dishes.
Royal barges and other boats crowded the waterways of Ayutthaya. Often the first sight that greeted visitors to the city was a convoy of royal barges. As a result, Ayutthaya became known as the “Venice of the East.”
The VOC (Dutch East India Company) first visited Ayutthaya in 1604. A trading warehouse was set up in 1634, but by the 1670s trade had declined. The warehouse in Ayutthaya was later destroyed by the Burmese.