European influence on Thai architecture is exemplified by Wat Benchamabophit, the last major temple to be built in central Bangkok. In 1899 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) commissioned his brother Prince Naris and the Italian architect Hercules Manfredi to design a new bot and cloister for the original Ayutthaya-period temple which stood on the site. The nickname for the new wat (“Marble Temple”) is derived from the gray Carrara marble used to clad the walls.
Laid out in cruciform with cascading roof levels, the bot is elegantly proportioned. It contains another successful fusion of traditions: intricate Victorian-style stained-glass windows depicting scenes from Thai mythology. In the room of the ashes of Rama V is the most revered copy of Phitsanulok’s Phra Phuttha Chinarat, with a pointed halo. In the cloister are 53 different Buddha images, originals and copies of images from around Thailand and other Buddhist countries, assembled by Rama V.
Within the wat is one of the three sets of doors inlaid with mother-of-pearl that were salvaged from Wat Borom Buddharam in Ayutthaya. The building in which Rama V lived as a monk features murals depicting events that occurred during his reign.
Wat Benchamabophit is a popular location for witnessing monastic rituals, from Buddhist holiday processions to the daily alms round, in which merit-makers donate food to the monks lined up outside the wat along Nakhon Pathom Road. This is a reversal of the usual practice where the monks go out in search of alms.