12th century inscriptions suggest that there was a city on this site prior to its official foundation by King U Thong (Ramathibodi)
in 1351. The name Ayutthaya derives from the Hindu "Ayodhya", city of the Hindu god Rama in
(early western visitors such as Jeremias Van Vliet
to have missed the association and called the city "Judia" or "Judea"). Thai kings have traditionally been
associated with Rama. The current Chakri Dynasty, which dates from 1782, are known as Rama I through to Rama 9, the current monarch.
Ayutthaya at first was one principality among many, the major powers of which were Pegu in
Burma, Lan Na, Sukhotai and a declining Angkor, but Ayutthaya grew
quickly and at the height of its power, during the reign of king Naresuan (1656-1688), controlled
parts of Burma, much of Lan Na and Cambodia, and projected influence over most of the Malay peninsula.
During the 17th and 18th Centuries several European countries, together with China and Japan, established
trading houses in the foreign quarter of Ayutthaya. The most famous of the Europeans was Constantine Phaulkon (1647-1688), a British seaman of
Greek parentage, who became first minister to King Narai and one of the most powerful men in the
once his king and protector fell ill, Phaulkon was overthrown and executed by a group led by the king's brother. After this time, European influence in Thailand
Some idea of the grandeur of Ayutthaya in its golden age, can be seen in a reconstruction of the
royal palace Sanphet Prasat at the Ancient City (Moeng Boran), south of Bangkok.
Destruction of Ayutthaya
During the years of its greatness, Ayutthaya was known as one of the largest and most beautiful cities in the world. In 1767, however, a
final Burmese invasion destroyed the city and carried off most of its treasures and population to Burma. The city was left desolate, soon reverting
to jungle, but the remains of the temples and palaces, now cleared and restored somewhat, are still some of the most spectacular in South East Asia.
Sandstone Buddha head
Head westwards on Naresuan Road (north of the market) for about 1200m, and through the second major
intersection. To the right are the remains of Wat Ratburana
(15th C), to the left the
extensive ruins of Wat Mahathat
- "Temple of the Great Relic" (14th C). Much of the site, which dates from the 14th century, was
destroyed by the Burmese in 1767.
The Buddha statues have also suffered very badly, most of them being beheaded by vandals and
robbers, though some heads have been replaced in modern times, carved skillfully in the style of the Ayutthaya period.
In the photograph to the right, the head exists but the body has disappeared. This sandstone head from the
Ayutthaya period rests appropriately in the climbing roots of a Bodhi tree in the grounds of Wat Mahathat.
Wat Sri Sanphet
West of Wat Mahathat is a very pleasant park, with lakes and bridges. The path passes several smaller historical
remains and provides fine distant perspectives of Wat Mahathat, shown in the photograph at the top of this page, and
the Khmer style prang of Wat Ratburana, pictured in the section 'Getting Around'.
A short walk brings you to Wat Sri Sanphet and the remains of the old Royal Palace (Wang Luang
), dating from the time King U Thong
Though there is very little left of Wang Luang
itself, within the palace grounds are the much better
preserved remains of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, the royal temple.
Three chedis in the temple grounds contain the ashes of three early kings of Ayutthaya from the second
half of the fifteenth century; this line of massive monuments has become one of the most famous and evocative images
of Ayutthaya and of historic Thailand.