Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Ancient City of Ayutthaya

The Ancient City of Ayutthaya
The Ancient City of Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was once a great kingdom that extended right across Northern Thailand and encompassed the whole of the land of the million elephants, which today covers Laos and part of Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia.  The city was founded in 1351 by King Ramathibodi I (U-Tong), when he turned an existing settlement into what was to become the ancient capital of Siam. During its history, the Kingdom was ruled by 33 kings, who, unlike the kings from the neighboring Kingdom of Sukhothai, had absolute rule, were declared devaraja (god-king) and considered to be the earthly incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Thailand Photo Blog - View my 'Ayutthaya National Historical Park' set on Flickriver 

Ayutthaya flourished for over 400 years and despite it being a turbulent time with battles, invasions and assassinations peppering much of its history, the Ayutthaya Kingdom is seen as the pinnacle of Thai power and influence.  In 1360, King Ramathibodi declared Theravada Buddhism the official religion of Ayutthaya and invited Ceylonese monks to establish new religious orders and spread the faith. He also compiled a legal code, much of which remained in general use right up until the late nineteenth century. In 1378, the King Thammaracha II of Sukhothai (the previous capital of Siam) relinquished his power to Ayutthaya and by 1438 Sukhothai became a province of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.

Throughout its history the Burmese tried to capture Ayutthaya. They had already succeeded in claiming Chiang Mai and Laos, but in 1569, the Burmese successfully captured the city of Ayutthaya. However, in 1593 King Naresuan fought and killed the crown prince of Burma, Prince Min Chit Sra during hand-to-hand combat from the back of elephants. The defeat caused the Burmese to retreat and Siamese authority was reinstalled in Ayutthaya. During the following year, the Siamese invaded and captured Tenasserim and Tavoy in Burma. King Naresuan then sent 100,000 men to successfully conquer Cambodia. With Cambodia under Ayutthaya's rule, the Siamese continued to rage war with Burma and other neighboring kingdoms.

Meanwhile, Ayutthaya grew into a cosmopolitan and outward looking Kingdom. It became a major trading center with diplomatic ties to countries such as China, Japan, Persia, Spain, France and Portugal. Many of the early European traders were clearly amazed by the richness of the Kingdom. One report described the major cities of Europe as being mere villages when compared to the wealth of Ayutthaya, while another suggested that London should adopt Ayutthaya's idea of using street lights at night.

By the late 1700s, Ayutthaya had become a very rich and powerful Kingdom. However, the nation was suffering from an internal crisis. The absolute power of the King meant that commoners had no rights and hence no interest in the politics of the Kingdom. On the other hand, the ruling classes fought bitterly for power. Throughout Ayutthaya's history there were countless rebellions and attempts to seize the throne. As a result there was no unity among the people and insecurity within the Kingdom raged.

Then in 1765, the Burmese converged again on Ayutthaya. They took siege of the city for a year and two months, during which time they robbed and killed the people and raised the city to the ground. By 1767 the city was in ruins, with many buildings, art treasures and historical records being destroyed. The Burmese occupied the city for two years and the Thais fled to establish a new capital in Thoniburi, ending the great era of Ayutthaya.

Today, visitors to the World Heritage Park in Ayutthaya will find that only a few ruins remain, so it is difficult to visualize the splendor of Ayutthaya in its glory days, but what fragments there are, help us to realize that Ayutthaya was a very rich and vibrant period in Thai history.

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