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Ayutthaya or to use the more formal name - Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s historical and majestic highlights. Serving as the Thai capital for over 400 years until 1767, it was one of the largest centres in Southeast Asia. It is located just over 80 kilometres to the North of todays capital Bangkok.
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya once stretched beyond todays borders of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It was a major centre for trade and the military in the region. It was regularly visited by Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants.
The old city is today a World Heritage site with many of the original buildings still standing and able to be explored. Visitors to Ayutthaya will appreciate the grandeur of magnificent structures and ruins concentrated in and around the city island surrounded by Maenam Chao Phraya, Maenam Pa Sak and Maenam Lopburi.
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya was built and developed in leaps and bounds. The ruins in Ayutthaya that survived the test of time embody both the glorious and ignominious stories of the Kingdom.
This ancient capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350 by King U-Thong, had thirty three kings of different dynasties and reached its peak in the middle of the18th century. A magnificent city with three palaces and over 400 magnificent temples on an island threaded by canals Ayutthaya was truly an impressive city that attracted European and Asian explorers and merchants. After a 15-month siege by the Burmese the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was conquered and completely destroyed in 1767. When King Taksin the Great finally liberated the Kingdom, a new dynasty was established and the capital was moved to the more easily defendable Thonburi.
The seal of Ayutthaya depicts a conch on a pedestal tray placed in a small castle under a Mun tree. According to legend, King U-Thong, founder of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, discovered a beautiful conch buried in the ground that was being prepared for the establishment of the seat of his Kingdom. Consequently, he had a tiny castle built to house the shell. Hence, the provincial seal.
Today, there are only crumbling ruins and rows of headless Buddhas where once an empire thrived. The temple compounds are still awe-inspiring even in disrepair and will provide a memorable visit especially for those drawn to the relics of history.
The architecture of Ayutthaya is a fascinating mix of Khmer (ancient Cambodian style) and early Sukhothai style. Some cactus-shaped obelisks, called prangs, denote Khmer influence and look something like the famous towers of Angkor Wat. The more pointed stupas are ascribed to the Sukhothai influence. For new arrivals who had limited their visit to Bangkok, similarities may be noted with the riverside Wat Arun, an 18th-century structure that was built in the so-called Ayutthaya style, a melding of Sukhothai Buddhist influences and Hindu-inspired Khmer motifs.
Ayutthaya is administratively divided into 16 districts: Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Ban Phraek, Bang Ban, Bang Pahan, Bang Pa-in, Amphoe Bang Sai, Bang Sai, Lat Bua Luang, Maha Rat, Nakhon Luang, Phachi, Phak-Hai, Sena, Tha Rua, Uthai and Wang Noi.
The Ayutthaya temples will surely give anyone who visits a better understanding of the true sophistication of Thailand's past.