Situated just 80 kilometers from Bangkok, the city of Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of the Ayuthia kingdom, the precursor to the Kingdom of Siam. Having existed for a little more than four centuries, it was eventually destroyed by the Burmese. However, its ruins remain a spectacle of unimaginable beauty and value to this day. Its historical center is filled with remnants of grandiose temple complexes, built from unbaked brick in Khmer style, alongside majestic imperial palaces, massive stupas and impressive Buddha statues. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as a matter of fact, the largest open-air museum in the center of a still functioning city.
Ayutthaya was originally founded by King Ramathibodi I, who made it the capital of the Thai state back in 1350. He defeated the Khmer Empire after a prolonged fight, before conquering Angkor and using it as a sample for the building of his own capital, which is why its architectural style resembles the Khmer one. Ayutthaya was the economic, political, cultural and religious center of the kingdom; it was famous for its splendor and was seen as one of the richest cities in Asia. It had a total of three royal palaces, about four hundred temples and several dozens of heavily reinforced forts.
However, the Burmese neighbors were repeatedly attempting to get their hands on the Thai riches and finally managed to take the city by storm in 1767. They razed the greater part of the city to the ground without remorse and following the attack, Thailand’s ruler didn’t bother to restore Ayutthaya and left it in ruins. The capital was moved to Thonburi (later to become Bangkok). Over a period of time, a new city was formed, slightly to the east of the destroyed one and it is this city that is now the capital of the namesake province. The old city, together with the remnants of its ancient majestic buildings, has been turned into the historical park Ayuthia. It is situated on a picturesque island, surrounded by three rivers. Foreigners from all over the world come there, in order to stand in awe at their splendor.
One of the main treasures of the old Thai capital is the Grand Royal Palace, which is situated in the city very center, directly on the river's bank. It was once be the residence of the emperor and his family. The ruins of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet – the most significant and the largest temple in Ayutthaya – are located nearby. It is famous for the three chedi stupas, which were built in honor of three first kings of Siam and also for the fact that the giant statue of the Golden Buddha was once located there. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet belonged to the prince's family but was used only for the ceremonies in which the kings participated.
Another noteworthy, almost cultic building of the old city, is the Wat Mahathat Temple, which built in the 14th century. It is on its premises that Ayutthaya’s trademark, the renowned stone head of Buddha, which has been covered by the roots of a venerable tree, is located. How it got there however, remains a mystery. According to one version of the story, the Thais hid a piece of a statue under the tree when they fled from Burmese army. Roots have since grown over it and have created a peculiar protective layer over time.
The only building of ancient Ayutthaya that survived in its original appearance is the temple Wat Na Phra Men. In the 18th century, Burmese invaders fired at the royal palace from its walls and therefore, the building escaped destruction. It is also known for its six-meter-high image of Buddha in royal regalia, which is situated inside.
The well-preserved palace of the Crown Prince stands to the north of the historical park. Today, this houses the National Museum of Ayutthaya – also known as the Chao Sam Phraya Museum. A collection of artefacts found during excavations of the ancient city is kept there. It also includes a unique collection of Buddha statues and other physical evidence of the Ayutthaya era.
Getting there. Buses depart from Bangkok’s northern bus station (Moh Chit) in the direction of Ayutthaya every 20 minutes (travel time is about one hour and a half).