Rattanakosin - the Growth of Old Bangkok and the Dawn of a Era

 


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Rattanakosin came into being when King Rama I ascended the throne in 1782. He decided to establish the new capital on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River for better security from Burma. King Rama I was determined to build a new capital to revive the glory and splendor of old Ayutthaya. The new capital was proclaimed

Krungthep Mahanakorn Amorn Rattanakosin Mahintra Yuttaya Mahadilokpop Noparat Burirom Udom Rachnivet Mahasathan Amornpimarn Avartarnsathit Sakkatiya Witsanukamprasit

and hence began the Rattanakosin era or Bangkok period under the glorious reign of the Chakri Kings.

King Rama I choose a site just north of Wat Po, an old temple from the 17th century. With the Chao Phraya on the west and the Lod Canal on the east, the new capital was far more defensible.

In accordance with Thai customs, the first task was laying the foundation pillar for the new city. The City Pillar Shrine or Sao Lak Muang was established on 21 April 1782. Later King Rama IV, an avid astrologer, felt that a more auspicious location was required. The shrine was moved to the present location on 5 December 1852.

Construction of the Grand Palace commenced on 6 May and King Rama I occupied the royal residence on 13 June. Hundreds of boatloads of rubble were shipped from the ruins of Ayutthaya to build the city walls and public buildings of Rattanakosin.

At the same time, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaeo was constructed and completed in 1784. The Emerald Buddha was brought across the river from Wat Arun and installed in the new temple in the same year.

King Rama I appointed his younger brother the Uparat or Prince of the Front Palace, the equivalent of a second or deputy king. Part of the Front Palace is now the National Museum and National Theater.

In 1934, the palace grounds south of the National Museum was taken over by the government to start Thammasat University, one of the leading universities in Thailand. The remaining Front Palace wall line the southern edge of the university along Phra Chan Road.

Across Phra Chan Road is Wat Mahathat, another old temple since the pre-Rattanakosin era. The statue at the entrance to the temple is in honor of the Uparat or Prince of the Front Palace, who played a pivotal role in establishing the new capital. Also located here is the Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University.

The Silapakorn University of Fine Arts and the Fine Arts Department were built on the site of three former palaces in the first reign.

Northeast of the Grand Palace is the Royal Field or Sanam Luang where royal cremations were held in the past. Today it's a location for local fairs and festivities. An important annual event that takes place here is the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in May to mark the start of the agricultural year.

The first canal, Lod Canal, was dug during the reign of King Taksin. In 1785, the second canal ring called Rob Krung (literally around the city) turned the city into an island and so gave rise to the name Rattanakosin Island.

Forts were built along the Chao Phraya River and the Rob Krung Canal for the defense of Rattanakosin. The third canal ring, Padung Krung Kasem Canal, was added in 1851-54.

Opposite the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the Ministry of Defense with old cannon displayed on the front lawn. This was built in 1882, during the reign of King Rama V, on the grounds of three old palaces from the reign of King Rama I.

The Saranrom Palace, opposite the Grand Palace, was built in 1866 during the reign of King IV. In 1960, part of the palace grounds became a public park, the Saranrom Park.

It's a pity that modern buildings have replaced some of the old palaces. The old walls and forts protecting the city have been demolished; only two forts and part of the old city walls remain. But the remaining buildings in Rattanakosin give a glimpse of old Bangkok and recapture the glory of that era.

This article first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies a historical travel site on people, places and events that shaped the landscape of Bangkok. The author Eric Lim, a free-lance writer, lives in Bangkok Thailand.

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