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Headless Buddhas, fallen arches, ruins of redbrick walls and scattered carved stone pieces… This is what you find when visiting the ancient city of Ayuthaya, the once glittering capital of the kingdom of Siam, located 80 km north of Bangkok. Built along the Chao Praya river, Ayuthaya is renowned for its magnificent palaces and temples. It enjoyed peace and prosperity until the arrival of the Burmese who ransacked burning and looting that even after it was recaptured by the Thais, it was never the same again. The capital was then moved to Bangkok. One can imagine, walking through maze of ruins how the city could have looked like in its heyday. And I did just that …. while scouring through the ruins I can picture the great pillared halls of the King’s palace decorated with exquisite gold wall paintings surrounded by elegantly carved Buddhist statues and lanes of golden pagodas shimmering against the sun rays … Today only remnants of a bygone era still stand as silent witnesses to a former glory of what was once a fabulous city of the East. Ayuthaya was prosperous and wealthy. It traded with its Asian neighbours as well as the West with strong commercial and diplomatic links to that of Louis XIV of France, Spain, The Netherlands and Portugal. Although most of the city lies in ruin, some well preserved monuments are to be found on the western side of the archaeological garden which include the 14th century temple of Wat Mahathat, Thailands’s oldest.
Among the remnants of redbrick walls is the serene Buddha head now embedded in the twisted roots of an ageless Banyan tree. Undoubtedly still cherished by locals, as it is given regular offerings of incense and flowers.
Not far is Wat Pra Si Sampet, ruins of the royal chapel once situated on the grounds of the palace. Apart from the ruins are reconstructed temples and some shrines that were spared from the Burmese. Nearly all has a golden Buddha within pillared halls. Walking through the ruins among bell shaped roofs are Buddhist monks clad in yellow saffron robes climbing the steps towards the shrine – a sober tradition that has transgressed the many centuries to the present.
To get a better picture of of what ancient Ayuthaya was like, a stop over at the Sam Phya museum is worthwhile. It houses a wonderful collection of statues, ornaments and other art works. Ayuthaya, the lost city of Siam is wholly remembered as once the seats of the great Thai kings and queens. Today although left in despair, its past grandeur is still reflected through the extraordinary ruins.