Never before have I seen such a compact collection of outstanding religious, historical and ceremonial buildings sited literally side-by-side as I have at the Grand Palace. Each of the 12 buildings is built to a different architectural standard – some of the buildings are painted gold, others are covered with mirrors painstakingly set in place. Some buildings have spires while others do not. High walls surround the complex, creating a clear separation from the pedestrian world outside. They were all built with meticulous attention to detail. Everything is spotlessly clean. The complex was built over the last 230 years, yet it seems timeless. The walls are painted with murals that depict the major events in the history of the country. The first of many depicts a battle in the war that Rama of Ayothaya waged to rescue his wife Sita, who was abducted by Thotsakan, King of Longka.
The first two structures built in the Grand Palace complex were the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and the Phra Maha Monthian. The Dusit Throne Hall is used primarily for lying-in-state for kings, queens and honored members of the Royal Family. It is also used for the annual Coronation Day ceremony.
The Phra Maha Monthian group consists of three buildings: the Audience Hall, the Paisal Taksin Hall and the Chakraphat Phiman Hall. The Audience Hall is used for state ceremonies such as the birthday of the king. The hall’s main feature is a throne that is surmounted by a nine-tiered white canopy, flanked by two seven-tiered white umbrellas and backed by a boat-shaped altar. The Paisal Taksin Hall is where the coronation ceremony takes place. The Chakraphat Phiman Hall was the residence of Kings Rama I, Rama II and Rama III. It has subsequently become customary for the sovereign to spend one night here after his coronation to signify the official taking up of residence.
The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha is enshrined on a golden Thai-style throne made of gilded carved wood known as a Busabok. The Emerald Buddha is, in fact, carved from a block of green jade. It was first discovered in 1434 in a stupa (a dome-shaped structure) in Chiang Rai. The abbot who found the Buddha thought it was emerald and the legend of the Emerald Buddha image began.
The other remarkable buildings include a reliquary (a shrine) in the shape of a golden chedi (a sacred memorial structure), the Mondop (a repository for Buddhist sacred scriptures), a model of Angkor Wat and the Royal Pantheon enshrining statues of past sovereigns of the ruling Chakri dynasty.
King Rama V built the Borom Phiman Mansion in the western style in 1903 for the Heir Apparent. This mansion is the largest golden teakwood mansion in the world. Today it serves as the Royal Guest House for visiting heads of state and guests of Their Majesties.
The Chakri Maha Prasat was completed in 1882. The main hall is used to receive foreign ambassadors on the occasion of the presentation of their credentials. It is also used for state banquets in honor of visiting heads of state. Even more buildings yet include the scripture library and the mausoleum of the royal family that contain the cremated ashes of a number of its members.
Although I am a tightwad and hate paying for admission to tourist sites, I would not hesitate for an instant to recommend that visitors pay the $20 US entrance fee to the Grand Palace. There is no set path to follow and you can stay as long as you like. For $8 US, you can rent a handheld recorder which provides a guided audio tour of the site. Or, for even more money, you can hire a live guide who will not only give an excellent tour but answer all your questions as well.
The Grand Palace and the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha easily rates as one of the most memorable sites any world traveler could hope to experience.
Photos by Jan Wall – all rights reserved
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