Day Out in Bangkok looking at the past
Recently, the European Union National Institutes for Culture in Thailand (EUNIC) produced the first European heritage map of Bangkok and Ayutthaya. EUNIC was created in 2012 and their European heritage map of Bangkok and Ayutthaya was put together with the collaboration of representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
The French ambassador, Thierry Viteau, wrote in his preamble to the release of the EUNIC map, ‘it may surprise you to find palaces designed by Italian and German architects, churches established by the French and Portuguese, trading posts left by Danish and Dutch businessmen, bridges of Belgian and British make, and even military uniforms of Polish design.’
Certainly many of the buildings and sites are quite well-known to expats and regular visitors to Bangkok and Ayutthaya, but it’s worth revisiting them with a little greater knowledge of their European heritage history and perhaps looking at them in a different way.
Not surprisingly, it’s the area around the Grand Palace in Bangkok which has probably the largest collection of heavily European-influenced structures.
Indeed, the Grand Palace itself (Chakri Maha Prasat) is a British design. Commissioned by King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), work commenced on the Grand Palace on 9 May 1876. It was designed by a British architect named John Clunish, who was based in Singapore. He created what EUNIC describes as ‘a perfect example of the blend between Thai and Western architecture.’
The throne hall, which is the only part of the Grand Palace open to the public, was built between 1876 and 1882.
Within the Siwalai gardens inside the Grand Palace compound is Phra Thinang Boromphiman. This structure is visible, but not open to the public. It was built between 1897 and 1903 and designed by a German architect. He was ‘inspired by Napoleon III’s neo-Renaissane extension of the Louvre Palace in Paris.’
Just outside the Grand Palace grounds is the Ministry of Defence building. Quite visible but not open to the public, it is described as ‘a masterpiece of neo-classical architecture.’ Constructed between 1882 and 1884 it was the work of an Italian named Joachim Grassi and originally served as the Royal Barracks before its conversion into the Ministry of Defence. You can’t miss the building as there is an array of nineteenth century cannons guarding the entrance.
Further down the road is the Saranrom Palace, also visible but not open to the public. It was ‘built in 1866 by German architect Egon Muller and later altered by Italian Carlo Allegri’. From 1885 it became the head office of the Foreign Affairs ministry.
The park, a part of the palace, was conceived by a British diplomat and built by an Italian.
Continued next month