Day Out in Bangkok looking at the past 5
(This series of monthly articles are based around the European Heritage Map produced by the European Union National Institutes for Culture in Thailand (EUNIC), a collaboration of representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and the United Kingdom)
As we roll into the fifth article we pick up near where we ended last month, on the Chao Phraya River waterfront near the Oriental Hotel.
Within a very short walking distance of the Oriental are seven different architectural structures worth mentioning. The first is Assumption Cathedral. This grand Catholic edifice dates from 1809, although the French-built structure currently extant was built in 1909 and underwent extensive renovations in 2013.
The original church was constructed by Father Pascal, a French missionary, following the design of a French architect. It was completed in 1821 using red bricks and other materials imported from France and Italy. The exterior of the 1909 renovation is clearly gothic, but the interior is done in a medieval Roman style, with frescoes on the ceiling.
Nearby is the Assumption Convent School, managed by the French-based Sisters of St Paul de Chartres and opened in 1904.
In front of Assumption Cathedral is a statue of Pope John Paul II. The Polish Pontiff visited Thailand in May 1984 and celebrated Mass in National Stadium in front of more than 40,000 people. The statue was erected to honour this first visit by a Pope.
Assumption Cathedral is open to the public from 6:00am to 6:00pm seven days a week.
Further along is the Residence of the French Ambassador. This building was first constructed on the site in the nineteenth century and was renovated in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s but is only visible from the Chao Phraya River.
A little to the north of the French ambassador’s residence is the Customs House, currently in a state of disrepair. It was originally designed by Italian architect Joachim Grassi. Its façade used to be decorated with stucco and was the place where King Chulalongkorn disembarked after his trips to Europe. It fell into disrepair and is presently used by firemen. The building is accessible during the day.
Also on the river is the former Office of the East Asiatic Trading Company. Founded by Danish seafaring captain H.N. Andersen in the late nineteenth century, the building was another designed by Italian architect Annibale Rigotti. The building served as the headquarters of the East Asiatic Trading Company from 1900 to 1995. It is visible but not open to the public.
Another building visible but not open is the former Banque D’Indochine/Indosuez. The design of this French business fell to the Singapore-based British architectural company Howard Erskine Ltd in the late 1890s. It is now used by the Catholic Centre.