Fairy-tale castles of Thailand
Sunday 10, August 2014
Looking for fairy-tale castles in Asia? Thailand might be the right place to visit with surprisingly beautiful palaces built in European style.
Think of architecture of Thailand and what immediately comes to people’s mind are the golden spires of stupas at the Grand Palace and the colorful statues of dvarapala yaksha, the mythical guards who protect royal areas. Or the elegant structures of Thai wooden houses with their ornate gables and curved roof tops. However, in the course of the late 19th century and the first three decades of the 20th century, all the craze was to build European-like buildings. Neo-classical, baroque or even art nouveau became the favorite styles of the Chakri dynasty. King Rama IV, but especially King Rama V and King Rama VI, dotted Bangkok and Central Thailand with beautiful palaces where inspiration was obviously taken from Europe.
Why was the European style so popular then in Siam? Europe was at that time the abode of modernity, a reference model for the rest of the world. With Siam feeling threatened by the expanding British and French empires, Siamese kings saw the construction of European-style structures that would prove that Thailand was also part of a modern, progress-oriented world. King Rama VI built a series of incredible palaces, which look like they came from a fairy-tale book.
For today travelers, Thailand bears some of the most exquisite European-style buildings of any country in Asia, especially due to the diversity of their architecture. At the height of the reign of Kings Rama V and Rama VI, urban planning was mostly in the hands of Italian architects. But also, the Chakri dynasty invited German, Austrian and British architects to build in the Kingdom. The first to think European was King Rama IV. In Petchaburi province near Hua Hin, the King fell in love with a hilly landscape and decided to construct on three peaks of the hill a palace complex, blending Chinese, European and Thai elements. Some of the pavilions were totally inspired by European neo-classical architecture. A few kilometers away, King Rama V built Phra Ram Rachaniwet Palace between 1907 and 1910. A German architect, Karl Dohring, created the elegant building which carries all the characteristics of German or Austrian Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). It is said that the building took its inspiration of Kaiser Wilhelm’s own palace in Berlin.
Moving to Cha Am, near Hua Hin, Mridagayawan Palace was designed by Italian Ercole Manfredi in 1923. Facing the sea and surrounded by huge gardens, the Summer Palace is a series of beautiful pavilions on stilts to help air circulate, as the King suffered from arthritis. The pavilions mix Thai and European styles and look like they emerged from an old fairy tale with their blue and turquoise painted facades.
Moving further around Bangkok, King Rama VI built its ideal palace. Sanam Chang Palace contains a series of pavilions and mansions located in a huge garden in Nakhon Pathom. The most photographed place is Phra Tamnak Chali Monkol-asna. It looks like a miniature reproduction of a Ludwig II of Bavaria castle, blending medieval and baroque architectures.
Moving north, the ultimate in this European castles craze by Thailand’s royal family is Bang Pa In. Located between Bangkok and Ayutthaya, this castle is often described as Thailand’s Versailles with its various classical and neo-baroque pavilions, standing in a garden decorated of classical statues. Bang Pa In is an incredible eclectic collection of various European-style buildings, inspired by Greece, France, Italy and even Moorish-Spanish architectures, as if Thai kings had invented Disneyland Epcot Park, a century before Walt Disney could even dream of it!
Bangkok is also full of beautiful European-style palaces, besides the Grand Palace itself. Saranrom Palace across the Grand Palace is an amazing neo-classical orange/coral Italian style Palace; Varadis Palace is another pure German Art Deco mansion, while Parusakawan Palace (now the Police Museum) mixes Italian baroque and Art Nouveau. Phaya Thai Palace looks again more like a romantic getaway from Ludwig II of Bavaria. One of the most exquisite palaces to look at is the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall. The small mansion looks like it is built from lace, with its wooden facade made of delicate elements reproducing flowers and Moorish details. This heritage started to be acknowledged by Thai people and also by foreigners. Last year, the European Union launched the first European Heritage Map of Bangkok and Ayutthaya, highlighting over 60 sites with a link to Europe.
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