I think a special mention should go to the Grand Palace of Bangkok, one of the main attraction of Thailand. This worth a guided visit, and if you have only one free day in Bangkok, I suggest to start from here, despite a number of temples you may find on the way. Undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark, it was built in 1782 – and for 150 years it has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. I’m not surprised at all about the endless crowd of people that visit daily the Grand Palace, enchanted by its beautiful architecture and intricate details, all of which is thanks to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. The Grand Palace is divided into three main zones: the Outer Court, home to royal offices, public buildings and the Temple of Emerald Buddha; the Middle Court, which is where the most important residential and state buildings are; and the Inner Court, which is exclusively reserved for the king, his queen and his consorts.
In the main courtyard of the temples, you could admire two huge statues – 5 meters height – called Thotkhirithon, giant demons of Thailandese mythology, which hold in hands a sword, guarding the temples.
The major attraction of the Outer Court is the Temple of Emerald Buddha, the residence of Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist sculpture: Phra Kaeo Morakot (“emerald” here refers to its colour rather than the stone), which was carved from flawless green jade, is seated in a yogic posture on a gold-gilded high pedestal, with colourful fresco paintings on the walls all around.
Unfortunately, in this royal chapel it’s forbidden to take photos and enter the temple. The Emerald Buddha is adorned with three different sets of gold seasonal costume: two were made by Rama I, one for the summer and one for the rainy season, and a third made by Rama III for the winter season. The clothes are changed personally by the King of Thailand, or the Crown Prince in his stead, in a ceremony at the changing of the seasons.
In this area, you can admire the tallest buildings, that surpass in hight the walls of the complex. The buildings are just magnificent, all covered in coloured tiles and gold lacquered. The most outstanding building is the great Gold Tower, that reminds at the buildings of the city of Chiang Mai and also to some located in Birmania. It has the shape of a golden “stupa“: the stupas are constructions typical of buddism and they are used as tombs, to contain relics and statues.
After going through the area of the big temples, we reach the courtyard of the Middle Court (Chakri Maha Prasat Hall). This buildings is a bit “atypical” compared to the other buildings of the complex, revealing an outstanding architectural-style combining European structure and traditional Thai roof tiles and spires.
The reason is the following: King Rama V entrusted the construction of the building to an italian architect (1876-1882), who planned the Royal Hall with a clear Renaissance style, causing conflicts among the Royal Court, that disagreed with the project, judged too “outlandish”. That’s why the King accepted to give to the building a more “thailandese air”. During ancient times this was the main royal residence, nowadays only a portion of it is used as museum and as place for official receptions.
The Inner Court is where the King’s royal consorts and daughters lived: it was like a small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty. Even if no royalty currently reside in the inner court, it’s still completely closed to the public.
to be continued…