Two ships led by a British naval captain, Samuel Wallis, discover the island of Tahiti. In Salzburg, Austria the Mozart family are making preparations to relocate to Vienna. And, on April 7th 1767, after a siege that has lasted for over a year, an army from the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma enter and destroy the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya.
Modern day Ayutthaya is a thriving city on the Central Plains north of Bangkok. In it’s past Ayutthaya has been a kingdom, a capital city, an international trading center and a conflagration of burning buildings, the archaeological ruins of which now survive as a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, situated on a central island surrounded by the Chao Phyara, Lop Buri and Pasak rivers.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 in the reign of King Ramathibodi I and by means of warfare and trade steadily grew in power and influence over the ensuing 400 years.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the city emerged as one of the most important trading centers in Asia. Known as “The Venice of the East” Ayutthaya attracted Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, Japanese and Chinese merchants. Each nationality built their warehouses and accommodation on the banks of the rivers surrounding the city situated on the main island. France was the one exception to the rule.
Through the influence of a Greek adventurer named Constantine Phaulkon, the French were permitted to set up their “quarter” inside the city. Know in Thai history as Chao Phraya Vichayen, the European (who learnt to speak fluent Thai) became the confidant and chief minister of King Narai (1657 – 1688), advising the monarch to restrict Dutch and English interests within the Kingdom.
The French conversely, were permitted to station over 600 soldiers in the kingdom and assisted the king in improving the fortifications on the island. In his rise to power Phaulkon caused bitterness amongst other members of the court. When King Narai fell ill and was approaching death, Phaulkon’s enemies were quick to organize his arrest and execution.
Following the king’s death, Narai’s foster brother, Phetracha proclaimed himself the new ruler and over a short period after his ascension expelled almost all foreign troops, mercenaries and merchants from the kingdom.
In the ensuing years Ayutthaya entered it’s golden age. In a time of relative peace and prosperity, the art and literature of the kingdom blossomed. This however was then followed by a period of violent feuding for the throne and a gradual decline of the nation’s fortunes, amid an increasing threat of invasion from the Burmese. In 1758 Prince Anurakmontree forced the reigning king, his younger brother, to abdicate and, as King Ekathat, became the last ruler of Ayutthaya.
In 1767 the Burmese army succeeded in breaching Ayutthaya’s defences and entered the city. The Siamese mounted a final defence but were vanquished. Widespread looting and slaughter followed, culminating in the entire city being burnt to the ground.
While it did not cover an area as large as the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya lasted almost as long. Sadly, unlike Rome, there remain very few works of art or literature to commemorate the glory of a vanished realm. All that endures are the ruins of The Ancient City of Ayutthaya to help inspire us to recall the glory that was once Ayutthaya.
Contributing Source : Tourism Authority of Thailand