THE GRAND PALACE, BANGKOK

The Grand Palace, Bangkok Travel Guide

The 1.5sq. km (1.8-sq. yd) grounds of the Grand Palace (2) (Grand Palace complex open daily 8.30-11.30am and 1-3.30pm; entrance fee includes admission to Coins and Royal Decorations Museum, Vimarnme, and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall) are open to visitors who are suitably dressed.

They occupy partof a larger compound that also includes the Royal Chapel, the Royal Collection of Weapons, Coins and Royal Decorations Museum and a small museum containing Grand Palace artifacts.

Similar in layout to the royal palace in Ayutthaya, the palace compound embodies Thailand's characteristic blend of temporal and spritual elements. Surrounded by high, crenellated walls and entered by a huge double gate, the Grand palace was begun by King Chakri in 1782.

Almost every king since hen has added to it, so that today the complex is a melange of architectural styles ranging from traditional Thai and Chinese, to French and Italian Renaissance.

After the palace death of King Ananda in 1946, his brother, the present King Bhumibol, moved to the more modern and comfortable Chitralada Palace, a short distance away in the Dusit area.

Today, the Grand Palace is used only for state banquets and other royal and state ceremonies.


The Grand Palace Complex


The grandest of the buildings in the complex was actually the last to be built. The triple-spired royal residence that commands the courtyard is the Chakri Maha Prasad ( Grand Palace Hall), the audience and reception hall.

This two-storeyhall set on an elevated base, of which visitors are allowed to see only the reception rooms, was constructed during King Chulalongkorn's reign (1868-1910) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chakti Dynasty, in 1882.

An impressive mixture of Thai and Western architecture (an influence resulting from the king's journeys to colonial Singapore and Java), the lower part of the building was designed by a British architect; the Thai spires were added at the last moment, following protests by purists that it was improper that a hallowed Thai site be dominated by a building with a European style. The top floor, under the tall central spire, contains golden urns with ashes of the Chakri kings.

The pair of spires on either side hold the ashes of princes of royal blood. The large reception rooms are decorated with pictures of past kings, bust of foreign royalty (most of whom King Chula-longkorn met abroad), and a quantity of objets d'art, most of them European.

The central hall is the magnificent Chakri Throne Room, where the king receives foreign ambassadors on a niello throne under a nine-tiered white umbrella, originally made for King Chulalongkorn. Outside, the courtyard is dotted with ornamental ebony trees pruned in Chinese style.

To the left of the Chakri Maha Prasad, a door leads to the Inner Palace or Women's Quarters. where the king's many wives once lived. The king himself was the only male above the age of 12 allowed to enter the area, which led to the palace's lovely garden of cool fountains, pavilions and carefully pruned trees; it was guarded by armed women.

Even today, this inner section is closed to visitors, except when the king throws a birthday garden party for diplomats and government officials.

North of the women's quarters lies Borom Phiman Hall, built in French style by King Chulalongkorn as a residence for the then Crown Prince Vajiravudh, later King Rama VI. it was in this building that the young king Ananda died in 1946.

The Amarin Vinitchai Throne Hall, just east of the doorway leading to the former Inner Palace, is another of the palace's few remaining original buildings. It is the northernmost of the three-building group known as the Maha Montien, and served as the bedchamber for Rama I; the three-room building originally served as a royal residence, the bedroom lying just beyond the main audience hall.

In the early days of Bangkok, the building was also the royal court of justice, were cases were heard and adjudicated by either the king or his ministers.

Today, the audience hall is used for coronations and special ceremonies. During these ceremonies, the boat-shaped throne is at first concealed by two curtains, called pphra visud. The king takes his seat unseen by those in the hall. A fanfare on conch-shell trumpets precedes the parting of the curtains, with the king appearing resplendent in royal regalia.

By tradition, each new king also spends the first night after his coronation here.

The building just to the west of the Chakri Maha Prasad is the Dusit Maha Prasad (Dusit hall), built by King Chakri (Rama I) in 1789 to replace an earlier wooden structure, the Amarindrabhisek, which was struck by lightning, As the flames crackled and brought down the building the king ordered the officials to carry out the heavy teak throne.

A splendid example of classical Thai architecture, its four-tiered roof supports an elegant nine-tiered spire. The balcony on the north wing contains a throne once used by the king for outdoor reception; the last occasion was when King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) received the oath of loyalty from his court after his coronation in 1911.

Deceased kings and queens lie in state here before their bodies are cremated on Sanam Luang, called more formally for these occasions the Phramane Ground.

Just in front of the Dusit Maha Prasad is Thailand's most exquisite pavilion, the Arporn Phimok Prasad (Disrobing Pavilion). It was build to the height of the king's palanquin, so that he could alight from his elephant and don his ceremonial hat gown before proceeding to the audience hall.

It was reproduced by King Chulalongkorn at Bang Pa-in, the summer palace just to the south of Ayutthaya. Nearby, a superb collection of small Buddha images made of silver, ivory, crystal and other materials can be seen at Wat Phra Kaeo Museum (open daily; entrance fee), north of the Dusit Maha Prasad.

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