Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Designated as World Heritage Site Number 574 on 12 December 1991 by UNESCO, the ancient city of Sukhothai, along with its former vassal towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, is considered the cradle of Thai civilization.

To appreciate the once flourishing civilization, Thaiways would like to present the remains of this first kingdom of Siam, which include masterpieces of the earliest Thai architecture, sculptures, and other art objects. After introducing the historical park of Sukhothai in the previous issue, we are going to present the historical park of one of its important vassal towns, Si Satchanalai in this issue. The other, Kamphaeng Phet, will be dealt with in the ensuing issue.

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is located on the bank of the Yom River at Tambon Muang Kao, Si Satchanalai county, only 55 km. from the town of Sukhothai. The ancient town, formerly call "Muang Chaliang", was named "Si Satchanalai" during the Phra Ruang Dynasty when a new administrative centre was established to replace Chaliang. This ancient town occupied more than 320 hectares (800 acres) of land. Of this, the 91-hectare (288 acres) area within the old laterite ramparts and the city moat is the focus of sightseeing in the historical park and can be covered on a day trip from Sukhothai.

According to early stone inscriptions, local legends, and historic chronicles, Si Satchanalai was exclusively governed by the crown prince of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Phaya Li Thai (1347-1369 AD), known as a great ruler and scholar, was also the crown prince ruling Si Satchanalai before ascending the throne at Sukhothai.

There is evidence indicating that he wrote a book called "Trai Phum Phra Ruang," the book of life and former lives according to Buddhist concepts, while he ruled Si Satchanalai. During his reign, many temples were built and restored.

After King Li Thai passed away (around 1370-1371 AD), the Sukhothai Kingdom fell under the rule of the Suwannaphum Dynasty of Ayutthaya.

Si Satchanalai, called Sawankhalok by Ayutthaya, still maintained its status as an important town, governed only by a member of the former Sukhothai Royal Family. However, when King Borom Trailokanat (1448-1488 AD)governed Ayutthaya, the status of Si Satchanalai changed to that of secondary outpost.

Si Satchanalai, or Sawankhalok, was an important producer of glazed ceramics called Sangkhalok wares which were exported throughout Asian countries. Si Satchanalai's riverside site was crucial to the development of its ceramic industry.

Located at Ban Ko Noi, about 5 km. north of the historical park is the Celadon Kiln Site Study and Conservation Centre which contains a display of kilns, artifacts and excavated ceramics. Over 500 kilns have been excavated so far in the area of Sawankhalok town and there is evidence of the ceramics being shipped to as far as China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Centre is open daily during 09.00-12.00 and 13.00-16.00 hours.

Among the remains of the 19 monuments inside the city wall, highlights are the first three monuments from the entrance, Wat Chang Lom, Wat Chedi Chet Thaew and Wat Nang Phaya.

Wat Chang Lom, the compound to the right of the entrance is distinctly Sri Langkan in style, with a characteristic stupa and 39 laterite elephant buttresses. The elephants at Wat Chang Lom are quite different from those found at other temples.

They represent standing elephants and are taller than life-size ones. Some scholars believe it was the temple mentioned in the Stone Inscription No. 1 as the place where Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng had Buddha relics unearthed in order to pay homage to them before reburying them and building a chedi with a boundary wall over the relics in the middle of Si Satchanalai town.

Wat Chedi Chet Thaew is located opposite Wat Chang Lom to the south. The most important constructions at this temple are the main chedi with lotus bud-shaped top and 33 subordinate chedis believed to contain the remains of the royal family. The chedis are adorned with Buddha images and other stucco decorative images reflecting various art styles, including Sri Langkan, Pagan and Srivijaya.

Wat Nang Phaya, southeast to Wat Chedi Chet Thaew, is known for the exterior of the vihara made of laterite blocks, which was decorated with highly elaborate stucco, in the art style of the early Ayutthaya period. The main chedi in the Sri Langkan style, another focus of this temple, is supported by a high base, once decorated with sculptures of elephants similar to those at Wat Chang Lom.

Besides these monuments within the city wall, there are many sites that are worth visiting. One of those located to the southeast of Si Satchanalai town is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang. This large historic temple complex is one of the most impressive sites in the area. The decorative stucco bearing the Bayon art style of ancient Khmer found at the main entrance of the temple as well as archeological evidence excavated here points out clearly that this temple was originally founded before the Sukhothai period. Its main shrine was built from blocks of laterites which were later covered with lime plaster and red paint. Its architectural characteristics as seen in the present indicate that it could date back to the Ayutthaya period though some evidence suggests that the shrine might have been built to cover an earlier structure.

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is open daily from 08.00-17.00 hours and admission is 40 Baht. Bicycles are provided for rent at 30 Baht a day, and elephant rides around the park are available at 100 Baht per person per 30 minutes. Tram service is also available in the historical park.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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