When it comes to capital cities, Bangkok is relatively young, being founded back in 1782. But over the course of two centuries, the Chakri Kings and populist politicians have striven to give the city all the stately aura and sophistication that a political and cultural capital should possess. Explore, and you’ll find statues, parks, palaces and galleries. But most impressive is its rather respectable thoroughfare Ratchadamnoen Avenue, which compares favourably with Paris’s Champs-Élysées, or the Mall in London. Ratchadamnoen is the artery through which Thailand’s modern history flows, with the architectural glories of Rattankosin at one end and the breath-taking Italianate Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall at the other.
The domed, neo-classical Throne Hall seems an anomaly in tropical Bangkok. Crafted from dazzling Carrara marble, the building would surely be more at home in Paris or Pisa, but it was actually the brainchild of the Thai King Rama V the Great who required a reception hall for guests of the court. So he commissioned Italian architects, Annibale Rigotti and Mario Tamagno (who also designed Bangkok’s Hua Lampong Station and the original Oriental Hotel), to bring his vision to life. It’s a wonderful wedding cake of a building, and gleams under the bright Asian sun, and up close you find many elegant details, faces and carvings all created by sculptor Vittorio Novi.
The exterior elegance continues inside. When you enter and scale the curved staircase, you find yourself in a small but sumptuous octagonal hall, the wall panels decorated with a shimmering collage of beetle wings that must have taken hundreds of hours of work. This attention to detail continues in the main reception hall, so prepare to be regally impressed. The deep carpets, royal insignia and soaring Corinthian pillars can rival the majesty of any European palace. But when you raise your eyes skyward, it’s the Thai elements of the glorious murals that make you gasp. These paintings tell the story of the Chakri Dynasty from the reign of Rama I the Great to Rama VI – you’ll see King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V) freeing the slaves and Rama II supervising the beautification of Bangkok’s temples from the back of an elephant.
So not only is the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall worth seeing in itself, as an iconic and beautiful piece of Thai history, it is also perfectly complemented by the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition. The Throne Hall is the perfect setting for the real and eternal jewels of Thailand – the sumptuous artistry, skills and talents of the Thai people that have thrived and developed over centuries.
Text & photo: Tourism Authority of Thailand
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