Thursday, 19 March 2015

Old Pictures: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Let's familiarise ourselves first of all.

This is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, part of the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. We'll get to the source of the picture in a moment, but let's have a quick run through of the Grand Palace first. It's as old as Bangkok, although funnily enough, that isn't all that old. Although Bangkok had vaguely existed for a few centuries as an irrelevant village, it hit the jackpot in 1782. That's when King Rama I declared it to be his new capital. The previous capital - Ayutthaya - had been destroyed, along with all the royalty, so it was time for change. To give his new capital legitimacy, he needed a palace: the Grand Palace. To give the Grand Palace legitimacy, he needed a temple with something sacred. The priceless Emerald Buddha fit the bill perfectly, and by 1784 the Temple of the Emerald Buddha had been built.

There don't appear to be a great deal of old photos of the Grand Palace. Why would this be? Partly, I would think, because it was never lost and found, and partly because Thailand was never colonised. This isn't some jungle discovery by Western explorers, it has always been an established fixture of an independent country. This also means that the pictures I have found are pretty much just like you'd see it today, except in black and white. Not much has changed, this is a well-maintained set of buildings. Here are a few I found, given an approximate date of 1900.

And here are a few from the early 1930s. Observe the third picture is pretty much the same as the third picture above.

Very nice, but if we want something a little older we need to look at pictures rather than photos. And we don't need to look far. Adorning the walls of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha are a series of images roughly based on the Hindu holy text the Ramayama, adapted for Thailand, called the Ramakien. It's pretty incomprehensible for anyone who isn't a scholar, but the pictures are nice. And on them... well, there are some buildings that look pretty familiar...

All of the above images are original to the 18th Century construction, although obviously maintained and touched up over the years. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha must surely be the only place on my shortlist that is covered in pictures of itself. Places like the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building might have plenty of photos of themselves on site, especially in a history of construction, but it's an intrinsic part of the decoration for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Here's a couple more photos, showing them on the walls.


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