The celebrated 417 years of reign of Ayutthaya saw trade with China along with countries in south and southeast Asia. Ayutthaya residents enjoyed goods from the East and west. The stable economics brought an era of peace. The method of river transportation was so developed that merchants from Lanxang, (Laos) and other areas continuously developed supporting overland trade. In the 16th century, the astute Europeans eagerly reported to their homeland in Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, England and France about the progress and developed trading system they found in Ayutthaya.
Later in the reign of King Narai, active and far sighted, continued to expand trade and diplomacy. He sought to learn about the history of western countries and contacted European monarchs. The Siamese sent embassies to France, Persia, China, The Vatican, the Dutch Indies islands of Batavia, Java and to Portuguese controlled Goa. Many of these countries returned the honor to send embassies to Siam. King Narai was a shrewd businessman setting up international trade and satellite warehouses in his vast crown monopolies. Thus Ayutthaya trade reached as far as India, to Persia and to European countries.
Prosperity came to Ayutthaya during the 17th century and first half of the 18th century. It was the time of peace and Siam was not under the power of any country. Physically the city of Ayutthaya is a mass of land surrounded by three rivers known as The Chao Phraya, Lopburi and the Pa Sak rivers. Wide waterways were natural defense systems. Throughout history huge waterways made good defense systems. As explained earlier because of the central strategic position of Ayutthaya all good passed to and from the settlement moving on to Gulf of Siam and great distances. From an aerial view, the Ayutthaya Island was an expanse of connecting canals making local transportation and natural drainage very convenient.
An account written by a dutch merchant in 17th century described Ayutthaya as follows:
“The city of Ayutthaya stands on a small island of the Chao Praya River. Within the City walls, there are long, straight and wide roads. Canals have been dug from the river into the city, facilitating transportation. Apart from the main thoroughfares, there are also a multitude of small canals, lanes and walkways. During the high water season, it is possible to paddle boats everywhere, even up to the house steps. Ayutthaya is a riverside city which has been carefully planned. It is a beautiful city, full of people, their goods and commodities for Sale.”
The Wiharn of Pra Mongkolbopit
The date of consecration is not known but the image was written about as far back as 1603. In the fall of Ayutthaya the image was badly damaged but was restored in modern days. In the 1955, the Burmese prime minister U Nu made a visit to Ayutthaya and he planted a commemorative bodhi tree in front of the Wiharn of Pra Mongkolbopit. He donated start up funds to restore the wiharn which was a constant reminder of the Burmese invasion. Additional funding was found to restore the viharn to its glory in 1958.
The Era of Gold
Within the capital city of Ayutthaya, its spires prangs and temples were all gilded in gold. Thus Ayuttthaya in Siam was a major gold center of the world. Alas during the second conquest of Ayutthaya by the Burmese armies, it took ten days to plunder and remove the good from the city. The survivors were stunned to see the gold littered the destroyed streets off Ayutthaya. Remaining artifacts discovered are made of gold and weigh well over 100 kilograms. In those long ago days of ardent followers of the Buddhist faith, the gold that was seen in Ayutthaya was mesmerizing.
Elephants a Major Symbol of Siam
The shipping industry of Ayutthaya actively sent out more than one hundred junks a year, carrying good and commodities to other countries. Also arriving were ships from all over the world. From China alone, came over 1,000 ships a year. Great wealth came to Ayuthya like a magnet. Major export products were rice and forest products such as rubber, scented wood, camphor and ivory from Elephants.
Taming wild elephants was a developed skill of the Ayutthaya people. Thus, trading elephants to India amounted to 300 - 400 elephants traded in one year. The often used elephant motif points to the great importance of elephants in Ayutthaya.
Art of Ayutthaya
The height of exquisite fine art from Siamese artisans reached its zenith during the Ayutthaya period. The royal court fully supported craftsmen and artists. In addition to the production of artworks in Gold, a highly developed skill, other forms of craftsmanship such as wood carving, sculpting and mural painting was prolific.
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