Thailand has established diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations with European countries since the early 16th century when Ayutthaya was a capital of the Siamese Kingdom. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to develop regular relations with the kingdom. During the reign of King Rama Thibodi II (1491-1529), the Portuguese diplomat Duarte Fernandes was the first European Ambassador to the Siamese court in 1511.
After that, Thailand has welcomed many European traders and officials, architects and artists, engineers and missionaries who visited, worked and settled in the Kingdom. In 1608, the VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) received permission to establish a trading post in Ayutthaya and later developed a significant trade. King Narai (1656-1688), acting on the advice of his Greek advisor Constantine Phaulkon, developed strong relations with France. In 1680, the king granted France an exclusive concession for the spice trade in Siam. King Louis XIV later sent the first French Ambassador to Ayutthaya in 1685.
King Narai (1656-1688) developed strong relations with France, thanks to his his Greek advisor Constantine Phaulkon. In 1680, France was granted an exclusive concession for the spice trade in Siam, and five years later King Louis XIV sent the first French Ambassador to Ayutthaya. In 1863 King Rama IV commissioned a construction of the first paved road in Bangkok, Charoen Krung (meaning ‘New Road’). The road became the main settlement of foreigners in Bangkok. Apparently, the arrival of Europeans had a lot of influence in several aspects of Thai culture, arts, culinary and, especially architecture.
Based on the information from the European Union national Institutes for Culture in Thailand (EUNIC), there are 60 European heritage buildings and structures either built by European architects or inspired by western architecture. Most of them can be found in Bangkok and a few of them are in Ayutthaya. In this article, we will focus on the buildings or structures that are easily accessible by tourists.
CHAKRI MAHA PRASAT, Grand Palace
Open to the public (daily): 8:30 am–3:30 pm
Chakri Maha Prasat was added to the Grand Palace by King Rama V on May 9, 1876 to celebrate the centenary of the Chakri Dynasty. The palace captures not only the highlight of Thai architecture but also the grandeur of European buildings. Chakri Maha Prasat is not the only Euoprean style builing in the grand palace but it is the only one that is accessible to the public. Commissioned by King Rama V (1868-1910), the palace was designed by the British Singapore-based architect John Clunish. The throne hall was built between 1876 and 1882. It is now the only part open to the public.
MINISTRY OF DEFENSE
Visible but not open to the public
The Ministry of Defence building once served as the Royal Barracks before King Rama V converted it into the Ministry of Defence in 1884. Located next to the Grand Palace, the front lawn of the ministry is a sort of open-air museum displaying old cannons from the late 18th century to the 19th century. With its portico and columns, the impressive building is built between 1882 and 1884 in neo-classical architecture, thanks to Italian architect Joachim Grassi.
Open to the Public
At the centre of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, near Khaosan road, is the Democracy monument. It was built in 1939 to commemorates the transformation of the Kingdom from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, which took place in 1932. Built by Thais, it is decorated with sculptures of Corrado Ferroci. Considered the father of modern art in Thailand, he is known locally as Silpa Bhirasri.
Open to the public
Opened in April 1932 by King Rama V, the 230m-long bridge was built to commemorate to the 150th anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty. Construction started in December 1929 by British steel company Dorman Long (the same company that built the Sydney Harbour Bridge). The bridge is known by Thais as Phra Phutta Yodfa Bridge or Saphan Phut.
If you travel by boat on the Chao Phraya river to the Flower Market, you will get off at the Memorial Bridge pier, which is in walking distance to the Memorial Bridge.
MUSEUM OF SIAM
Open Tue-Sun from 10am to 6pm
The building of the Museum of Siamonce housed the Ministry of Commerce. It was built during the reign of King Rama VI in 1921 by Italian Mario Tamagno in a classical style. Converted to the museum in 2006, the building is well maintained. It has 17 exhibition rooms with an interesting collection of ancient artifacts displayed in a modern way. The museum presents and interprets the physical evidence about Thai history with an open mind and refreshing spirit that may surprise even local people. The story explains different aspects of Thailand, including archeology, lifestyle, faiths, trade, traditions and politics. It attempts to answer questions about what shapes Thai culture, and why Thais believe and behave the way they do.
The museum is situated close to the Chao Phraya river and Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha).
MAHADTHAI UTHIT BRIDGE
Opened in 1914, Mahadthai Uthit Bridge (or some may call the “Weeping Bridge”) was built in remembrance of King Rama V, following his passing in 1910 by Italian architect Carlo Allegri. Bas-reliefs were made by Italian sculptourVittorio Novi, imitating the ones from ancient Rome.
The bridge is next to the Art Nouveau Phan Fa Leela bridge, which was also built by Carlo Allegri, on Rachadamneon Road. It can also be accessed by the commuter boat on Klong San Sap at Phan Fa pier.
HUA LAMPHONG RAILWAY STATION
Thailand’s Royal State Railways were founded based on the proposal of the British company Punchard McTaggart Lowther and Co. in 1887. The first rail service started in 1894. But it was not until 1916 that Bangkok had its main rail station Hua Lamphong. The neo-Renaissance train station was built by Mario Tamagno and Alfredo Rigazzi, who were partially inspired by Turin Porta Nuova train station in Italy. The station has 14 platforms and is the main station where most of the domestic trains start their journey throughout the country.
Located on Rama IV road, Hua Lamphong is accessible by taxi, bus and subway (Hua Lamphong station).
FORMER CUSTOMS HOUSE
Visible (and currently accessible) during the day.
Sitting on the riverbank of the Chao Phraya River along Charoen Krung Road near the French embassy, this derelict building was once a gateway to Siam, levying taxes on foreign cargo ships as they cruised upriver. It was also used to welcome King Rama V upon his return from a long trip in Europe. It was designed by Italian architect Joachim Grassi and built in 1890s. Nowadays, it belongs to the fire brigade. If you travel on a boat on the Chao Phraya river, you will see this old building near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
SANTA CRUZ CHURCH
Visible (open to the public during religious observances)
When King Taksin tried to rebuild the Siamese capital after the fall of Ayutthaya kingdom in 1767, he invited loyal European expatriates, who wanted to remain in Siam, to settle in the new capital Thonburi on the western side of the Chao Phraya river.
The king granted the Portuguese the land along the land along the Chao Praya River. They built their first church from wood in 1770. Locally known as “Wat Kudichin”, the temple went through major renovation three times before it was renamed Santa Cruz Church, or the church of the Holy Cross. The current church was rebuilt in 1916 in neo-baroque style by architects Annibale Rigotti and MarioTamagno. The old community around the church is nowadays known for Portuguese inspired cake.
The church is visible from a commuter boat on the Chao Phraya river, between Memorial Bridge pier and Ta Tien Pier.
BANG PA IN PALACE
Open to the public (daily): 8 am – 6 pm
Bang Pa In Palace exhibits an interesting blend of Thai, Chinese and European architecture, thanks to a major renovation done between 1872 and 1889 during the reign of King Rama V. Besides classical Thai stupa and multi-tier spire building, the palace consists of various buildings inspired by French, German, Greek, Italian or Portuguese architecture. Among the European-style residences is Phra Thinang Uthayan Phumi Sathian Hall. Built in 1877, the wood mansion was once a two-storey Swiss chalet, housing authentic Napoleon III furniture. Unfortunately, it burned down accidentally in 1938 and was rebuilt in a Victorian style.
WAT NIWET THAMMAPRAWAT
Open to the public (daily): 8am–6pm
It is different from most typical temples in Thailand not only because it is located on an island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River, but also because it is the only western-style Buddhist temple in the country. In 1878 King Rama V, who is highly respected by Thais for abolishing slavery in his kingdom, ordered the building of this gothic style structure.
A first class royal temple, it was built by architect Joachim Grassi and used by the king for religious ceremonies while in residence at the Bang Pa In palace. The temple’s main building has a decoration that resembles Christian churches, including its altar, high ceiling and stained-glass windows which were made in France.
The temple is opposite Bang Pa In Palace where Mekhala guests start or end their river cruise on the Chao Phraya river.