The discovery of a former royal palace ruins has led to a revitalisation of the area.
On the western bank of the Nan River in Phitsanulok, the foundations of an old royal palace have become a new spiritual centre for the locals.
“I was studying right here, in Phitsanulok Pitayakom School, a major school in the northern region, when the foundations of old walls were found during the construction of a new building. All students knew that our school was located right on the site of a building, which may have been an old palace,” said Lerdchai Wangtrakoondee, the Tourism Authority of Thailand Phitsanulok Office’s assistant director, when recalling the discovery back in 1995. “Indeed, everyone in the province has known for a long time. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) visited here in 1901 and witnessed the remains of the walls of this palace. According to the record, the outer walls were badly ruined while the inner walls were around a metre above ground. There’s also an elevated foundation, which might be the foundation of the throne hall.”
The foundations are of Wang Chan, a palace where King Naresuan the Great of the Ayutthaya period once lived. It is believed the inner mansion was made of sandalwood, a fragrant wood called mai chan in Thai, hence the name of the palace. It is assumed that the palace was built during the early Ayutthaya period, during the reign of King Sam Phraya (Phra Barom Rajathirat II, 1424-1448). His successor, King Baromtrai Lokanat (1448-1488) expanded it to serve as a royal palace.
Wang Chan later served as the residence for many kings during the Ayutthaya period. It was also the birth place of King Naresuan the Great (1590-1605).
King Naresuan is one of Thailand’s most revered monarchs. He was known for his campaign to free Ayutthaya from the Burmese under the Toungoo Dynasty.
As Phitsanulok was a strategic city to cope with invaders from the north, all Ayutthaya’s viceroys were assigned to rule this city, including King Naresuan. However, King Naresuan did not appoint any viceroy. Phitsanulok was demoted and Wang Chan was neglected, particularly after the fall of Ayutthaya.
“At first, the discovery took place at the basketball court, then the football field. So the students’ playground obviously shrunk when archaeologists found something here. Even a small hill at the back of the school, where students would explore and play around, was found to have a pagoda and a pavilion buried beneath and is actually part of the royal temple.”
The discovery and archaeological excavation finally lead to the relocation of the school.
“Additional archaeological spots are still being discovered. If this goes on, more buildings nearby are also likely to be relocated,” Lerdchai said.
Now, Wang Chan is a place that Phitsanulok people as well as tourists love to visit in the evenings to get a glimpse of Phitsanulok’s history and pay homage to the King Naresuan statue. Though there are only walls and foundation remains, archaeologists have a rough idea how the palace once looked.
Nearby areas have been reclaimed and developed as a park. Mini shows and performances about the place are now regularly organised. Wang Chan Historical Centre is now completed and about to open soon and the discoveries are ongoing. The palace area is found to be bigger than in the past and it is slowly turning into a large project.
“There is a plan to build a replica of the mansion, soon,” Lerdchai said. “That will be the final part of this project.”
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