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Introducing Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the Temple of Victory and Progress

On January 9, at the National Museum in Bangkok, a ceremony commemorated an award of $700,000 to World Monuments Fund from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and the U.S. Embassy of Bangkok for ongoing conservation activities at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a seventeenth-century Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, the former capital of the Siamese kingdom of the same name. Ambassador Kristie Kenney noted in her remarks that the embassy couldn’t think of anything better to start the new year than this partnership between Thailand and the U.S. to help protect the beauty and significance of Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

The Thai word wat denotes a Buddhist temple and monastery precinct, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram means “the temple of victory and progress.” It was built in 1630, overlooking the Chao Phraya River, during the reign of King Prasat Thong. The ruins of over four hundred wat built during the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350–1767) can still be seen in Thailand today.

During the disastrous 2011 flooding, more than 200 ancient temples in Ayutthaya province were affected. The main damage to Wat Chaiwatthanaram took place on October 4. Flood prevention measures were no match for the force of the flood waters and the protective barrier on the southwest side was breached. The flood rapidly filled the historic complex and the public road towards the north, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram was immersed in muddy water for over a month. A small boat was needed to approach the grounds through water that appeared to be 1–3 meters deep.

With a prior $131,800 Ambassadors Fund award in 2012, a damage and initial conservation needs assessment was conducted. With the second grant, the scope of the project will be expanded to include further documentation, materials analysis, and condition surveys to understand more fully the changes to the site over time and how to best protect the site from further damage. Most importantly, our objective is to work effectively with the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department. As Jeff Allen, a program director for WMF, said in his remarks, “WMF’s methodology emphasizes careful analysis of the physical conditions of the site, knowledge transfer, monitoring, and implementation of sustainable strategies for the long-term well being of the site.” Director-General Anek of the FAD also expressed great commitment and support for the project.