Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayutthaya Historical Park, Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ruins of a royal temple
In present-day Thailand sit the ruins of the ancient kingdom that preceded it, Ayutthaya. Wat Phra Si Sanphet, shown here, was the holiest shrine in the capital of that kingdom, a royal temple containing a 52-foot-tall golden statue of the Buddha, among other treasures. The first king of Ayutthaya, Ramathibodi I, ordered construction of a royal palace here in 1350. Nearly a century later, the palace was moved to a different location in the city and the former palace grounds were converted to a holy site.
The bell-shaped structures in the image, called chedis, are believed to have housed the ashes of three Ayutthayan kings. After serving as the seat of the kingdom for 417 years, the capital city of Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the invading Burmese, who melted down the copious gold of the temples and palaces, then set the buildings on fire. All but these three chedis were completely destroyed, and over time they fell into ruin. Restoration began on the chedis in 1956, but only the foundations of the rest of the complex remain.
We're featuring these ruins because today is Songkran, Thailand's traditional—though not official—new year and very popular water festival. What began as a ritual of pouring water over statues of the Buddha and each other as a way to signify purification and the washing away of sin and bad luck, has become a good-natured, multiday water fight enjoyed across the nation.