Construction of this sprawling temple complex is believed to have begun in the 1370s, shortly after the city was founded.
Relics of the historical Buddha are thought to have been enshrined in the chief stupa, which collapsed during the reign of King Songtham and was only partially restored before the Burmese attacked in 1767. Before that, Wat Mahathat was the most important temple in Ayutthaya; many royal ceremonies were performed and the supreme patriarch monk resided here. In 2005, an excavation into the main chedi revealed a small golden casket filled with gold rings, jewels and relics, most of which can be viewed at Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Several smaller brick buildings and chedis were added over the centuries and display the changing architectural styles of the period. However, the Burmese seem to have made an example of this monastery during their invasion. It was almost totally destroyed, although a large stone Buddha survived mostly intact, located out front seated over a flat platform. Wat Mahathat is also home to what's possibly Ayutthaya's most photographed sight -- an image of Buddha's head that has been engulfed in the roots of a banyan tree.
While not Ayutthaya's most impressive attraction, Wat Mahathat is a highlight mainly for its prominent place in the kingdom's history. It's also one of the most heavily visited sights in town, so be prepared for some crowds during high season. Several vendors out front offer trinkets and postcards to the tourists.
How to get there
The entrance to Wat Mahathat is located on Chikun Road near the intersection with Naresuan Road. Due to its place as the most easterly of the major ruins on the island, many choose to start their day of exploring here.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 27th November, 2014.