Construction on the massive Wat Mahathat complex is though to have begun in the 1370s, shortly after Ayutthaya was founded. For centuries it stood as the city’s largest and most important temple. Though the 1767 Burmese attack reduced it to rubble, the Great Chedi Temple contained so much brick and stone that, even today, it’s easy to get an idea of its grandeur.
Historical records claim that relics of the historical Buddha were enshrined in the chief stupa (or chedi), which collapsed during the reign of King Songtham in the early 17th century and was never fully restored.
Judging by the colossal brick base that can be seen today, it must have been an awe-inspiring monument. A 2005 excavation into the crypt revealed gold rings, jewels and relics, most of which can be viewed at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Several smaller buildings and chedis were added over the centuries and display the changing architectural styles of the period, though to the casual visitor it all blends together into a confusion of ruins. A large Buddha image survived mostly intact and is seated above a flat platform at the front of the complex. Another striking Buddha image sits towards the rear of the rectangular-shaped grounds.
A priority for many visitors is to snap a selfie alongside the head of a Buddha image that has been encased in the roots of an old banyan tree at the front of the complex.
Thieves may have placed the head inside a niche at the base of the trunk with the intention of returning to grab it. In time the head was completely covered over by the roots, creating a living cast while leaving the details visible — right down to the small knobs in the headdress.
While Wat Mahathat is one of Ayutthaya’s most popular sites, the busloads often get stuck at the banyan tree Buddha and the complex is so large that you can usually wander the back portion in relative peace. Several vendors out front offer trinkets, postcards and drinks.
How to get there
The entrance to Wat Mahathat is located on Chikun Road near the intersection with Naresuan Road, making it a good place to start your day if coming from Soi Farang or other points to the east.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 28th February, 2016.