The Prague astronomical clock

The Prague astronomical clock

Prague

Prague is the capital of Czech Republic and, in my opinion, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I visited it last month and I loved it. I’m sure I’ll be back.

The historic center is gorgeous, with exceptional buildings, an imposing castle and a bridge which is one the world’s most famous. The whole historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

The astronomical clock

The astronomical clock

The city of Prague has two banks, divided by the Vltava river:

  • On one side, Malá Strana and Hradcany – The Castle is located in this side;
  • In the other bank: Staré Mesto (old city), Nové Mesto (new city), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.

On the facade of the old City Council, located in the city’s heart (old town), we can find one the most emblematic points of Prague. It’s the astronomical clock, one of the world’s oldest and most elaborate. In addition to telling the time, it also shows the moon phases and movement of the stars… It’s a monument to sky observation.

Actually, the main function of the astronomical clock was to describe the movement of the celestial bodies, showing the time was just a secondary element…

I’ve passed by it several times and the number of tourists looking at it and photographing it is unbelievable. This building is being repaired since June 2017, the access to its interior is closed to the public and the outer side is partially covered. You will see that in this article’s photos.

If you are thinking about going to Prague, do it next year preferably. The works will finish at the end of 2017.

The construction of the clock

The building of the City Council was created in 1338 and its initial goal was to be the administrative headquarters of the old town. Some years later, a tower was added to its southern part. In 1410 the astronomical clock was installed in its facade.

This masterpiece was achieved by the royal clockmaker Mikuláš de Kadaň and was perfected, at the end of the 15th century, by the hands of the master Hanuš de Růže. There is a legend that says that Hanuš built the clock, but this is not true. The legend also affirms that, in order to ensure that the clockmaker wouldn’t build an identical clock, the counselors of Prague gave the order to blind him. But, in a revengeful act, Hanuš stopped the clock…

In reality, the astronomical clock stopped indeed, but that happened many years later, already in the 19th century. Its mechanism was repaired by the clockmaker Ludvík Hainz.

Prague was constituted by 4 cities which, in the 18th century, came together and so the City Council became the city’s headquarters. Back then, a proposal to remove the clock from the tower’s facade was made. Fortunately it was not accepted.

Since then, several actions were conducted to enhance the clock, in order to preserve it and improve some mechanisms. Even though the clock already has several centuries of age, some parts of it are still the original ones.

The 3 parts of the astronomical clock

Part 1 – The 12 Apostles

On the top, there are 12 mechanical statues which depict the 12 apostles. These images were added to the watch in the 17th century. During the fire of 1945, these statues were destroyed, having been replaced by wooden statues made by Vojtěch Sucharda 3 years later.

When the clock strikes the hour, between 9 am and 11 pm, you can see a parade of statuettes in 2 small windows under the roof. You will recognize each of the apostles, since they have attributes that make them identifiable.

In addition to the apostles who show up every time the clock strikes the hour, some other statues also “come to life”. The skeleton, which has in its hand an hourglass that measures time, pulls the thread and unleashes the parade. It nods its head to the Turkish, who symbolizes extravagance. The Turkish refuses it.

The miser moves his head and shakes his cane and bag, as a threatening gesture, while, right by his side, the statue that represents vanity is looking itself in the mirror. These figures are symbols of Prague’s medieval society.

When the rooster sings, all movements come to an end and the astronomical clock sleeps for another hour.

Part 2 – The astronomical display

The astronomical clock has more than 600 years of age and is unique in the world. From its astrolabe we can get different sorts of information. The astrolabe is an astronomical instrument used to determine the local time, as well as the position of the sun, moon and stars.

What exists in the tower of the old Prague City Council is an enormous circle with 2 circular discs kept together in the center. The upper part represents the day and the lower part the night. In the lower part we can see 2 colors with the sunrise and the sunset, on the left and on the right, respectively. One just needs to look at the position of the sun and we can confirm what time of the day we currently are!

When looking closely to the astrolabe we can also be acquainted with:

  • The time of the old Bohemian – Gothic numbers indicate the hours that have passed since the sunset, which was the beginning of the new day;
  • The time of Babylon – the Arab numbers measure the hours between the sunrise and the sunset, therefore the summer and winter days have different lengths;
  • The time of Central Europe or the Old German Time – the golden hand indicates the time used by all of us. The day starts at midnight;
  • The time of the Stars – it’s shown on the Roman numeral display and derives from the movement of the stars;
  • The sunrise and sunset – the location of the sun in the regions of 3 different colours indicates if it’s day or night. The sunrise and sunset happen in the boundaries of these colours;
  • The Zodiac signs – marked by the 12 zodiac symbols;
  • The position and phases of the moon – a ball travels through the display, performing a round of 29 and a half days (lunar month), changing its aspect based on the phases of the moon;
  • The declination of the sun – based on the position of the sun on the golden circles, which represent the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn and the Equator;
  • The equinox and solstice – based on the position of the sunlight on the bars that connect the Zodiac ring to the clock.

This is the medieval perception of the universe.

Part 3 – Display of the calendar

This is the newest part of the astronomical clock, having been added to it in the 19th century.

The most important part is the Cisiojanus. This is the mnemonic display used to remember the most important festivities on a certain day of the month. This information is found on the outer ring. The man responsible for this device was Karel Jaromír Erben, a Czech historian, poet and writer.

On the calendar’s display there is also information on the zodiac signs, as well as on the days and months of the year. To verify the current date one just needs to check what’s at the top.

In addition the symbol of the old city, we also find statues of the philosopher and Archangel Michael, an astronomer and chronicler.

Calendar display

Calendar display

The Prague Castle

The Prague Castle

When visiting Prague, the castle is an absolute cornerstone. You are going to see it when you cross the Charles Bridge, the city’s most famous and oldest. I also recommend that you do not confine yourself to this part and devout some time (one morning or afternoon) to visit its interior.

The castle is a super important symbol, not only of Prague, but of the whole Czech Republic. It’s the seat of political and religious power, having been the residence of the royal Bohemian family and the Bishop of Prague, and also of the presidency of the republic since 1918. It’s the world’s largest complex of castles, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, occupying an area of 70.000 m2. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In my opinion these are 2 really strong justifications to consider a visit (or a comeback) to Prague in the near future.

What is its history?

The castle of Prague was founded approximately in the year of 880 by Prince Bořivoj, the 1st Duke of Bohemia. This prince was the 1st royal figure of the Přemyslid Dynasty, who ruled Bohemia throughout 400 years, until 1306.

Bořivoj had the ambition to establish himself in a place whose location offered more benefits, on the top of a hill, by the river Vltava. And thus the huge complex we see today was started.

The 1st construction of all was a wooden fortress and, later on, stone buildings were built. The Church of St. Mary, which no longer exists (just some ruins of it) and the St George’s Basilica were the first ones.

Over the years, on the initiative of successive monarchs, several churches and other buildings were constructed. In the 14th century, on the initiative of Emperor Charles IV, the semblance of the castle underwent some changes. The name of Prague’s most famous and oldest bridge derives from this Emperor. During his era, the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral began and some changes were made to the fortifications of the castle and to the palace. The royal family started to live in the castle itself.

Many changes have already happened so far, given the specific context of different kings and emperors, the styles that were the major trend of their eras, the fire that took place in 1541, or due to different belligerent conflicts. The vast array of events which took place over the centuries produces a complex with buildings that have totally different styles.

What can we visit?

Inside the castle there are several palaces, church buildings, offices which represent several architectural styles, built throughout several centuries. Up next I will talk a bit about those places which may be regarded as “mandatory”.

The Old Royal Palace

The underground area is the oldest of the whole complex. The Palace was the residence of princes and kings of Bohemian until the 16th century, having been built on the top of the ruins of a Romanesque palace, an edification on the initiative of Prince Soběslav.

There are several points of interest, but perhaps one should emphasize the Vladislav Hall. It’s an enormous room built between 1492 and 1502 by Vladislav, who gave it his own name. This space has windows 5 meters high, a wooden floor of the 18th century and tin chandleries (only 3 of 5 are made of tin).

Vladislav Hall has already been used to hold several events, such as banquets, commendations, assemblies or tournaments. Currently this room is used for ceremonies of state and presidential elections.

Equally noteworthy in the old Royal Palace is the Church of All Saints. It was built by Petr Parler on the spot where once a Romanesque church was, also devoted to all Saints. This Church was decorated in a similar way to the Saint Chapelle of Paris, until it was partially destroyed by the fire of 1541.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in Prague and the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1344 and it took 600 years to be built in its entirety. Saints, princes and kings were buried here.

Inside we can find the arm of St. Vitus and the crown jewels. If you are interested, take a look at the cathedral’s treasure, it’s the country largest and also one of the most important in Europe. But the hallmark is the gorgeous Chapel devoted to St. Wenceslaus, the country’s patron saint. It was created in the 14th century by Charles IV and it’s a well-known space for its décor.

From the top of the Cathedral south tower, with almost 100 meters in height, you will be able to have a breath-taking panoramic view of Prague. Climbing its 287 stairs it’s well worth it!

The construction of this tower began in the 14th century and was finished 3 centuries later. We can find in it several bells, one is the biggest in the Czech Republic. It’s known as Zikmund and weighs 15 tonnes.

The legend says that, when the Emperor Charles IV died, the city’s bells started to toll on their own. Another legend says that if the heart of Zikmund breaks something really bad will affect the nation. It already happened once, in 2002, and floods happened throughout the country a couple of weeks later…

Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito

Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito

Cathedral of S. Vito

Cathedral of S. Vito

St. George’s Basilica

St. George’s Basilica is Prague’s 2nd oldest church, having been founded in 920. One can easily identify it much due to its 2 bell towers with 41 meters of height, made of white stone.

It started as a convent of Benedictine nuns, but the damage caused by a fire prompted changes to the building. When visiting it we can see really old walls and a rich collection of Gothic and Baroque art.

If you have time, watch a music concert in this Basilica. The acoustic is just astonishing!

Golden Lane

The Golden Lane is a tiny street with several coloured small houses, which are quite beautiful indeed. It was one of the things that I enjoyed the most in the entire complex.

They were built at the end of the 16th century to serve as housing for the snipers who safeguarded the castle. There was a total of 24 houses and, since there was a lack of space, they had to be built really small. The Emperor forbade windows facing the Deer Moat and the houses couldn’t be sold or rent.

Throughout the years, some houses were destroyed and the snipers were no longer needed. The street was then occupied by people with other jobs. The renowned writer Franz Kafka lived at number 22 and a fortune teller named Madame de Thebes occupied the 14th, having predicted the fall of Nazism, something that led to her arrest (and murder).

The name of the street derives from the time when houses were inhabited by goldsmiths.

Mihulka Tower

The Mihulka Tower is the largest of the cannon towers. It was built in the 15th century and was part of the castle’s new fortifications.

It already has served as an alchemy lab, gunpowder warehouse, dungeon and, as we speak, its interior hosts a permanent exhibition about the Castle Guard. The tower has had several names, with Mihulka appearing only in the 19th century, due to the presence of gunpowder inside of it.

Rosenberg Palace

The Rosenberg Palace started, in the 16th century, as a Renaissance building which was the property of the homonymous family. Later, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style and used as an Institute of women who were part of noble families. 30 noble girls were educated there who, for several reasons, ended up penniless.

The Palace has been occupied since 1919 by government offices.

When visiting the Rosenberg Palace, check the chapel, the main room and an exhibition where you can get to know the Institute a little bit better.

 

To know more about so many centuries of history of the complex, I recommend visiting the permanent exhibitions on the castle’s history and the European art gallery (painting) between 15th and 18th centuries.

If you visit the city in the summer, as I did, you can also see the gardens and an enormous ravine named Stag Moat.

On a perfect day, start by crossing the magnificent Charles Bridge and climb your way up to the Castle. Take your time to see the surroundings and step inside. Save some hours to see everything calmly.

A wonderful named Alhambra

A wonderful named Alhambra

Granada is a stunning city. It can be found in the region of Andalusia, which a Spanish autonomous community as well, in the country’s south. It’s a charismatic region and, in my view, one extremely interesting when seen through the lenses of heritage and history.

The whole region of Andalusia was occupied by the Arabs for several centuries and the last stronghold of the entire Iberian region was the city of Granada. Only in 1492, and already after several years of combat, the Catholic kings were able to take the city from the Arabs.

Its landscape positioning is perfect. The city is about 20 km away from the Sierra Nevada, Europe’s 3rd largest mountain chain. Its peak reaches a height of 3482 meters. Alhambra, which is the symbol and most famous monument of Granada, is found on the top of a hill named al-Sabika, with a height of approximately 700 meters and has the Sierra Nevada as its setting. It’s perfect.

The hill is found on the bank of Darro river, west of Granada. On the river’s opposite side, one can find the popular quarters of Albaicin and Alcazaba.

Believe that the 1st impression that will have of Alhambra will be splendorous, but the true enchantment happens on the inside… Regardless of the time of the year, there are always tons of people visiting it. Do what I did, wake up at dawn and queue up. It’s worth it 😉

What does Alhambra mean?

The name Alhambra derives from the Arab “qa,lat al-Hamra”, which means red castle. So its name is related to the reddish tone of the walls.

What is the Alhambra?

The Alhambra complex is the world’s most jaw-dropping Arab citadel. It’s a walled city where one can find royal rooms, never-ending gardens, courtyards and many other things.

Who built the Alhambra?

The first references to the Alhambra date from the 9th century, a period when a fortress is referenced. However, the royal occupation of the Alhambra only took place in the 13th century, under the Nasrid dynasty. Mohammed ben Al-Hamar was this dynasty’s 1st king and he was also the 1st to occupy the complex. And this event was the starting point of the Alhambra’s golden era.

Over time, others kings succeeded him and the Alhambra underwent several changes. These overhauls kept taking place even after the Christian victory in Granada. A part of it was demolished, with that space being replaced by the Palace of Charles V, and new areas were born, like the Emperor’s Chambers and the Queen’s Dressing Room.

In the 18th century, whilst the French occupation was in full fledge, the Alhambra endured an explosion that caused serious damages. The recovery endeavours started in the following century, which are being conducted up to the present day.

What can we see in the Alhambra?

Inside the Alhambra, we can visit 4 different areas, with these being the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Generalife and the Nasrid Palace.

1 – Alcazaba

The whole set constituted by the Alcazaba and the Bermejas towers is the complex’s oldest part, dating from the 9th century. This Citadel’s objective was to guard and control the city of Granada. The Bermeja towers, whose name is related to the colour of their walls, were part of a wide set of watchtowers, called Torre de La Quebrada, del Homenaja e de la Vela.

These towers were the city’s first military strongholds and became part of the Alcabaza, some time after having been built. Already a unified structure, they also were connected to Alhambra by the means of a wall.

From this whole area we have a gorgeous view over the rest of the Alhambra complex and the splendid city of Granada.

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

Alcabaza

2 – Palace of Charles V

The Palace of Charles V is one of the most important works of the Renaissance. The King of Spain and Emperor of Germany, Charles V, visited Spain during his honeymoon. He enjoyed Granada so much that he chose the city to live and order the construction of a stunning palace at the Alhambra for that same purpose.

The architect accountable for this endeavour was Pedro Machuca, whose artistic education was rooted in Rome, having been a disciple of Michelangelo. And, due to this influence, he enacted something entirely unprecedented in Spain. The most interesting detail is that the palace has a round shape in its interior, even though the outer walls convey a squared shape instead.

Currently the Palace of Charles V holds the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of the Alhambra. Charles V actually never had the opportunity to live in the place whose construction he ordered…

Carlos V Palace

Carlos V Palace

Carlos V Palace

3 – Generalife

Generalife was a resting and leisure spot for the kings of Granada, just like its agricultural area. Its name means architect garden, which dates back to its origins, before being acknowledged as royal heritage.

This space comprises 2 buildings which happen to be connected through Patio de la Acequia, one of Alhambra’s most emblematic and photographed locations. This courtyard holds the royal irrigation channel, providing water to the gardens and to the whole complex.

The whole set of elements, like the environment, the water sound, the Arab motifs, light and plants, is just pure magic.

Generalife

Generalife

Generalife

Generalife

4 – Nasrid Palaces

The Nasrid Palaces were the old residence of the Sultans and they represent the heart of the whole complex of Alhambra.

Here we can find 3 buildings:

  • Mexuar or Meshwar – it’s the oldest part. Royal ministerial meetings were held here, having functioned as a court as well;
  • Comares Palace – it was the sultan’s official residence and it holds the throne room. It comprises a beautiful lake;
  • Palace of the Lions – this is the most iconic palace, since it has the central courtyard with lions and the Observation Point of Daraxa.

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

Nasrid Palaces

I’ve once read that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The Alhambra is like that.

The Cathedral of Seville (and the Giralda)

The Cathedral of Seville (and the Giralda)

As soon as we reach the heart of the city of Seville, we immediately see its cathedral, Santa Maria de la Sede. It’s a majestic monument, being Europe’s largest cathedral and one of the largest in the whole world. Among those built in the Gothic style, it’s actually the world’s biggest! It has 126 meters of length, 83 meters in width and its peak reaches a height of 37 meters. The total area occupied by the church is of 23.500m2.

Surrounding it, one can find the Alcazar and the General Archive of the Indies, which are 2 wonderful locations. Together they constitute a complex that, since 1987, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is something that we cannot miss when visiting Seville. I will talk about the Alcazar and the General Archive of the Indies in other articles, in this one I will only focus myself on the Cathedral.

The history

As I explained in the article on the history of Andalusia, this region endured a Moor occupation for many years. In the 12th century, an Arab people from Morocco, named Almohad, replaced the Almoravid dynasty as rulers of the Andalusian region.

The Almohads decided to transfer their kingdom’s capital to Seville and built a Mosque, similar to a minaret. The construction of the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh also took place during this time. It’s interesting to notice the similitude between these structures.

A couple of years later, already in the 13th century, Seville was reconquered by the Christians, commanded by Ferdinand III, King of Castile. With a new religion now knocking on the doors of Seville, the then existing mosque started to host the Christian cult. In 1248, the mosque was consecrated as a Cathedral.

Shortly after Seville had become Christian yet again, a major earthquake shook the foundations of the city, causing tremendous damage. The major blow was the fall of 4 brass spheres, which were placed at the top of the minaret of the old mosque. This piece was then replaced by a structure with a bell, already in line with the Christian doctrine.

In 1403, works started in the old mosque, to enact a brand new cathedral. This process took more than 100 years but, after finished, several changes and modifications kept being added to the original building. Nowadays we can say that it covers 7 centuries of history.

In one of the restoration processes, a statue was placed on the top of the belfry, the old minaret, to represent the Faith. This brass statue weights a bit more than 1 tonne, has the shape of a weather vane and it is called Giraldillo. With time, the tower started to be called Giralda.

The cathedral – Exterior detail

The cathedral – Exterior detail

The cathedral – Exterior detail

The cathedral – Exterior detail

The cathedral – Exterior detail

The cathedral – Exterior detail

What to see

1 – Giralda

From the top of Giralda we have a stunning view of the city of Seville. The belfry in itself is also jaw-dropping, with a decoration that includes interwoven geometric motifs and crafted windows. It has a weight of 96 meters.

This belfry influenced the construction of several towers in Spain and later in the Americas.

The Giralda

2 – Replica of the Giraldillo

The statue found on the top of the belfry has a replica in Puerta de Príncipe de La Catedral.

3 – Patio de los Naranjos

Go through an Almohad door until you reach Patio de Los Naranjos. You are now at what is left of a 12th-century mosque. The fountain found in this place was the spot where Moors performed their ablations before praying. Their feet and hands were washed under these orange trees.

Nowadays, this courtyard is used an access point to the cathedral.

4 – Central nave and 80 chapels

The central nave ascends and reaches an impressive 42-meter mark, it’s gigantic. It holds an enormous amount of gold, which immediately draws the attention of those who visit it.

There are 80 chapels and 5 naves inside this cathedral. Be attentive to its details, it’s pure ostentation…

5  – Altarpiece of the Main Chapel

The altarpiece of the Main Chapel is an enormous art piece made of gold and wood, which took 80 years to be built. It’s one of the best examples of Gothic agriculture in the whole world.

The altarpiece holds 45 carved scenes of the life of Christ and Santa Maria de La Sede, the cathedral’s patroness saint. The author of this piece was the sculptor Pierre Dancar.

6 – Chapter Room and Main Sacristy

The Chapter Room, also called Cabildo, has an elliptical shape and is one of the most stunning architecture endeavours of the Renaissance. It was created by Hernán Ruiz. Works of the painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo are found in this hall, with the spotlight going to his painting called Inmaculada Concepción.

Next to this space, the Main Sacristy holds a treasure that consists of a set of tremendously rich pieces.

7 – Tomb of Christopher Columbus

This is one of the cathedral’s most visited areas. The mortal remains of Cristopher Columbus, brought from Cuba, have 4 bearers which represent the Kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre.

The symbol of Stockholm

The symbol of Stockholm

The building where the City Council of Stockholm is lodged is also the city’s symbol. It is located in the centre, on the Kungsholmen island, right near the water. It is one of the most important Swedish endeavours in the 20th century and a place where the Nobel Prize award ceremonies are held. When in Stockholm, I recommend visiting it.

History

In 1907 the city of Stockholm made the decision to build a new City Hall. The spot chosen to erect this building was the same where, some years ago, one could find the old flour milling plant. Eldkvarn was its name.

This plant, built in the 19th century, was the source of one of the great Stockholm fires, which took place in 1878. It kept operating until 1906.

A contest was then held to choose the architect that would be accountable for the new City Hall project. Ragnar Ostberg was the winner, the key figure in the National Romantic style.

Based on what is known, Ostberg changed some parts of the original building, having added the tower that we can see today, whose original idea may have been of one of the other architects who entered the contest. Its stunning interior design was also influenced by several Swedish artists.

After a 12-year construction period, the City Hall was inaugurated. It took place on the June 23rd of 1923, precisely 400 years after the arrival of the Gustav Vasa in Stockholm.

The City Hall building was erected using around 8 million dark red bricks. These bricks are called “munktegel”, as they were often used to build monasteries and churches.

What to see

If we look at the City Hall from afar, it is difficult to imagine that it holds 2 patios, several offices, meeting rooms and wide banquet halls inspired by the palaces of the Renaissance era.

Tower

From afar, when we see the City Hall, its 106-meter tower is what stands out right away. Sweden’s heraldic symbol is found on the top of it, the Three Crowns.

After climbing the 365 steps, which comprise a winding stairs (you can use a lift to climb a part of it), you can take advantage of an amazing view over the city of Stockholm.

You can also visit a small museum with replicas of statues and busts, located in the middle of the tower.

Council Chamber

This is one of the most impressive spots in the City Hall. It can accommodate 200 people and is also the place where the meetings of Stockholm’s City Council are held.

The ceiling of this room is reminiscent of a traditional Viking house.

The Oval Room

This room was specifically conceived for the Tureholm carpets, which were made in France in the 17th century. Currently, it is often used for wedding celebrations.

Blue Hall

The blue hall is the City Hall’s largest. However, despite having blue in its name, this is not its colour.

Painting it blue was indeed the original plan, but Ostberg opted not to cover the bricks used for the Hall’s construction. However, since it was already known as blue hall, the name remained the same.

This hall is vastly well known, as this is the spot where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held. It happens every year on December 10, the day when Alfred Nobel died.

The biggest organ in Scandinavia must also be emphasised, with its 10270 pipes.

Golden Hall

When at the golden hall, we can watch more than 18 million mosaic pieces made of glass and gold, which depict the history of Sweden.

A banquet with room for up to 700 people can be held in this space.

The Prince’s Gallery

All the official receptions are held at the Prince’s Gallery. The most important element is the fresco that was painted by Prince Eugen, who donated it to the Hall.

The Stockholm City Hall can only be visited on a guided tour. I do recommend verifying all the info published on its official site.

The oldest temple of Chiang Mai

The oldest temple of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second-largest city and the capital its homonyms province.

It’s located in the Ping River valley, a mountainous area, about 700 km away from Bangkok. It comprises more than 300 temples, almost as much as those that can be found in the capital. Given the vast amount of temples, it is considered Thailand’s spiritual capital.

History

This city’s history is rather different from the ones of Bangkok or Ayutthaya, the cities that I’ve already talked about. They were part of different kingdoms, so its history is a bit different.

The city of Chiang Mai was part of to the Kingdom of Lan Na, the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields.

Chiang Mai was founded in 1926 and it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Lan Na for 472 years.

It had to endure some fights against the kingdoms around it, like Ayutthaya, and ended up being occupied by the Burmese. In order to try to protect the city, a wall was built around it (we can still see it today).

The Burmese stayed 200 years, until an uprising of the population took place. Then, the Kingdom of Lan Na became a state of the Kingdom of Siam. Nonetheless, this Burmese influence can still be perceived in this northern part of Thailand.

In addition to its countless temples, Chiang Mai also holds many other attractions, from sport-related activities, to shopping, well-being or nature one. It’s also possible to visit parks with elephants and tigers, for those who are fond of it.

The oldest temple in Chiang Mai is the Wat Chiang Man, located inside its walled area. It was built in 1297, shortly after the city’s foundation. The King who planned this Buddhist temple actually lived within it, in order to oversee the construction of the new capital of the Lan Na kingdom.

This temple holds several main buildings. I will now point them out.

Meditation rooms

It has two meditation rooms. The largest one shows a gorgeous gold facade and it contains a Buddha statue, which is the city’s oldest. It’s from 1465.

The tinier one holds two Buddha images inside of it. Thais believe that the crystal image has the power to protect them against major disasters. The other image was carved in stone in Sri Lanka, back in the 18th century, and is believed that it has the power to summon rain.

Right at the entrance of the smaller meditation room, there are two sculpted naga figures.

Chedi Chang Lom

This chedi is a stupa, whose base has 15 engraved elephants. It’s made of stone and has a golden top.

Ubosot

The location where monks were ordained. It’s a wooden building, painted in several colours. Right in front of Ubosot, there’s a stone, in which we can find the inscription of Chiang Mai’s foundation date.

Chiang Mai is a rather gorgeous and interesting city, whose history differs a bit from the raucous Bangkok. In order to better understand the country, one needs to visit its northern part. This area comprised another kingdom, so you’ll notice differences in several areas, food included.

Wat Chiang Man may not be the most interesting point of the city, but it was the first and has some magnificent details. I recommend going there and visiting it. It’s right in the heart of Chiang Mai.

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