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Old City of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Attractions | Attractions and sightseeing in Chiang Mai

King Mengrai founded Chiang Mai at the location of a small Lawa settlement known as Wiang Nophaburi. The site lay between the river to the east and Doi Suthep mountain to the west. The proximity of the river was favorable to trade as well as political control of the area. Free from flooding, the site also had a good timber and water supply and enough land for rice farming to sustain the population. Finally, the omens were favorable.

Chiang Mai city was founded on April 12, 1296 with the name of Nophaburi Sri Nakhorn Ping Chiang Mai. The plan called for a square formed by moats and walls that faced the cardinal directions. Work began at the Sri Phum corner in the north-east, which is considered the most auspicious of the four corners.

Unlike earlier Thai Yuan settlements which were oval, the astrological plan for the city called for rectangular moats measuring 18 meters across, with a width of 1800 meters and a length of 2000 meters. Earth from the moats formed ramparts.

At the center was the city pillar. In Brahmanic cosmology this represented Mount Sumeru, the upward link to heaven at the center of the universe (this plan was also mirrored in temples where the stupa - the chedi - stood at the center). The city walls and moats were oriented to the cardinal points and symbolized the mountains and seas of the outer universe.

The fate of the city was believed to depend upon the relationship between the center and the outer guardians at the corners and the gates.

To this day ceremonies are held simultaneously at the cardinal points to propitiate these spirits.

The north of the city, was considered the head of the city and Chang Phuak Gate was used by royalty on state occasions. The south was the rear. Originally only four gates were built, and people would enter the city after crossing the moats on bamboo bridges which could be withdrawn at night.

A further gate was later added in the 15th century. This was Suan Prung gate, which King Sam Fang Kaen built to allow his mother to travel easily from her palace to supervise the building of the Chedi Luang. This also became the gate to be used for funeral processions from the city.


Last Updated: 26 Mar 2008