Ronald M. and Dianne J. Bernier Archive
Image Record ID:
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Wat Xieng Thong Temple exterior
Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most important temples in the country of Laos. The word "wat" in Lao means temple, in this case, the Temple of the Golden City. Wat Xieng Thong is very old, built around 1560 by King Setthathirat, a patron of Buddhism, who ruled Laos from 1548 to 1571. The temple is located in a beautiful garden on the bank of the Mekong River where the Nam Khan, a smaller river runs into it. There are many legends about the place where the Nam Khan enters the Mekong. It is believed to be the site where the two hermits, who founded Luang Prabang, placed the boundary stone for the new settlement. Another story tells about a betel merchant with the name of Chanthapanit who built a palace on this site, making himself the first king of the new capital. It has been said that he was the first founder of Wat Xieng Thong.The union of the Nam Khan with the Mekong is also said to be the home of two nagas (water spirits in the form of large snakes), the guardians of the river. A shrine to the nagas existed at the site until recently. Until 1975, when the Communist Party gained control over Laos, Wat Xieng Thong was a royal temple, supported by the royal family. It was the place where the former kings of Laos were crowned and granted their power. When we look at the past history of Wat Xieng Thong, it and the other major temples were as Betty Gosling writes, "sites of rituals in which Buddhist, pre-Buddhist, and royal traditions met, overlapped, and meshed." (p. 35) We do not know what the sixteenth century temple looked like, one of the earliest photographs of the sim or chapel is shown below. It is a small building with a low sweeping roof of three tiers. The supporting columns are square and white washed. A broad staircase leads into the interior. At the sides are two pillars holding bronze lotus buds. During the 1960s Wat Xieng Thong was completely remodeled and redecorated, becoming the splendid temple we see today. The roof was repaired. The entrance was gilded. Both the interior and the exterior walls were covered with black, glossy lacquer and decorated with figures and symbols in gold leaf. On the back wall a large flame tree, a tree of life, was set in colored glass mosaics.
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Lao King Setthathirath
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Louangphrabang (inhabited place)
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© Dianne J. Bernier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license, https://creativecom
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Ronald M. and Dianne J. Bernier Archive
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