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History of Thailand Page 3

It was through the presence of these Europeans during King Narai's reign that gave the West most of its early knowledge of Siam. Some Western visitors compared Ayutthaya to Venice and called it "the most beautiful city in the East."

In 1767, a Burmese invasion succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya. In their hurry to withdraw from the conquered capital, the Burmese killed, looted and set fire to the whole city, thereby expunging four centuries of Thai civilisation. But despite their overwhelming victory, the Burmese did not retain control of Siam for long. A young general named Phya Taksin gathered a small band of followers, broke through the Burmese encirclement and escaped to Chantaburi. Seven months after the fall of Ayutthaya, he and his forces sailed back to the capital and expelled the Burmese occupation garrison.

he Thonburi Era

General Taksin, as he is popularly known, decided to transfer the capital from Ayutthaya to a site nearer to the sea which would facilitate foreign trade, ensure the procurement of arms, and make defence and withdrawal easier in case of renewed Burmese attack. He established his new capital at Thonburi.

The rule of Taksin was not an easy one. The lack of central authority since the fall of Ayutthaya had led to the rapid disintegration of the kingdom, and Taksin's reign was spent reuniting the provinces.

The Rattanakosin Era

After Taksin's death, General Chakri became the first king of the Chakri dynasty, ruling from 1782-1809. His first action as king was to transfer his administrative headquarters across the river from Thonburi to Bangkok. There he set about to build his new palace according to the pattern of Ayutthaya. He assembled all surviving master craftsmen from the old city. The Grand Palace they built contained not only the residences of the king and the royal family, but also incorporated the government and judicial offices and, most importantly, the Royal Chapel where the revered Emerald Buddha was installed.

Rama I's successors, Rama II and Rama III, completed the consolidation of the Siamese kingdom and the revival of the arts and culture of Ayutthaya.

Rama II re-established relations with the West, suspended since the time of Narai, allowing the Portuguese to construct the first Western embassy in Bangkok. Rama III, ruled 1824-1851, continued to reopen Siam's doors to foreigners, successfully promoting trade with China. The ready availability of Chinese porcelain led him to decorate many of his temples, including Wat Arun, with porcelain fragments.

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