Pagodas at flooded Thai temples leaning sideways

November 14, 2011

By KAZUTO TSUKAMOTO / Correspondent

AYUTTHAYA, Thailand--Treasured pagodas at historic sites in this former capital in Thailand have been damaged by the worst flooding in memory to hit the country.

In some cases, the breakdown of soil due to the large amount of floodwater has caused pagodas to lean sideways. Temples in the Historic City of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage site, have also sustained damage. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization plans to investigate the extent of damage jointly with Thai authorities.

Ayutthaya, about 70 kilometers north of Bangkok, prospered from the 14th to the 18th centuries as the capital of the Ayutthaya kingdom. The Chao Phraya River, swollen by the flooding, runs to the west of a historic park, which contains many of the remains that are part of the World Heritage site.

On Nov. 11, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a 17th-century temple on the other side of the river known for its magnificent figure rising up from the lush greenery, was immersed in muddy water, with only the tops of pagodas visible above the surface. A small boat was needed to approach the grounds across water that appeared to be 1-3 meters deep.

Chayanan Bootsayarat, 51, who is investigating the extent of the damage for a local cultural property protection authority, said walls that surrounded the temple grounds were washed away over a stretch of about 50 meters, allowing a mass of river water to flow in. The site had been immersed in water for about a month. Pagodas whose foundations were underwater appeared to have leaned sideways, possibly because of softening soil.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, another temple in the World Heritage site that was built in the 15th century, had been under about a meter of water, but the level had receded by Nov. 9. Some of the pagodas on the deserted grounds were found to be tilting.

Even before the floods hit, leaning pagodas were being treated by an injection of concrete into soil beneath the foundation, but the floods apparently increased the amount of tilting that has occurred.

"The only thing we can do is to consolidate the soil by injecting more concrete," Chayanan said.

Preliminary surveys have found that 127 sites have sustained tilting and other damage. UNESCO also plans to investigate the damage and conduct repairs with the cooperation of experts from Japan, Italy and other countries.

By KAZUTO TSUKAMOTO / Correspondent
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Bricks in the lower part of a pagoda at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, appear to have turned white due to immersion in floodwater. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Bricks in the lower part of a pagoda at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, appear to have turned white due to immersion in floodwater. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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  • Bricks in the lower part of a pagoda at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, appear to have turned white due to immersion in floodwater. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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