Ayutthaya: the world’s largest city in 1700 AD
Episode #8 of the course “Greatest Cities Throughout History”
Ayutthaya was often called the most beautiful city in the world by the diplomats who visited it. In 1700 A.D., it was home to roughly one million citizens and served as the capital of Thailand. Today, it is roughly an hour’s drive from Bangkok, and only remnants of the once-great city remain. It was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, and they actually forced the inhabitants to leave the city. It is one of Thailand’s most visited tourist sites because of many of its large, beautiful statues and temples remain. Many of the statues of Buddha seem to have been decapitated, however.
Perhaps the reason the population boomed in the 1700s was because of the city’s role as a major trading center. It supported commerce from India, China, and Indonesia and became a major connection between the East and the West. As an island metropolis, Ayutthaya was surrounded by three rivers that connected to the sea, making it less vulnerable to destruction or economic impact from visiting warships and flooding. The city’s layout was well-organized, especially for its time. It had roads, canals, and even moats around some of the important structures. Its hydraulic water system was also extremely advanced for its time.
The local culture was somewhat unique because of the large mix of people who visited (and sometimes stayed) there. All of the buildings were adorned with elegant designs, sculptures, and paintings that were a unique blend of many cultures. Art like that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
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