The Fortifications of Chiang Mai and
the Enigma of the Finlayson Map
A talk and presentation by Andrew Forbes and David Henley
Present: Trevor Gibson, Pierre Chaslin, Jennifer Dyson, David Engel, Adrian Pieper, Hans and Sangdao Bänziger, Victoria Vorreiter, Jack Eisner, Gary Suwannarat, Guy Cardinal, Derrick Titmus, Ricky Ward, Ralph Kramer, Sjon Hauser, John Cadet, David Blair Brown, Peter Dawson, Cherdsak Treerayapiwat, Roy Clark, John Wickenden, Art Halbisen, Vithi Phanichphant, Anthony Irwin, Micah Morton, Clarence Shettlesworth, Aree Suksiri, Hunter Marston, Daniel Bellamy, Colin Hinshelwood, Masao Imamura. An audience of 31.
Summary of their talk and presentation written by Andrew
1. Before the founding of Chiang Mai by King Mangrai in 1296 fortified cities or wiang tended to be surrounded by oval-shaped or ‘conch-shaped’ fortifications – as, for example, at Lamphun and Phrao. The Lamphun moat and what remains of the walls and gates are still clearly conch-shaped.
2. As the towns grew sometimes additional suburbs were added and protected by earthen ramparts – like Chiang Mai’s still extant Kamphaeng Din. Hans Penth styles these additions ‘compartments’, but they might also be described as outer walled suburbs.
3. Mangrai and his
collaborators, Ramkhamhaeng and Ngam Muang, decided to lay out the
Starting from Thapae Gate and turning south, the first bastion reached is Jaeng Katam, or ‘Fish Trap Corner’, where local people used to catch fish in a large pond which has long since disappeared. Today Katam Corner is a quiet place, though the bastion itself looks spectacular enough when Chiang Mai municipality turns on the fountains and illuminating lights.
Jaeng Ku Ruang
Proceeding due west,
Mai and Suan Prung gates, the next bastion reached, at the
Jaeng Hua Rin
A further 1.5
north, passing Suan Dok Gate en route, is Jaeng Hua Rin, the city's
northwestern corner. This bastion, which faces
Jaeng Sri Phum
The fourth and last of the Old City bastions, Jaeng Sri Phum or ‘Light of the Land Corner’, is situated at the Old City's north-eastern extremity, about 750 metres due north of Thapae Gate. According to legend, this bastion marks the first point of the original city fortifications founded by King Mangrai more than 700 years ago. Formerly, not far from here, stood a giant Banyan tree, held to be highly auspicious and regarded as a source of Chiang Mai's power, prosperity and security. Today, sadly, the Banyan tree is no more, though the shrine of San Lak Muang Jaeng Sri Phum stands close by the bastion, and regularly receives offerings and reverence from the townspeople.
Chiang Mai also has a fifth bastion, Jaeng Thiphanet, set in the south-western corner of the city’s outer ‘Earthen Ramparts’ or kamphaeng din. The least-known, least visited and indeed least-visible of Chiang Mai’s brick ramparts.
In contrast to the corner bastions, which date in their present form from the late 18th century, Chiang Mai's gateways are uniformly modern structures, loosely recreated from old photographs and oral history by the city authorities, in conjunction with the Department of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai Rajabhat University and ‘a group of dedicated private citizens’ between 1966 and 1969.
The most authentic of these reconstructions is Pratu Thaphae, the city's eastern entrance. Originally established by King Mangrai in 1296, this gate was for many centuries known as Pratu Chiang Ruak after a neighbouring village located beyond the city walls. The name Pratu Thaphae was first applied to a gate in the outer earthen ramparts built or restored by Chao Kawila in about 1800 and situated by Wat Saen Fang – the name Thaphae, or ‘Raft Landing’ derives from its location close to the River Ping. At some stage during the 19th century Pratu Chiang Ruak became known colloquially as Pratu Thaphae Nai, or ‘Inner Thaphae Gate’, in contradistinction to Kawila's gate, which was called Pratu Thaphae Nok, or ‘Outer Thaphae Gate’. Following the demolition of this outer gate in the late 19th century the name Pratu Thaphae came to be applied to the former Pratu Chiang Ruak, a designation which holds today.
Pratu Chiang Mai
Pratu Suan Prung
Located in the
Pratu Suan Prung stands near to Jaeng Ku Ruang, the most ill-fated of the city’s bastions, and is set in the most inauspicious section of the city walls. It has for many centuries been used by the citizens of Chiang Mai to take their dead for cremation south of the city beyond Pratu Hai Ya, a custom which continues to the present day. In this, as Wyatt and Wichienkeeo point out in their translation of the Chiang Mai Chronicle, Pratu Suang Prung is similar to the Pratu Phi or ‘Spirit Gate’ of both Phrae and Kengtung, also the Pratu Mara or ‘Devil’s Gate’ of both Sukhothai and Kamphaengphet.
Pratu Suan Dok
Continuing west and
beyond Ku Ruang corner, the ancient walls extend for some distance
local garden centres towards Chiang Mai's western entrance, Pratu Suan Dok or ‘Flower Garden
Gate’. In former times outside this gateway lay the gardens of
King Ku Na who,
in 1371, founded Wat Suan Dok, or ‘
Pratu Chang Phuak
Finally, set square in
centre of the
Pratu Si Phum Gate
The city’s sixth gate, Pratu Si Phum or ‘Light of the Land Gate’, no longer exists. According to the Chiang Mai Chronicle, King Tilokarat (1441–1487), desiring to attain the status of cakkavattiraja or ‘universal monarch’ consulted with a supposedly knowledgeable Burmese ascetic from Pagan. The Burmese, Mang Lung Lwang, was secretly in the service of the Siamese, and sought to destroy the good fortune of Chiang Mai. To this end, he advised Tilokarat to cut down an auspicious banyan tree at Ban Sri Phum, tear down the fortifications at that point, and build a new palace on the spot. The work was undertaken in 1465–66, and included the construction of a new gate, named Pratu Sri Phum, thought to have stood approximately where Mun Muang Soi 7 faces the moat today.
It is not known when Pratu Sri Phum was eventually torn down. It seems that its name was changed at some point to Pratu Chang Moi, or ‘Drowsy Elephant Gate’, as the northernmost gate in the nearby Kamphaeng Din, or Earthen Ramparts, was later designated Pratu Chang Moi Nok or ‘Outer Drowsy Elephant Gate’. It too no longer exists, having been torn down in the early 20th century, but a sign erected by Chiang Mai Municipality on Sithiwong Road, by the banks of the Khlong Mae Kha where the bridge used to stand, suggests that it took its name from the nearby gate into the Old City called Pratu Chang Moi Nai, or ‘Inner Drowsy Elephant Gate’. Either way, no sign of Pratu Sri Phum survives today.
Visitors to Chiang Mai
swiftly aware of the moats and city walls that surround the
Chiang Mai was
captured by King
Bayinnaung of Pegu in 1558, and remained under Burmese domination until
when forces owing allegiance to King Taksin of
Over the next four years, on the orders of Chao Kawila, Chiang Mai's city walls were restored and strengthened as a bulwark against the continuing attacks of the Burmese. By 1800, the main walls and gates enclosing the old city had been rebuilt, and Kawila was able to turn his attention to the burgeoning southern and eastern suburbs, located between the Old City and the River Ping – an area which today includes Chang Moi, Thaphae, Loi Khroh and Sri Donchai to the east, as well as well as Rakaeng, Nantaram and Thiphanet to the south.
For the defence of
districts, an earthen rampart – in Thai, kamphaeng din
– faced with
brick and reinforced at its southwestern extremity with a curved brick
was built southwards from Jaeng Ku Ruang, the
These outer defences, designed to protect commercial areas of the city rapidly being resettled with deportees from Tai-speaking areas further to the north such as Chiang Saen and Kengtung, were completed around 1800, and may have played an important role in defending the city against renewed Burmese attack in 1802. Whether the ‘Earthen Ramparts’ were entirely new, or a restored version of an earlier wall, is not certain, though the latter seems likely. King Muang Kaew (1495-1526), the 14th ruler of the Mangrai Dynasty, may have built an earlier defensive structure in this area during his reign (1495-1526). Similarly Pratu Khua Kom, the former ‘Small Bridge Gate’ in the Wat Nantaram area of the ramparts, is mentioned in records dating from 1615, nearly two centuries before Kawila’s time. In either case, following Kawila’s restorations, the Burmese were never again to succeed in capturing Chiang Mai.
The Earthen Ramparts were pierced by five gates, none of which survive, except in name, at the present day. Running from west to east, these were:
Pratu Haiya, just south of the junction between Thiphanet and Wua Lai Roads
Pratu Khua Kom,
Pratu Thaphae Nok, the ‘Outer Thaphae Gate’, by Wat Saen Fang
All four gates are
on James McCarthy’s Map of Chiang Mai published by the Royal
A fifth gate, Pratu Chang Moi, which once stood further to the north where Chang Moi Kao Road meets Sitthiwong Road by the Khlong Mae Kha, is not mentioned by name on McCarthy’s map, but a plaque on Sitthiwong Road records its existence and the fact that it was torn down early in the 20th century.
Some of the best-preserved sections of the Kamphaeng Din are to be found in the western extremities, winding through, behind, and even under residential sections of southern Chiang Mai. Here the accompanying moat streams, formed by the waters flowing out of the main city moats, are relatively clear and clean. They run southwards, in the shadow of the old Earthen Ramparts, from a small spirit house close by Suan Prung hospital towards Thiphanet Market. At this point a well-preserved brick fortification – in fact Chiang Mai's fifth and least-known bastion – rises above the houses, topped with a shrine to the local spirit guardian, Chao Pho Chumchon Thiphanet, the ancient brickwork held together by the massive roots of a venerable old tree.
Beyond this point, as
swings eastwards, is an area still known as Pratu Haiya. Little remains
once southernmost point of entry to Chiang Mai's fortified section, but
observant pedestrian or driver on
From Pratu Haiya the old wall is somewhat easier to follow, as its course is traced by narrow tracks – often suitable only for walking – leading through a maze of poorer districts lying behind Wat Nantaram. Here the accompanying moat stream takes a turn for the worse, as it meets the polluted waters of the Khlong Mae Kha before running away southwards to join the River Ping. From this point the wall marches northwards beside the Khlong Mae Kha until the best-known stretch, at Thanon Kamphaeng Din, is reached.
By Thanon Kamphaeng Din substantial sections of the outer wall are clearly visible. Houses – some of them quite middle class – alternate with poorer dwellings, though the neighbourhood becomes obviously more affluent as it approaches the Night Bazaar.
really nothing of the Earthen Ramparts remain, though we know that,
A Northern Kamphaeng Din
It seems very likely,
that even before the southern Kamphaeng Din was erected, a similar
had been erected to enclose another ‘compartment’ to the
north of the
Penth suggests that this northern Kamphaeng Din began as a triple rampart close to Jaeng Hua Rin, the city’s northwest bastion, and ran north for about 50 metres before becoming a single wall and curving east ‘until, after several zig-zags, it divided into two branches’. The southern branch continued eastward, passing close to the White Elephant monument at Anusawari Khuang Chang Phuak before rejoining the Old City walls at or near Jaeng Sri Phum – or, more probably, by the marshy banks of Nong Bua, a lake fed by the waters of the Klong Mae Kha that lay north of the Old City walls in the area of Thanon Prachana Rattana until at least the early 20th century.
The other branch of
Kamphaeng Din curved further north and east, passing the area of Thanin
(Gad Thanin) before turning southeast, apparently also headed for Nong
and the northeast bastion of the
This is all invaluable information to the historian, not least because it is now all but impossible to identify any of these outer walls. Being largely made of tamped earth, they would have been relatively easily demolished, especially with modern earth-moving equipment like back-hoes and bulldozers. Of course, it’s quite possible that small sections of these walls do still exist, hidden in some obscure back yard – but if so, these relics are not readily apparent, and certainly not as obvious as the southern Kamphaeng Din remains today.
Carefully secured in
of the British Library in
An Embassy to the
Dr George Finlayson
a native of Thurso in
Unfortunately Finlayson was already seriously ill by this time, having contracted an illness – perhaps malaria – on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, of which Crawfurd writes: ‘My poor friend, Mr. Finlayson, caught, from severe exertions he made today [March 16, 1822] under a burning sun, the malady which afterwards proved fatal to him; and which, during the remainder of the voyage, unfortunately deprived me of the active exercise of his valuable talents’. In his own account, Finlayson attributes his illness to sunstroke, noting: ‘We had been much exposed to a powerful sun during this day, the bad effect of which I soon after was destined to experience, having been laid up for some days with fever, which rendered me totally incapable to attending to any thing’.
went on to visit
account of The
Mission to Siam and Hué was published posthumously in 1826,
a long and complimentary forward by Sir Stamford Raffles (1781-1826),
Finlayson’s Map of Chiang Mai
The various papers,
paintings collected by George Finlayson eventually made their way
to the United Kingdom, where they were lodged at the India Office
have no way of knowing, but it seems probable that the map of Chiang
acquired by Finlayson during his short visit to Bangkok, and was
the collection of his papers posthumously before being sent to London.
presence of a map of Chiang Mai in a collection of papers relating
exclusively to central and southern
This is certainly more
be said of the map itself. We have no information regarding its
(other than the fact that it was almost certainly collected by
the Crawfurd Mission). It is clearly marked in the upper margin, in
using a bold pen: ‘Cheung Mai before the Inner Wall was
removed’. Beneath is a
highly stylised representation of an approximately square city showing
All well and good – but is it really a map of Chiang Mai? We know that, according to the Chiang Mai Chronicle and other sources, King Mangrai laid out the initial fortifications of Chiang Mai in 1296 in an area that was almost square, measuring approximately 1.5 km on each of its four sides. We further know that through most of its history this single wall was defended by a single moat, a bastion at each corner, and a single gate on each of its sides, the exception being the southern wall, where there were two gates, as indeed there are today.
Chiang Mai was
occupied by the
Burmese between 1558 and 1776, when it was captured by a joint force
allegiance to Chao Kawila, Lord of Lampang, and Siamese armies loyal to
Taksin. The city was then abandoned until 1781, during the 6th year of
reign of King Rama I, when Kawila was ordered to resettle and
city. This Kawila did, taking care to repair the fortifications both of
Some three decades
Mai was visited by Captain William Couperus McLeod, as part of his
to Lan Na and the
And yet the ‘Finlayson Map’, which can be dated by its watermark and the time of the Crawfurd Mission to between 1814 and 1822, purports to show a heavily defended Chiang Mai with two moats and three walls, while noting curiously that this is a map of the city ‘before the Inner Wall was removed’.
How can this be? At
can only speculate. It might, perhaps, be that the map was originally
enhance the appearance of the city’s defences, possibly to dismay
Siamese attack. But by 1814 – the earliest date at which the map
can have been
drawn, given the paper’s watermark – Chiang Mai, while
still ruled by the Lan
Na chao, was already a loyal tributary of the Chakri Dynasty in
A more detailed examination of the original map in its repository at the British Library in London may throw further light on its provenance, but for the present the ‘Finlayson Map’ remains – to borrow from Sir Winston Churchill: ‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ – rather like the triple-walled fortifications it so colourfully represents.
At the conclusion of a most entertaining and informative evening, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Andrew and David in more informal conversation over drinks and snacks.