vrijdag 21 juni 2013

Lao People's Democratic Republic, Town of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.


Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.
The town is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries in a clay basin surrounded by limestone hills that dominate the landscape. According to legend, the Buddha smiled when he rested here for a day during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. Another legend attributes the choice of the site to two hermits, attracted by its natural beauty, who gave it the name of Xieng Dong (or perhaps Xieng Thong).
It was known under this name at the end of the 13th century AD. A few decades later it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang, whose wealth and influence can be attributed to the location of its capital at a crossroads on the Silk Route, as well as the centre of Buddhism in the region. It remained the capital until 1560, when this title passed to Vientiane. It was at this time that it received a new name, Luang Prabang, the name of the famous Buddha image brought earlier from Cambodia. The towns in Laos conformed with the European urban of defended royal administrative complexes with adjacent temples and monasteries. Around them clustered a number of distinct village communities, supplying their needs but not integrated into a single administrative entity. The villages acted as commercial centres, not the town as such, which did not have the large mercantile communities to be found at the time in Thailand or Cambodia.
On the death of King Sourigna Vongsa at the end of the 17th century a serious political crisis ensued. The Lan Xang kingdom was divided first into two independent realms, those of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and then into three, with the creation of the kingdom of Champasak. Luang Prabang retained its role as the royal capital until 1946, when Vientiane took over as administrative centre.


The political and religious centre of the town is the peninsula, with its royal and noble residences and religious foundations. This is defined by a defensive wall built from one river bank to the other, sealing off the peninsula at its base. The majority of the buildings are, following traditions, built from wood (part of the temples are in stone). The colonial element of the town is characterized by one- or two-storey terraced houses built from brick: they often have balconies and other decorative features in wood.
The commercial buildings are grouped along the Mekong, interspersed with private houses. The temples and royal residences line one side of Avenue Pavie, which runs the length of the peninsula, the other side being occupied by traditional and colonial houses. The administrative buildings are for the most part at the crossroads with Rue Gernier. The monasteries generally consist of: the cult buildings (shrine, chapel, library, stupa, stone post), ancillary buildings and buildings for inhabitants or visitors (monastic communal buildings, cells, refectory, etc.). Most are simple shrines with three aisles and a single porch. Their interior furnishings comprise a pedestal or throne for the main Buddha image, a pulpit, a terrace and a lamp. Most are elaborately decorated with carved motifs but the wall paintings are relatively simple. The Luang Prabang chapels are simple structures for housing images; they may be open or walled.
The traditional Lao wooden houses are basically divided into spaces: the private rooms and the public terraces. They are usually raised on wooden piles, giving a space beneath for working and for shelter for both men and animals. Walling may be of planks or plaited bamboo on a wooden frame. A developed form of this house makes use of brick, following the French introduction of this material, but conserving the general layout and appearance of the traditional house. Finally there are the administrative buildings, which more or less successfully blend traditional elements with European materials, techniques and uses.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

Luang Prabang Province lies in the heart of the mountainous region of northern Laos. The town of Luang Praoang is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries, the Nam Knane and the Kual Hop, in a Clay basin surrounded by the limestone hills that dominate the landscape.
According to legend. the Buddha smiled when he rested here for a day during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. Another legend attributes the choice of the site to two hermits, attracted by its natural beauty, who gave it the name of Xieng Dong (or perhaps Xieng Thong, commemorating the name of the flamboyant tree that was the centre of their implantation). It was inhabited first by hybrid beings who became the protectors of the city when they died, and then by human beings, the first of them the Khas, a group coming together from various regions. They were driven out by the Lao, who came down from the north, following their legendary leader Khun Lo, who renamed the city Muang Java, in tribute to the Kha leader whom he had defeated, Khun Java. This legendary account of the city's foundation is borne out by archaeological and toponymic evidence for the settlement of the region.

A stele from Sukhothai attests to its being known under this name at the end of the 13th century AD. A few decades later it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang ("One Million Elephants"), whose wealth and influence can e attributed to the location of its capital at a crossroads on the Silk Route, as well as the centre of Buddhism in the region. It remained the capital of the kingdom until 1560? When this title passed to Vientiane, which was located further from the threatening Burmese armies. It was at this time that it received a new name, Luang Prabang, the name of the famous Buddha image brought earlier from Cambodia. It should be stressed that neither of the "towns" in Laos, Luang Prabang or Vientiane, conformed with the European urban concept: they were essentially defended royal administrative complexes with adjacent temples and monasteries. Around these clustered a number of distinct village communities, supplying their needs but not integrated into a single administrative entity. It was the village that acted as commercial centres, not the town as such, which did not have the large mercantile communities to be found at that time in Thailand or Cambodia.
On the death of King Sourigna Vongsa at the end of the 17th century a serious political crisis ensued. The Lan Xang kingdom was divided first into two independent realms, those of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and then into three, with the creation of the kingdom of Champassak. The Luang Prabang rulers became puppets of the Thai power, especially after 1828, when the Vientiane kingdom disappeared with the complete destruction of the town by the Thai army and the deportation of its Inhabitants. Luang Prabang itself suffered gravely from the attacks of the famous Pavilions Noirs (Black Flags), who subjected it to sack and pillage from 1887 until the arrival of the French in 1893. Its reconstruction and restoration as a religious and royal capital was the work of King Sisavang Vong, aided in this heavy task by his successive viceroys Chao Mana Oupahat Boun Khong and Prince Pnetsarath. Luang Prabang retained its role as the royal capital until 1946, when Vientiane took over as administrative centre.
During the French protectorate, which was created on 3 October 1893 following the signing of the FrancoSiamese Treaty, Laos was not a homogeneous political entity: the Lan Xang Kingdom was no more than a memory. However, although the country was divided into many small kingdoms and principalities, a nation was forged which transcended the feudal structure that persisted. Towns in the western sense developed, alongside the timeless rural organization of the villages, which was opposed to this Intrusion. Luang Prabang provided the nucleus: round its royal residence were grouped the houses of the nobility and the cult centres (temples and monasteries). It did not attract public buildings like Vientiane, which was chosen by the French for their capital, but on the other hand its commercial potential attracted many French businessmen.

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