Archibald was wrong about Chiang Mai citadel being a rectangle; it is really an almost perfect square of 1600 by 1600 metres. The Meping River is now called the Mae Ping River, and the old Burmese name Zimme has been changed to Chiang Mai. On maps printed before 1900 it is called Zimme. The town Chiang Mai has had more than 100 names in the past; see below for more examples.
The walls that Archibald talks about have disappeared around 1900 and only the bastions at the four corners remain.
The wall and bastions.
The fortifications around the old town of Chiang Mai were rebuilt by General Chao Kawila (Chao Kavila) after he liberated the city from the Burmese at the end of the 18th century. To defend against further attacks by the Burmese, he added the bastions at each corner.
There are four corner bastions: Jaeng Sri Phum (NE), Jaeng Katam (SE), Jaeng Ku Ruang (SW) and Jaeng Hua Rin (NW). A Jaeng means bastion or fort.
There used to be five gates in the four walls, clockwise starting from the northern Chang Phuak gate: Chang Phuak gate, Tha Phae gate, Chiang Mai gate, Suan Prung gate, and Suan Dok gate. The restored remains of the gates are still there; and since most of the walls have disappeared many modern road crossings of the moat have been added.
The old fortifications of Chiang Mai in the 19th century.
The few remains of the wall at the four corners of Chiang Mai are not original; in 1996 - 1997 archaeological excavations were made, before the wall remains were extensively renovated. They reused old bricks mixed with new brickwork to restore what remained of the walls. Unfortunately the remains are just some low walls close to the corners of the old town.
The bastions on the four corners seem to be quite original; but all of them have been restored, some of them several times, in centuries past. At the north-east corner, Jaeng Sri Phum bastion, the excavation site has been covered with a roof and left open.
Below is a black and white historical photo of Jaeng Sri Phum bastion in the northeast corner.
Jaeng Sri Phum bastion in 1967 before it was renovated.
Jaeng Sri Phum bastion, on the northeast corner (2017).
Also spelled Chaeng Si Phum or Jaeng Sriphoom.
There used to be more walled cities in Thailand, these walls have mostly been demolished and the bricks reused for houses and road building. Many smaller villages in the Siamese Shan kingdom had just a ditch with a bamboo palisade. Some pieces of the old walls of Nan remain and have been restored, but they are only a very small part of the old wall.
Perhaps the best remaining example of a walled city similar to Chiang Mai is the Mandalay citadel, which has walls of 2032 metres length. This is such a large size that bicycling along these extended walls becomes quite monotonous, especially in the hot midday sun. Mandalay is also a relatively "modern" town, it was founded in 1857. For an ancient walled city you could visit Angkor Thom in Cambodia; which is a huge citadel and about 800 years old. Angkor Thom was built around 1200 by King Jayavarman VII; and the 5 entry gates to Angkor Thom have his face on the four sides of it's towers.
Besides the four corner bastions there is a fifth one: the Jaeng Thiphanet or Thiphanet Bastion on the southwestern corner of Kamphaeng Din; where it makes a 100 degree corner. It is difficult to see from the road to the airport (Mahidol road) because it is surrounded by buildings and trees which shield the old walls and bastion.
Thipanet bastion, on the Kamphaeng Din SW-corner.
Chiang Mai was originally laid out at the end of the thirteenth century as an almost perfect square fortress, with an additional, outer, earthen and brick wall. Kampaeng Din means earthen rampart in Thai, and it circles around the southeast area of Chiang Mai along the Mae Kha canal. It is mostly made of a quite strong clay substance and has surprisingly survived many monsoon rains.
Kamphaeng Din circles around the southeast area of Chiang Mai - the "suburbs". The square brick city wall around the old town was the "citadel" or main old town where the king and nobility lived along with the Buddhist monks in their monasteries; the clay and earthen wall went around the suburbs and poorer part of the town.
Although Kamphaeng Din is less impressive than an old brick city wall, it is completely authentic. And best of all: the clay wall is for a large part still there - the remains of Chiang Mai's city walls have been reduced to nothing or perhaps a few feet of bricks in some places.
Kamphaeng Din wall; a 3 metres high earth and clay rampart.
The clay wall is about 3 metres high, and at the photo above the lowest part is strengthened with a stone wall. The rest of the wall is almost invisible behind the brush and trees. Why is the old earthen wall still there whereas the original brick city walls have gone? Perhaps because the bricks could be reused, but nobody was interested in the old earthen walls. Only the trees found a fertile clay soil and started growing abundantly and covered the walls with their lush foliage.
The earth wall on Kamphaeng Din road has been eroded severely in some places.
If you want to see the Kamphaeng Din walls then the easiest part to see is east of the old town, along the Kamphaeng Din road which runs along the old wall. Walk down Loi Kroh road and turn left into Kamphaeng Din road; it's just before the bridge over the stream that borders the old earthen walls. Of the original 4000 metre long Kamphaeng Din wall between 1300 and 1600 metres remain; so roughly 30 to 40 percent is still traceable, the rest has completely gone. Only the canal remains; and together with the many trees growing in the clay soil of Kamphaeng Din it creates a green line around the city. On the western side near Thipanet road there is a stretch which completely intact; and where one can walk on the wall itself.
The Chiang Mai Department of Fine Arts and the Chiang Mai Municipality have made plans for a project of restoration of the ancient Kamphaeng Din fortifications, recognized as a potential heritage which can increase cultural Sustainable Architecture and Urban tourism. This project has not started yet.
The Tha Phae Puzzle.
Where was the old 1899 photo of the Thapae Gate?
Tha Phae square is the centre of activities and celebrations in Chiang Mai. Chinese tourists love to feed the pigeons and make selfies; totally ignoring the large signs in Thai, English and Chinese to NOT feed the pigeons. Most of the tourists love to make selfies by the Tha Phae Gate sign on the fresh modern bricks. Been here, done that.
Tha Phae gate selfie.
The modern Thapae Gate (or Tha Phae Gate) looks from afar like a modern wall, and it seems to be a contemporary reconstruction. It is very loosely based on an old photograph of the Thapae Gate from 1899. But it is a rather oversized wall, totally straight as if measured out with Laser alignment equipment and modern tools.
Historical old photo of Thapae/Tha Phae gate in 1899
Boonserm Satraphai, "Chiang Mai in Memories", 2011, p59.
From the old photo it is clearly visible that Thapae Gate used to have a double gated entrance, as was common in many old town walls. On this site www.lanna-ww2.com all the ancient gates are described. Hak Hakanson makes the point that the photo of Thapae Gate in 1899 might have been located to the east of the current location; where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall. The Kamphaeng Din wall is indicated on the map below.
Chiang Mai map from King Inthawichayanon, dated 1893.
Colouring and minor edits by R. Schierbeek
Let's have a look at the detailed map from King Inthawichayanon; also called the Mahadthai map. King Chao Intha-wichayanon was the 7th Ruler of Chiang Mai from 1870 until 1897. The inner Thapae gate is on the left in the moat; the outer Thapae gate is on the right; where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall. Just outside Kamphaeng Din wall is a small canal. The inner Thapae gate has a defensive tower on the NE corner of the courtyard. Holt Hallett describes these two entry courtyards or portals as being made from stone walls in his book "A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan States", but not in detail. (see below).
If we project the old Thapae Gate layout on the modern roads and Thapae square it seems to match. The 1899 Thapae/Tha Phae Gate photo seems to have an offset between the two gates that matches the roads as they are now; and probably as they were at the time.
The inner Thapae gate.
On the right is a map of the old inner Thapae gate projected on current roads. The offset between the inner and outer gate seems larger than in the photo, though this is difficult to determine from such a rough map.
If we look carefully at the wall in the background, it seems there are a quite lot of trees there, instead of houses and rooftops which one would expect inside the city. Furthermore, the shadows seem to indicate that the sun is shining from the right side. Since the sun is most of the time in the south, the photographer could well be looking towards the east.
So, it is probable that the photo was taken from the inside of the old city, looking eastward. The trees in the background would make sense, they probably grew along the moat. Nowadays at the same spot on Thapae square many trees are growing.
On the right is Thapae gate as it was drawn on the old 1893 map, having a defensive tower on the courtyard. The photo is not clear, but in the back behind the left figure there seems to be a large structure - perhaps the tower?
However, if you look carefully at the Thapae gate drawing there appear to be a problem. The entry portal on the drawing seems to be quite narrow. The offset between the gates is quite large; it could be offset by 10 metres. It is impossible to make this map match the photograph. Also, the many trees that are now growing on Thapae square were probably not there 120 years ago.
The hypothesis that the photo was taken at the location where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall is certainly a possibility. Has the photo been taken at the outer Thapae gate? That is worth an investigation; let's take another look.
Perhaps it is useful to do some photo analysis on the black and white photo.
Photo analysis on the black and white Thapae Gate photo.
- The photographer is positioned in the middle of the road right in front of the gate. He is positioned only very slightly off-center.
- Two people are standing in the front gate, a man on the right and a smaller man on the left. In the background another person is posing.
- If the man on the right is about 1,50 to 1,60 metres tall, then the camera height is approximately 1 metre. (horizon comparison)
- If the right man is 1,50 metres tall (P), then the walls incl. ramparts are about 3 x 1,50 = 4,50 metres high (H = 3 x P), perhaps max. 5m.
- The two wooden gates are offset (O) by a bit more than half the wall height (H); therefore, the offset is roughly 2,5 metres.
- The gate width is about 4 metres.
- The road seems to be well-used. It is slightly elevated toward the gate in the back.
- Behind the gate and the wall in the back there are a lot of trees.
The outer Thapae gate.
There is a possibility that the photo was taken at the outer Thapae gate, looking eastward. Could the road, courtyard and gates fit into a relatively narrow road like Thapae road? The trees in the background would make sense, they probably grew along the canal and the rough ground around it.
If we project the old map from King Intha-wichayanon on the current roads and buildings it matches surprisingly well. With some resizing and turning the result is visible below. The Thapae road is 14 metres wide at the east side of the outer gate; which is 3 car lanes plus sidewalks, and the gate fits in like a glove. On the western part of the outer gate Thapae road becomes smaller and is only 2 car lanes.
The Wat south of Thapae road is the whimsical Wat Buppharam; the red-roofed temple buildings north of Thapae road are Wat Saen Fang. Wat Saen Fang is a quite old temple with history going back to the 14th century but the present building was built in the 19th century by the Burmese when they occupied Chiang Mai. The central white/grey square building in Wat Saen Fang is a Burmese-style chedi (a chedi is the thai name for Buddhist stupa).
These walled temple areas fit reasonably with the map, because Wats were holy places which were rarely abandoned, unlike houses which could be sold and converted into modern buildings. The accuracy of the Wat Buppharam temple is a bit off, it is a trapezium (trapezoid) shape rather than a rectangle.
The large ponds east of the gate were filled in and now have modern buildings on them. The canal has also been straightened; but the position of the canal at Thapae road is the same.
The last piece of the puzzle.
Let's have a look at the last piece of the puzzle. On the right is the outer Thapae gate with the offset (O) drawn in; which amounts to a bit less then a car lane. A car lane is generally between 2.5 to 3.25 metres wide (highways are wider); so for the offset we can estimate roughly 2,5 metres. The width of the road is 3 car lanes, 3*3=9 metres plus two sidewalks and a small bike lane equals 14 metres. That offset of 2,5 metres corresponds nicely with the offset in the 1899 Thapae gate photograph.
Is the mystery of the "Tha Phae Puzzle" solved? My impression is that the position of the photographer is at the outer gate. The inner gate with its defensive tower on the courtyard just does not correspond with the photograph.
The offset derived from the road width when Inthawichayanon's map is projected on the current roads matches the estimate offset in the photograph. If you have another option or idea on where the photo was made then let me know!
Back to the current Thapae gate on Thapae Square. It resembled the old photograph of the Thapae Gate from 1899, remember. Well that old Thapae Gate in 1899 looked very different from the modern one.
Yes, the current gate and wall are a totally straight reconstruction from 1985. The wall is built around a hollow concrete support structure; nothing of it is original. Therefore, the new Thapae Gate is very much fake and has nothing to do with the original gate and walls. The only part that looks like the original is the hardwood door which is similar to the city door on the historical photo. All the rest is a rather clumsy piece of imagination.