Introduction to the Front Palace

By The Front Palace: Wang Na

The evolution of the Front Palace reflects the conceptual development of the "Uparaja" (or Viceroy), which culminated in the mid-eighteenth century appointment of a Second King. This exhibition explores what is left in Bangkok of the site today, and deconstructs the history behind it. 

Overview of the Front Palace: Then and Now

The site of the former Front Palace is located at what is now the National Museum Bangkok.

Cropped Front-Facing View of Exhibition within Isara Winitchai Throne Hall (2019-03-06/2019-04-28) by In Situ from OutsideThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Wang Na Naruemit

Wang Na Naruemit aims to both chronicle the origins of Thailand's Front Palace, as well as to explore the multiple layers of history that can be discovered within it. As part of the Wang Na Naruemit project, a social experiment in the form of an exhibition was created entitled  "In Situ from the Outside: Reconstructing the Past In-Between the Present"

////////, 2 0 1 9 in Isara Winitchai Throne Hall (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Tanatchai BandasakThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Deconstructing History

Propelling the past into contemporary conversations that challenge the conventionally prescriptive role of a museum, "In Situ From Outside" deconstructs the concept of history as an exclusively fixed and inherently linear construct.  Allowing people to walk around and interact with its histories guided by contemporary in situ creations, the exhibition takes history as a deeply personal experience by inviting dialogue and encouraging visitors to build their own relationships with their histories. 

Introduction to The Front Palace (2019-04-22) by Sirikitiya JensenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Project Director, Sirikitiya Jensen (on behalf of the Fine Arts Department, Thailand) explains how the role of the Uparaja or Viceroy has evolved throughout the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Rattanakosin periods, and the structural origins, and role of the Front Palace concept.

Chantharakasem Palace in Ayutthaya (2013-11-23/2013-11-23) by Vorapoj SongcharoenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Front Palace during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Periods


The Front Palace of the Rattankosin Period, or Wang Na, is also known as "Bovorn Sathan Mongkol Palace" refers to both a place (the residence of the King's Viceroy), as well as to an individual who holds the position of Viceroy.

This position first appeared in 1485 during the Sukhothai Period in the form of an "Uparaja” which was synonymous to the role of a Viceroy. It was not until the Ayutthaya Period that the role of “Uparaja” evolved into the physical concept of what becomes known as ‘Wang Na’ or the Front Palace.

Chantharakasem Palace in Ayutthaya (2013-11-23/2013-11-23) by Vorapoj SongcharoenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Chantharakasem Palace, Ayutthaya Kingdom

The concept of the Front Palace gained prominence during King Maha Thammarajathirat's reign (1569-1590) when he built a residence for his son Naresuan The Great's visits to Ayutthaya. This residence became known as Chantharakasem Palace, but was also referred to as Front Palace, and this is the first time we hear the expression "Wang Na."

This Ayutthaya period Front Palace is located on the banks of the Pa Sak River (Khlong Khu Khue Na, or "Front City Canal") in Ayutthaya (Thailand). Royal Chronicles state that it was built around 1577.

Phlup Phla of Chantarakasem Palace (2013-11-23/2013-11-23) by Vorapoj SongcharoenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

King Naresuan used The Front Palace as his command center for the battle with troops from Hongsawadee in 1586 C.E., and it became the palace residence of eight further kings and important viceroys.

Frontal View of the Front Palace by The National Archives of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Front Palace during the Rattanakosin Period

On April 6, 1782, H.M. King Phutthayotfa Chulalok the Great (King Rama I) began his reign as the first King of the Chakri Dynasty. He installed his younger brother as Viceroy Maha Surasinghanat, making him the first Viceroy of the Rattanakosin Era.

Map of Bangkok (1896-12-18/1896-12-18) by Royal Thai Survey DepartmentThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Viceroy in Bangkok

Having moved the capital from Thonburi across the river to where Bangkok sits today, King Rama I commanded the simultaneous construction of the Grand Palace and the Front Palace.

In appointing his younger brother to Viceroy, King Rama I gave him the title, Rajawang Bovorn Sathan Mongkol, which translates to Lord of the Front Palace, and so from 1782–1885, those who held this title and resided in the Front Palace were generally considered to be the heirs apparent of Siam.

Bull Battle Formation from Tamrapichasokram (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Museum BangkokThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Significance and Function of Wang Na

In Thai, the word na (or "front") indicates the Palace's position, and refers to its protective function, which remained very similar to its role during the Ayutthaya period, acting as a door to the city.

According to ancient royal tradition the army was composed of a vanguard in front, followed by the main body, and a rear guard. The "Wang Na" Viceroy was commander of the vanguard and led the royal army into battle.

This ancient royal tradition can be illustrated through Tamrapichaisongkram, a canon of texts concerned with the defensive arts which had been in use since at least the reign of King Ramathibodi II during the Ayutthaya Era.

The Front Palace and Tamrapichaisongkram
Tamrapichaisongkram describes how military success can be gained by a combination of strategic and supernatural methods, dictating an arrangement of troops conducive to each arena of war.

In this image of a mythological bull, กองพันหน้า refers to the vanguard. The กองพันหน้า was led by the Front Palace Viceroy first into battle, working in close concert with His Majesty, The King.

This ancient royal tradition was adapted and applied to the role of the Front Palace during the Rattanakosin Era.

Portrait of Second King Pinklao (1896-12-18/1896-12-18) by The National Archives of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Reign of Rama IV and Second King Pinklao during the Rattankosin Era

When King Rama IV ascended the throne in 1851, he elevated his younger brother from Viceroy to the unprecedented rank of Second King.

This unique socio-political development led to a major narrative shift in the idea of kingship and was the impetus for a series of major and symbolic architectural additions to the Front Palace. It now had to reflect the status of its inhabitant, and literally, be fit for a king.

Front Palace Plan During Second King Pinklao (1896-12-18/1896-12-18) by Tamnan WangnaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The palace plan when Second King Pinklao resided in the Front Palace, a period in which the scale of the palace grew to be at its largest.

The Front Palace Today

The Front Palace and city walls were once in parallel to one another.

Sections of the old city and palace walls now lay underneath Thammasat University's 60th Anniversary Building which is on the western side of the former palace, parallel to the Chao Phraya River. A partial reconstruction was undertaken in order to illustrate the original location of both the Front Palace and city walls.

Front Palace Plan During Second King Pinklao (1896-12-18/1896-12-18) by Tamnan WangnaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Fai Nai, or Inner Palace
During the King Rama I-V period, the Inner Palace was home to consorts and children of the Front Palace. King Rama V transformed much of the space into army barracks, and during the reign of King Rama VII, it became Thammasat University.

The Fai Nai, or Inner Palace Today
The dome building of Thammasat University marks the spot which would have been the Inner Palace during the reigns of Rama I-V.

Remnants of Old Palace Walls in Modern Day Bangkok

Along the original location of a Palace walls, there would have been a moat surrounding the Front Palace where Phra Chan Road now lies. The walls would have led to Sanam Luang, an open area of the Front Palace, in the middle of which one would have seen the High Pavilion.

Kotchakampravet Prasat (1896-12-18/1896-12-18) by The National Archives of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Kotchakampravet Prasat
This structure would have been to the front of Bhuddaisawan Chapel, and was built to celebrate King Rama IV's elevation of his younger brother to the unprecendented rank of Second King.

The structure possessed a prasat which signified the presence of a King within the palace. Once utilized to mount elephants, during King Rama IV's reign the structure played an important role in royal ceremonies.

Kotchakampravet Prasat was dismantled during the mid to late King Rama V period, and what is left of the structure is a space to the front of Buddhaisawan Chapel.

Issaret Rachanuson Residence (2019-05-22/2019-05-22) by Vorapoj SongcharoenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Residence of Second King Pinklao Today
The Issares Rachanuson was the residence of Second King Pinklao, and visibly bears the western influence of which he admired.

Issaret Rachanuson residence (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Vorapoj SongcharoenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Side view of Issares Rachanuson residence.

Bowon Sathan Sutthawat Temple (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by The National ArchivesThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Wat Bowon Sathan Sutthawat (Wat Phra Kaew Wang Na)

In the Thai tradition, every palace has its own temple with which it is associated. Though construction for this ordination hall began in Rama III's reign, it was completed during the Rama IV period and became the temple associated with the Front Palace.

Wat Bowon Sathan Sutthawat or Wat Phra Kaew Wang Na Currently located within Bunditpatanasilpa Institute, and not open for the public or traveler to visit. The temple for some ceremonial rituals only .

Credits: Story

Project Director: Sirikitiya Jensen

Curatorial Team for "In Situ from Outside": Nathalie Boutin, Sirikitiya Jensen, and Mary Pansanga

Participating Artists:
Tanatchai Bandasak, On Kawara, Udomsak Krisanamis, Nipan Oranniwesna, Pratchaya Phinthong, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Danh Vo

Participating Collaborators:
Jarupatcha Achavasmit, Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, Suanplu Chorus, Sayan Daengklom, Chudaree Debhakam, Suwicha Dussadeewanich, Pongsit Pangsrivongse, Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, Kitichate Sridith, Boontuen Sriworapoj, Supitcha Towiwich, Phra Maha Raja Guru Bidhi Sri Visudhigun, Tul Waitoonkuat & Marmosets

Graphic Design Team: Jaithip Jaidee and Pam Virada

Organized by Fine Arts Department; Ministry of Culture, Thailand

Sponsors: Thai Beverage and Bangkok Bank
Media Partner: The Cloud
Supported by Air France and Samsung

Digital Exhibition Team:
Designer: Dr.Vorapoj Songcharoen
Photographer: Wisanu Choonhachinda
Videographer: Decha Palamongkol
Translator: Koranit Rattanamahattana
Digital Museum Support: Songcharoen Media Group

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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