Located not far from the American Embassy, That Dam, also known as the Black Stupa, is an inverted bell shaped structure that contains relics of Buddha from Laos’ past. Located in the city of Vientiane, Laos, many inhabitants of the city believe that the stupa is inhabited by a seven headed snake like creature known as the Naga.
Since its construction in the 16th century many had believed that Naga would protect the temple site from those who sought to not only harm the temple but the Empire as well. They believed that this mythical creature would act as a sort of Savior over the city. This belief came to an end in 1827 when the Siamese Army destroyed the town after a rebellion led by the king.
During the Siamese-Laotian War, much of the gold was pillaged from the city as well as from That Dam. A good portion of the city was destroyed as well.
Following the damage from the war the temple has never been restored. Unlike many of the other temple sites that have been rebuilt and restored, often many times over, That Dam has not been blessed in similar fashion. In fact, it has been left in its crumbling and decaying state as a memorial to the terrible incident that occurred in 1827.
Now when you visit the site you will notice that it stands neglected and uncared for. There are no embellishments or adornments that surround the stupa. You will find no courtyard or walls that enclose around this historical landmark. It is literally in the middle of a neighborhood, and stances just a landmark of the countries challenged past.
Even more sad is the fact that no worshipers come here to pray. There were no Buddhist monks who care for the facility or reside near it. It is just a decaying structure sadly reminding the people of what the Siamese Army once did to their beautiful city.
Despite this, That Dam stands as a sort of guardian spirit over the city. For many, the legend has moved from the mythical snake creature protecting Vientiane to one where the spirits of the past have united within this structure to guard the people from future invasions. It has now become an important historical piece, that shows that Laos embraces the challenges that they have faced in the past.
Much as one would still enjoy seeing the crumbling remains of the Coliseum in Rome, That Dam stands as a similar kind of monument by not being renovated. For many who live in the city, they are pleased to see that the site has remained as it had been left nearly 200 years ago.
If you are visiting the city of Vientiane, you will find that this is one structure you do not want to miss. It is truly a remarkable look at the ancient past of Laos, and stands as a different kind of landmark because restoration rebuilding has not occurred. This makes it stand out from virtually all the other temples of the city.