One of the oldest temples you will find anywhere in the world is the one located in the center of Vientiane, Laos – the PhaThaLuang. This temple was actually first built in the third century as a Hindu temple, but later became one of the most recognizable and important temples in the Buddhist faith. With its gold covered large Buddhist stupa and an impressive architectural design, this incredible temple area has managed to stay active despite several reconstructions that have had to occur because of foreign invasions into the city.
The History of Pha That Luang
The first reported history of the temple dates back to the third century when the Lao people built the structure as a Hindu temple. Many years later Buddhist missionaries came to the temple and offered one of their holy relics, the Lord Buddha to the temple itself.
Later, much of the temple site was destroyed, but during the 13th century the Khmer Empire rebuilt the site. Once again, the site lay primarily dormant for many years. In 1566, King Setthathirat relocated the capital of his empire from LuangPrabang to the city of Vientiane. As part of the move he ordered the reconstruction of Pha That Luang. The rebuilt Temple was located about 2 miles outside of the center of the city and was renamed at that time Pha That Luang.
The temple structure was quite impressive, with a base extending nearly 75 yards and with a height of nearly 50 yards. It was surrounded by 30 small stupas which added to the incredible majesty and beauty of the temple site. In 1641, the Dutch East India Company sent an envoy to visit the city. The envoy was so impressed by the beautiful pyramid structure that he wrote back to his government touting what an impressive architectural achievement he had seen.
Sadly, the stupa soon became the object of foreign invaders, who continually looted and plundered the temple for the valuable items they found in it. This included invasions by the Burmese, Siamese, Chinese, and Thai armies. In 1828, after the invasion by Thailand, the site was abandoned after being heavily damaged. It was not until 1900, when the French restored the structure, that it was used as a temple site again further damage occurred to it during both the Franco-Thai War and during World War II. The structure was rebuilt at the end of the Second World War and has been undamaged since.
A Little About the Size and Beauty of Pha That Luang
Within the temple you will see a great many references to the Lao culture and identity. This has become one of the most important symbols of nationalism for the country. Today, the stupa consists of three levels, each portraying a significant part of the Buddhist doctrine. Around the structure there is a gated area to ensure that visitors only enter through specific areas, to protect the site from being damaged or looted. It is definitely something you will want to see if you visit the country of Laos.