Pha That Luang ~ Vientiane, LaosSlide 1 of 200 | Next >>
[Photograph: Pha That Luang]
Pha That Luang
Vientiane, Laos

Like Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Pha That Luang is the most important national monument in Laos. A symbol of both Buddhism and Lao sovereignty, the monument graces the country's national seal and serves as one of the most widely recognized symbols of Laos. Construction of the stupa, along with Buddhist temples on all four sides, began in 1566. The structure has since been rebuilt several times, most recently in the early 20th century. Before it was "rediscovered" by French explorers, the structure had been badly damaged and left to the ravages of nature. French explorer Louis Delaporte, greatly impressed when he stumbled across it, made detailed sketches of the grand stupa. Lucky thing, as the 1900 French reconstruction was so badly botched that a French university team used Delaporte's sketches to get things right in a subsequent reconstruction completed in 1935. Of the four wats that originally surrounding the temple, only two remain today.

Like many Buddhist monuments, the main stupa at Pha That Luang resembles an elongated lotus bud (albeit one with four sides), symbolizing the path of human advancement from ignorance to enlightenment. From its base, the stupa measures 45 meters in height. It rests upon a three-tiered structure designed to be mounted by Buddhist pilgrims. For an idea of the structure's scale, note the arched prayer gate (through which people pass) near the bottom left corner of this photograph.

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