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Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site

  • Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site as designated by UNESCO in 1995 '' as an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.'' Approximately 30 of the original 60 Wats of this former royal city of Asia are still intact today.
  • Between 1915 and 1925 Luang Prabang was subjected to a new form of urbanisation with the introduction of Vietnamese and French architecture styles mingled with traditional Lao styles made of wood. Thus developed a rich mix of styles and materials in the architecture. There one can see this progression of styles and materials from traditional Lao wooden architecture to the colonial styles from China, Vietnam and France. This progression of styles and materials is evidenced by the buildings in the historical town lying on either side of the Promenade de la Peninsule.
  • The religious and political center of Luang Prabang is the peninsula on which are the Royal and noble residences and religous centers. This is defined by a defensive wall built from one Mekong river bank to the other river bank. Apart from the temples which are made of stone, the other buildings are made of wood. The colonial buildings are usually one or two storied terraced houses built of brick. The usually have balconies and decoration made of wood. The commercial buildings are usually placed along the river banks of the Mekong for access to barges and water transport. These also are intermingled by private houses, previously of merchants and traders. The formal administrative buildings are located on the crossroads of Rue Garnier.
  • Another major architecture feature in Luang Prabang are the monasteries. Lao monasteries comprise the religious buildings of the Buddhist tradition in South East Asia and the communial buildings for the inhabitants and visitors. The traditional Lao wooden houses are divided into two spaces, that for the private rooms and that for the public terrace. They are more often raised on wooden piles, providing shelter underneath for working and shelter for people and animals. No nails are used in construction nor are any braces used. The walls may be of either wooden planks or bamboo plaited frames.
  • The Luang Prabang temple style is distinctive with sweeping and stacked roofs in up to 7 layers which elegantly extend to the ground. Loatian wats are separated usually by 2 walls between which lie the monks quarters and a bell tower. The inner wall usually has a gallery and niches which house Buddha scultures.



Luang Prabang colonial street scene


UNESCO describes Luang Prabang as follows;
  • '' Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.The town is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries in a clay basin surrounded by limestone hills that dominate the landscape. According to legend, the Buddha smiled when he rested here for a day during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. Another legend attributes the choice of the site to two hermits, attracted by its natural beauty, who gave it the name of Xieng Dong (or perhaps Xieng Thong).
  • It was known under this name at the end of the 13th century AD. A few decades later it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang, whose wealth and influence can be attributed to the location of its capital at a crossroads on the Silk Route, as well as the centre of Buddhism in the region. It remained the capital until 1560, when this title passed to Vientiane. It was at this time that it received a new name, Luang Prabang, the name of the famous Buddha image brought earlier from Cambodia. The towns in Laos conformed with the European urban of defended royal administrative complexes with adjacent temples and monasteries. Around them clustered a number of distinct village communities, supplying their needs but not integrated into a single administrative entity. The villages acted as commercial centres, not the town as such, which did not have the large mercantile communities to be found at the time in Thailand or Cambodia.
  • On the death of King Sourigna Vongsa at the end of the 17th century a serious political crisis ensued. The Lan Xang kingdom was divided first into two independent realms, those of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and then into three, with the creation of the kingdom of Champasak. Luang Prabang retained its role as the royal capital until 1946, when Vientiane took over as administrative centre.