The importance of this fortress can be summed up in one sentence: among the fourteen forts built along the Chao Phraya River during Bangkok’s foundation, this is the only one left.
Built in the late 18th century, these forts and the surrounding walls protected the just-founded city against the looming Burmese threat during the reign of King Rama I. Previously, the Burmese sacked and burned the former capital, Ayutthaya; adequate protection was therefore crucial.
After the Burmese were beaten back, peaceful times followed. With the exception of a brief incursion by French gunboats up the Chao Phraya, potential outside enemy advances were warded off by clever diplomacy rather than by military force.
The forts fell out of use and perished one by one. Phra Sumeru only remained because it was chosen to be turned into a tourist attraction. It was renovated in 1982, on the bicentennial anniversary of Bangkok’s foundation. The renovation is said to be based on the latest photograph of the fort, taken in the reign of King Rama V, so most architectural features are reliably authentic.
However, later additions for bureaucratic purposes somewhat distort the site. We refer to the Santichai Prakarn Park in particular – a place built to honour the King’s 72nd (6th cycle) birthday. Thanks to the new addition, the place is now a popular hangout for college romantics, picknickers, jamming street musicians, beggars, con artist, jugglers and other human floatsam.
Nevertheless, the Phra Sumeru Fort is still worth a visit. Besides its historical value, the octagonal-shaped three-level structure with its snow-white walls is one of Bangkok’s recognized landmarks.