Friday, October 2, 2009

II. Of the Houses of the Siameses, and of their Architecture in Publick Buildings.

If the Siameses are plain in their Habits, they are not less in their Houses, in their Furniture, and in their Food: Rich in a general Poverty, because they know how to content themselves with little. Their Houses are small, but surrounded with pretty large Grounds. Hurdles of cleft Bambou, oftentimes not close compacted, do make the Floors, Walls and Roofs thereof. The Piles, on which they are erected to avoid the Inundation, are Bambou’s as thick as one’s Leg, and about 13 Foot above the Ground, by reason that the Waters do sometimes rife as much as that. There never is more than four or six, on which they do lay other Bambou’s across instead of Beams. The Stairs are a Ladder of Bambou, which hangs on the outside like the Ladder of a Windmill. And by reason that their Stables are also in the Air, they have Climbers made of Hurdles, by which the Cattle enter therein.

If every House stands single, ‘tis rather for the privacy of the Family, which would be discover’d through such thin Walls, than for fear of Fire: For besides that, they make their little Fire in the Courts and not in the Houses, it is impossible for them in any case to consume any great matter. Three hundred Houses which were burnt at Siam in our time, were rebuilt in two days. On a time when a Boom was shot to please the King of Siam, who beheld it at a distance, and from one of the Windows of his Palace, it was necessary for this purpose to remove three Houses, and the Proprietors had taken and carry’d them away with their Furniture in less than an hour. Their Hearth or Chimney is a Basket full of Earth, and supported with three Sticks like a Tripode. And thus they place the Fires wherewith they enclose great spaces in the Forests for the hunting of the Elephants.

‘Tis the Houses of this Nature, or rather in these sorts of Tents, but bigger, that they lodged us along the River. They had built them purely for us, by reason that there are not any wherein they could lodge us. There are no Inns at Siam, nor in any State of Asia. But in Turkey, Persia, and Mogul there are Caravansera’s for Travellers, that is to say public Buildings without Furniture, in which the Caravans may shelter themselves, and where everyone eats and lies according to the Provisions and Conveniences which he carries thither. In the Road from Siam to Louvo, I saw a Hall for this use. ‘Tis a space about the bigness of an ordinary Hall, enclosed with a Wall about, as high as one may easily lean over, and covered with a Roof, which is laid upon wooden Pillars set at equal distances in the wall. The King of Siam does sometimes dine there in his Travels, but as for particular persons, their Boats serve them for their Inn.

Hospitality is a Vertue unknown in Asia, which in my opinion proceeds from the care that everyone takes to conceal his Wives. The Siameses practise it only as to the Beasts, which they freely succor in their Distresses: But the Talapoins having no Wives, they are more hospitable than the People. At Siam was a French man who resolv’d to keep an Inn there: and some Europeans only did sometimes go thither. And although amongst the Siameses, as well as amongst the Chineses, it be an established practice to entertain one another, yet it is rarely in this Country, and with much Ceremony: and especially no open Table is there kept; so that it would be difficult to lay out much in keeping a Table, if one would.

There being no House proper for us on the banks of the River, they built some after their Country fashion. Hurdles laid on Piles, and covered with Mats of Bulrush, did not only make the Floors, but the Area of the Courts. The Hall and Chambers were hung with painted Cloaths, with Cielings of white Muslin, the extremities of which hung sloping. Floors were cover’d with Rushmats, finer and more shining than those of the Courts; and in the Chambers were the King’s Ambassadors lay, Tapestry-carpets were laid over the Mats. Neatness appeared every where, but no Magnificence. At Bancok, Siam, and Louvo, where the Europeans, Chineses, and Moors have built Houses of Brick, they lodged in Houses of this sort, and not in Houses purposely built for us.

Yet we saw two Brick Houses which the King of Siam had built, one for the Ambassadors of France, and the other for those of Portugal, but they are not finished; by reason perhaps of the little probability there was, that they would be frequently inhabited. Moreover it is certain that this Prince begins several Brick buildings, and finishes few. The reason of which I know not.

The great Officers of this Court have Timber Houses, which are said to be great Armories; but therein do lodge only the Master of the House, his Principal Wife, and their Children. Every one of the other Wives with her Children, every Slave with his Family, have all their little Apartments separate and alone, but yet inclosed within the same Inclosure of Bambou with the Master’s House; altho they be so many different Families.

One single story sufficeth them; and I am perswaded that this manner of building is more commodious to them than ours; seeing that they are not straitened for room (for there remains some in the City, that they take it where please) and seeing that they build with those light materials, which every one takes at pleasure in the Woods, or which he buys at a low rate of him that has been there to take them. Nevertheless it is reported that the reason why their Houses have but one story, is that no Person may be higher in his own House than the King of Siam, when he passes thro the street mounted on his Elephant; and that further to assure themselves that they are all lower than this Prince when he goes either by Water or Land, they must shut all their Windows, and come into the Street, or into their Balons to prostrate themselves. Thus they did on the day of the Entrance of the King’s Ambassadors, less out of curiosity for the Show, than out of respect to his Majesties Letter. But it should seem that this custom of coming down out of their Houses, is a sufficient respect to their Prince. For it is not true, that the Houses erected, as they are on Piles, are lower than the King on his Elephant; and it is less true, that they are not higher than the King in his Balon. But what they doubtless observe is that their Houses are less exalted than the Palaces of this Prince. Moreover his Palaces consisting only of one story do sufficiently evince, that this is the Phantasie of the Country in their Buildings; the true reason of which I will give you in the sequel.

The Europeans, Chineses, and Moors, do there build with Brick, every one according to his Genius; for that they alone will be at the expence, as I conceive, or that they alone have the Liberty thereof, as it is reported. At the side of their Houses, to give off the Sun and not hinder the Air, some do add Penthouses, which are sometimes supported by Pillars. Others do make the bodies of the House double, which do reciprocally receive the light one from the other, to the end that the Air may pass from one to the other. The Chambers are large and full of Windows, to be the more fresh and airy. And those of the first story have lights over the lower Hall, which ought to be so called by reason of its heighth, and which sometimes is almost all enclosed with Buildings, through which it receives the light. And ‘tis this they call Divan, and Arabian word which properly signifies a Council-Chamber, cr Judgement-Hall.

There are other sorts of Divans, which being built on three sides do want a fourth Wall, on that side which the Sun shines least on, in the whole Course of the year, for between the Tropicks it illuminates every where according to the several Seasons. On the side which is open they do put a Pent-house, as high as the Roof: and the inside of the Divan is frequently adorn’d from the top to the bottom with little Niches contrived either in the Wall, or in the Wainscot, in which they put some China Dishes. We had a Divan of this last sort in our House at Siam; and in the Front under the Pent-house there played a little Fountain.

The Palaces of Siam and Louvo, and several Pagodas or Temples are likewise of Brick, but the Palaces are low, by reason they have no more than one story, as I have intimated; and the Pagodas are not raised high enough in proportion to their bigness. They are much darker than our Churches; perhaps because the Obscurity imprints more respect, and seems naturally to have something religious. Moreover they are the shape of our Chappels, but without Vaults, or Cielings; only the Timber-work which supports the Tiles, is varnished with red interspersed with some streaks of Gold.

The King of China’s Palace is still of Wood; and this perswades me that Brick Buildings are very modern at Siam, and that the Europeans have there introduced the practice and use thereof. And because that the first Europeans, which have built in this Country, were Factors, and have called their Houses, Factories; the Siameses, from the word which in their language signifies Factory, do likewise name their ancientest Brick-Pagod, as if they should say Pagode-Factory, or Pagode of the Factory.

In a word, they know no exterior Ornament for Palaces, nor for Temples, save in the Roofs, which they cover with that ordinary Tin which they call Calin, or with Tiles varnished with yellow, as it is in the King of China’s Palace. But tho there appears not any Gold in the Palace of Siam on the outside, and there is but little gilding on the inside, yet they fail not to call it Prassat-Tong, or the Golden Palace, because they give pompous names to every thing which they honour. As for what concerns the five Orders of Architecture, composed of Columns, Architraves, Frizes, and other Ornaments of Architecture, that amongst them consists the real Dignity of the Royal Houses and the Temples.

Their Stairs are so mean, that a pair of Stairs of ten or twelve steps, by which we went up into the Hall of Audience at Siam, exceeded not two foot in breadth. They were Brick joining to the Wall on the right side, and without any Rail on the left. But the Siamese Lords minded it not; they went up crawling on their Hands and Knees; and so softly, that they might have said that they would surprise the King their Master. The Gate of the Hall being square, but low and strait, was agreeable to the Stairs, and placed on the left Hand at the Extremity or Corner of the Wall of the Hall. I know not whether they understand subtilty, and whether they do not believe that a very little Door is too big, seeing it is thought that they ought to prostrate themselves to enter therein. ‘Tis true that the entrance into the Hall of Louvo is better, according to our Fancy; but besides that, the Palace of Louvo is more modern, the Prince does not there lay aside his State, which resides principally in the Metropolis, as I shall relate in the sequel.

That which amongst them makes the real dignity of the Houses, is that altho there is no more than one story, yet they are not all level. As for example, in the Palace, the King and Lady’s Apartment is higher than the rest, and the nearer an Apartment is to it, the higher it is in respect to another, which is further distant: So that there is always some steps to ascend from one to the other: For the all joyn to one another, and the whole is from end to end on a line; and it is that which causes the inequality in the Roofs. The Roofs are all highridged, but the one is lower than the other; as it covers a part lower than another. And a lower Roof seems to come out from a higher Roof, and the highest to bear on the lowest, like a Saddle, the fore-bow of which bears on the hind part of another.

In the King of China’s Palace it is the same: And this inequality of the Roofs, which seems to proceed one from under another, after the manner that I have explain’d it, denotes grandeur, in that it supposes an inequality of parts, which is not found in these Countries, at least in considerable number, but at the King’s Houses; to the end that the further one is permitted to go into this set of Buildings, the more indeed he ascends, and the greater distinction he perceives. The great Officers will have three parts, one higher than another, which are divided by three Roofs of different elevation: But at the Palace of the City of Siam I have seen seven Roofs proceeding one from under another before the Building: I know not whether there were not others behind. Some square Towers, which are in the Palace, do seem also to have several Roofs, one three, another five, another seven, as if they were square Goblets laid one upon another; and in one of the Towers is a very great Drum headed with an Elephants Skin, to beat the Tocsin or Alarum in case of need.

As to the Pagodes, in those that I have seen, I observed only one single Penthouse before, and another behind. The highest Roof is that under which the Idol stands, the other two which are lower, are thought to be only for the People; although the People forbear not to enter every where on the days when the Temple is open.

But the Principal Ornament of the Pagodes, is to be accompanied, as generally they are, with several Pyramids of Lime and Brick, the Ornaments of which are very grossly performed. The highest are as high as our ordinary Steeples, and the lowest not exceeding two Fathom. They are all round, and do little diminish in bigness as they rise; so that they terminate like a Dome: It is true that when they are very low, there proceeds from this Dome-like extremity a Tin Spire very small and sharp pointed, and high enough in relation to the rest of the Pyramid. Some there are which diminish and grow thick again four or five times in their heighth, so that the Profile of them goes waving: But these Bellying out are smaller as they are in a higher part of the Pyramid. They are adorn’d in three or four places of their Contour, with several Furrows or Flutings at Right Angles, as well as in that they have some hollow, as in that they have some raised, which diminishing gradually in proportion to the Diminution of the Pyramid, do run terminating in a point at the beginning of the next bellying out, from when do again arise new Flutings.

I cannot tell what the King of Siam’s Apartments are; I have only seen the first piece thereof, which is the Hall of Audience at Siam and Louvo. ‘Tis said that no person enters further, not the King’s Domesticks themselves, excepting his Wives and Eunuch; in which, if it is true, this Prince maintains a greater heighth than the King of China. I likewise saw the Council chamber in the Palace of Louvo; but it was also a first Room of another Pile of Buildings, I mean that it was not preceeded by any Anti Chamber. At the Front and two sides of this Hall lyes a Terrass, which commands as well over the Garden which environs it, as it is commanded by the Hall; and it is on this Terrass, and under a Canopy, purposely erected on the North-side, that the King’s Ambassadors were at a private Audience, which the King of Siam gave them; and this Prince was in a Chair of State at one of the Hall Windows. In the middle of the Garden and in the Courts there are some single open Rooms, which are called Halls; I mean those square places, that I have already described, which inclosed with a Wall, no higher than one may lean over, and cover’d with a Roof, which bears only upon Pillars placed at equal distances in the Wall. The Halls are for the chief Mandarins, who do there sit cross-legg’d, either for the Functions of their Offices, or to make their Court, or to expect the Prince’s orders, viz. in the Morning very late, and in the Evening until the approach of the Night, and they stir not thence without Order. The less considerable Mandarins sit in the open Air, in the Courts or Gardens; and when they know by certain signals that the King of Siam sees them, altho he be invisible, they do all prostrate themselves on their Hands and Knees.

When we din’d in the Palace of Siam, ‘twas in a very pleasant place under great Trees, and at the side of a store-pond, wherein it was said that amongst several sorts of Fish there are some which resemble a Man and a Woman; but I saw none of any sort. In the Palace of Louvo we dined in the Garden, in a single Hall, the Walls of which supported the Roof. They are plaistered with a Ciment extremely white, smooth, and shining, upon occasion of which it was told us there was much better at Suratt. The Hall has a Door at each end, and is encompast with a Ditch between two or three Fathoms in breadth, and perhaps one in depth, in which there are twenty little Jet-deaus, at equal distances. They play like a watering pot, pierced with several little holes, and they spurt no higher than the edge of the Ditch, or thereabouts, because that instead of raising the Water, they have dug away the Earth to make the Basons low.

The Garden is not very spacious: the Compartments and Borders thereof are very little and formed of Bricks laid edgeways. The Paths between the Borders cannot contain two abrest, nor the Walks more: But the whole being planted with Flowers, and several sorts of Palmites and other Trees, the Garden, Hall, and Fountains, had I know not what Air of Simplicity and Coolness, which caused Delight. ‘Tis a remarkable thing that these Princes should never be inclined to use Magnificence in their Gardens; altho from all Antiquity the Orientals have admired them.

The King of Siam exercising the Chace sometimes for several days, there are in the Woods some Palaces of Bambou, or if you please, some fixed Tents, which only need furnishing to receive him. They are red on the outside, like those of the great Mogul, when he goes into the Country, and like the Walls which serve as an Inclosure for the King of China’s Palace. I have given the Model thereof, not only that the Simplicity of it may be seen, but principally because some assur’d me that the King of Siam’s Apartments, in his Palaces of Siam and Louvo is according to the same Model. ‘Tis only a little Dormitory, where the King and his Wives have each a little Cell: Nevertheless the truth of what few persons do see, is always hard to know. However some also assur’d me concerning this Prince, what I have heard reported of Cromwel, which is that for fear of being surprised by any Conspiracy, this Prince hath several Apartments where he locks himself at night, it being impossible to divine exactly in which he lyes. Strabo reports of the Indian Kings in his time, that this very reason obliged them to change their Bed and Apartment several times in the same Night. And this is almost all that can be spoken concerning the manner of Building amongst the Siameses. Their Furniture is as follows.

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