Wat Arun: History, Construction & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Thailand is home to thousands of temples, but in this lesson we'll check out one of the most famous. We are going to explore the history of Wat Arun and discuss what the structure represents.

The Temple of Dawn

Did you know that there are over 31,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand? A lot of time, effort, and resources went into creating these architectural wonders. The Buddhist temple in Thailand is known as a wat, and it can have some pretty interesting features.

One of Thailand's most famous Buddhist temples is Wat Arun in Bangkok, a wat named for the Hindu god of the dawn, Arun. As a result, this structure is also known as the Temple of Dawn, which is just a really cool name for a Buddhist structure. Ironically, the Temple of Dawn is actually best known for its appearance at sunset when its silhouette is illuminated against the river. Regardless of the time of day, Wat Arun is one of Thailand's most important religious sites, guarding the spiritual lives of Thai Buddhists from dawn to dusk.

Wat Arun in Bangkok


Wat Arun is one of the older standing Buddhist temples in Thailand today. It's story dates back to the end of the Siamese Ayutthaya Kingdom (who ruled from the 14th through 18th centuries). At this time, the site that now hold Wat Arun was home to a smaller temple called Wat Makok (within the village of Bang Makok).

By the 1760s, the Ayutthaya Kingdom was essentially in ruins, falling to invading Burmese and Chinese armies. One local general, named Taksin, managed to reunify the Siamese people and pushed the Burmese back. According to legend, Taksin viewed the ravished temple at dawn from the Chao Phraya River and swore to rebuild it once his war was over.

That's exactly what he did. Taksin defeated the opposing warlords and founded the short-lived Thonburi Kingdom (1768-1782), named for his capital city near the Wat Makok temple. Taksin rebuilt Wat Makok and renamed it Wat Jaeng, Temple of Dawn. As part of his royal complex, the temple was highly revered, and for a time even held one of Thailand's greatest Buddhist relics, the Emerald Buddha. Unfortunately, Taksin developed a sour relationship with the Buddhist monks and kicked them out of his city so that he could worship privately in his temple.

The Emerald Buddha sat inside Wat Arun during the reign of Taksin

The Thonburi Kingdom began and ended with Taksin. Taksin was overthrown in a rebellion, and the rebel leader was defeated by another one of Taksin's former generals named Thongduang. Thongduang took the royal name of Rama I and established the Chakri Dynastry, which rules Thailand to this day. Rama moved his palace to the opposite side of the river (the heart of modern Bangkok), and Taksin's temple was abandoned.

Wat Arun would not be empty forever. Rama's successor, Rama II (r.1809-1824) decided to restore the abandoned temple. He embarked on an ambitious building project that raised the central spire higher and redesigned the aesthetic of the temple. He also renamed it Wat Arun, keeping the theme of dawn but connecting it with India, homeland of Buddhism. Construction began under Rama II, and was completed by Rama III around 1847. This is the temple we see today, towering over the Bangkok skyline as one of the most iconic structures in Thailand.

Wat Arun in the 1860s

Description and Symbolism

Keeping with Thai architectural styles of the time, Wat Arun is complex and ornate. It is most identifiable by the massive spire in the center, called the prang, inspired by Khmer architectural traditions from Cambodia. The central prang is somewhere between 70 and 80 meters tall, making it the tallest spire in all of Thailand. Four smaller prangs surround it, and each of the four corners of the temple contain images of guardian gods of the four cardinal directions.

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