Five exceptional examples of Islamic architecture in Bangkok
Bangkok is well known for its temples, but it is also a city rich in Muslim heritage. In fact, according to some data Thailand’s capital city has some 170 mosques on record. Many of them are historical monuments definitely worth a visit, but they also are testament to the importance of the Muslim community in the shaping of the Thai capital.
Did you know some of these mosques look like Italian Palladian mansions, while others resemble a typical Thai temple? Take a look and you’ll be surprised at the diversity of this city’s mosques and their sometimes surprising architecture.
Bang Ao Mosque
Located in Thonburi between the Krung Thon and Rama VII bridges—at the end of Charan Sanitwong Soi 88—the Bang Ao Mosque was built to host a community of Persian traders who fled after the destruction of Ayutthaya. The mosque was completed in 1919, during the reign of King Rama VI, in a neo-classical Italian style, which was still very much en vogue at that time. It is dominated by two towers crowned by a dome. However, the façade, with its neo-classical windows, bears a distinctive European flavour and can be considered as one of the most elegant mosques in Bangkok.
The Bang Ao community was known as Khaek Pae and thanks to trade prosperity, the area around the mosque turned into an Islamic learning centre with a school, a pavilion, a cemetery, and a multi-purpose hall. There is a plan to expand the compound around the mosque with a community centre being currently constructed in a neo-Persian style.
Located on Krung Maen Road, a small soi running off Krung Kasem Road, the Mahanak Mosque minaret is visible from the nearby Charoenrat Bridge which spans over the Saen Saep Canal. The first mosque was built around 1807 to serve a community of builders coming from Pattani. The mosque was rebuilt in 1851 and finally renovated for a third time in 1929, following a fire in a nearby Chinese shophouse. Fortunately, the fire only caused light damage to the structure, which then was renovated soon after.
The Rama VI former style was kept, which is a blend of Arabic and Italian architectural details. The mosque can be visited by the public and integrates, in the main prayer room, the old gate to the former mosque with its vaulted arches.
Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque
Hidden by warehouses along Songwat Road (at #979 to be exact), in the Yaowarat/Sampheng district, the Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque was constructed around 1895, and exhibits in its architecture what was the trend of the time—looking like an Italian building. The mosque, the only one in the Sampheng area, reminds one of a charming Palladian style villa from Northern Italy. It was originally built by a Siamese government official with Malay roots, and it became the main mosque for the numerous Malay and Indian Muslim traders working in the warehouses and the trade companies along the Chao Phraya River. In the back of the mosque there is a small Muslim cemetery looking like a wild, almost abandoned garden where you’ll find simple headstones shaded by numerous trees. With its greenery and numerous singing birds, visitors might find it hard to believe they’re in one of Bangkok’s busiest city districts.
Located at 25 Charoen Krung Road, next to the French Embassy in the old European district, sits the Haroon Mosque. It is considered to be one of the oldest mosques on the Bangkok side of the Chao Phraya River. It was largely reconstructed and modernized in the early 70s, but the old European classical style walls are still partially visible behind all the modern additions of the past 30+ years. The name of the mosque comes from Haroon Bafadel, an Arab-Indonesian trader who settled in the area at the end of the 19th century. His son constructed the mosque and decided to give it the name of his father.
In the cemetery, which the building overlooks, there are tombs of Thai-Muslim soldiers who died during the Korean and Vietnam wars. There are also a few beautiful 100-year-old mansions surrounding the mosque. Built in traditional style, they belong to rich Muslim traders.
Bang Luang Mosque
Located in a small soi in Thonburi—Arun Amarin Road, south of Bangkok’s Klong Yai—past the main road going to the Royal Marine Headquarters and Wat Arun, Bang Luang Mosque is one of the oldest in Bangkok, and probably the most interesting from an architectural point of view. The mosque was set up after Muslim communities fled from Ayutthaya following the destruction by Burmese troops in 1767. The mosque was built by a merchant named To Yi around 1830, and is the only one in Thailand to bear a traditional Thai style (similar in shape to traditional Thai Buddhist temples). However, in contrast to Thai temples, it does not bear any human figures. The simple façade is instead adorned by 30 pillars, which symbolize the 30 chapters of the Koran holy book.
The mosque’s roof is decorated with Thai-style gables covered with stucco, showing Chinese influenced patterns of flowers. These flower motifs were very much favoured during the reigns of Kings Rama II and Rama III. Meanwhile, inside the mosque remains simple with its minbar (where the Imam delivers his sermon) being the main focal point for the viewer, with its Thai-shaped canopy, all painted in gold.
Words and photos by Luc Citrinot