Prapokklao Rd. Almost in the centre of Chiang Mai is the remains of a massive chedi that toppled in in the great earthquake of 1545. The temple was originally constructed in 1401 on the orders of King Saeng Muang Ma. In 1454, reigning King Tilo-Garaj enlarged the chedi (pronounced jedee) to a height of 86 metres. After the earthquake, the chedi lay in ruins until 1991-92, during which time it was reconstructed at a cost of several million baht. A magnificent testament to Lanna (northern Thai) architecture and art, restored sections hint at its former glory. Wat Chedi Luang is also home to the “Pillar of the City”, a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites.
The construction of the temple started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there. After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, later to be continued after the death of the king by his widow. Probably due to stability problems it took until mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of king Tilokaraj. It was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna. In 1468, the Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche. In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake, and shortly thereafter, in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang.
In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. However the result is somewhat controversial, as some claim the new elements are in Central Thai style, not Lanna style. For the 600th anniversary of the chedi in 1995, a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was placed in the reconstructed eastern niche. The icon is named official Phra Phut Chaloem Sirirat, but is commonly known as Phra Yok.
The ruined brick chedi of Wat Chedi Luang now rises to about 60m in height. Its base is 44m (144 ft.) wide. It has four sides, each with a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.
Despite its ruined state, the chedi still has several Buddha shrines and remains an active place of worship frequented by saffron-robed monks.
The large viharn (assembly hall) next to the ruined chedi was built in 1928. Its impressive interior, with round columns supporting a high red ceiling, contains a standing Buddha known as the Phra Chao Attarot. Made of brass alloy and mortar, the Buddha dates from the time of the temple’s founder, King Saen Muang Ma (late 14th century).
Next to the entrance is a great Dipterocarp tree, one of three revered as protectors of the city. Legend has it that if this tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow.
Also protecting Chiang Mai is the city pillar or “Spirit of the City” (Lak Mueang), which is enshrined in a small cross-shaped building next to the tree. The pillar was moved here from its original position at Wat Sadoe Muang in 1800.
Sharing the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang is another temple, Wat Phan Tao. Its wooden viharn has beautiful carvings around the door and rooflines and contains a large reclining Buddha.