By Eric Lim
The Portuguese Embassy Bangkok is the oldest diplomatic mission in Thailand and represents 500 years of friendship and 200 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Though it's not a museum, there is so much history associated with this building that I've included this subject as a special feature article under the heading of Bangkok Museums.
The photographs used in this article were taken from a photographic exhibition organised by the Portuguese Embassy Bangkok to show 40 rare photographs of views inside and outside the embassy building and its grounds. Some of these photographs were taken in the early 20th C.
This exhibition was held in ICONSIAM, a mall in Bangkok from 2 - 20 December 2020 to commemorate 200 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The photographs from this exhibition were taken by Joachim Antonio, a Portuguese photographer in the early 20th C and several Thai photographers as well. I have included the names of the photographers with the photos they took when this information is available.
If not for this exhibition, many of us would not have a chance to see such close-up views of this historic building and within it.
The photographs in the section "The Portuguese in Asia" are taken from the Baan Kudichin Museum.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Asia. In the 15th and 16th C intrepid Portuguese mariners sailed their ships to India, Brazil, South-east Asia, China and Japan. This was the Age of Discovery.
The first to blaze the way was Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator, mariner and explorer. Da Gama set sail from Portugal in 1497, sailed southwards on the Atlantic, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, crossed the Indian Ocean and arrived in India in 1498.
This journey established the route from Europe to India and later the rest of Asia. It was to be the route taken by other imperialist powers to lay their claims to large parts of Asia.
Afonso de Albuquerque, a soldier followed in da Gama's wake. De Albuquerque's strategy was to gain control of the maritime trade route to the East by building a string of coastal fortresses along the route.
De Albuquerque captured Goa in India in 1510 and Malacca in the Malay Peninsula in 1511 to secure the supply of spices from the Spice Islands*.
*Known as Moluccas or East Indies back then and called Maluku Islands in Indonesia today.
After the capture of Malacca in 1511, the Portuguese sent an envoy Duarte Fernandes with gifts to the King of Ayutthaya to assure the king that the Portuguese were interested in trade and had no military intentions on Ayutthaya.
After an exchange of gifts and two more envoys from Portugal, a treaty was signed in 1516. Under the terms of this treaty, the Portuguese could set up a trading post in Ayutthaya. The treaty included the provision of muskets, cannon, gunpowder and mercenaries in service of the King of Ayutthaya.
On 9 November 1820, King Rama II granted land to the Portuguese for a trading post just 300m south of the Holy Rosary Church. Also established on this plot of land was the Consulate of Portugal in a wooden building with Carlos Manoel da Silveira as Consul-General.
In 1860 work commenced a concrete building as the Ambassador's Residence. This building was completed 1875. The building was renovated in the early 20th C.
Here's a review of some rare photographs of the Portuguese Embassy Bangkok, covering the grounds, outside and inside the Ambassador's Residence. This gives us a chance to appreciate the architecture of the building. These are views many of us will rarely have the chance to actually see.
We start with a wonderful shot with a bird's eye view of a beautifully lit Ambassador's Residence taken from a high point directly across the river. This can only be the ICONSIAM, the latest mega mall in Bangkok that's directly across the Chao Phraya from the Portuguese Embassy.
The façade of the Ambassador's Residence displays the coat of arms of Portugal with a crown above. This was actually the old coat of arms when Portugal was a monarchy until 1910.
On 5 October 1910, an uprising by military officers overthrew the monarchy ad declared a republic. The current coat of arms of Portugal has no crown above. The Portuguese Embassy Bangkok has retained the crown in the coat of arms for the Ambassador's Residence in Bangkok.
We have just completed a virtual tour of the Ambassador's Residence. Let's take a look at some of other beautiful shots taken by these talented photographers.
Right from the beginning, the Portuguese Embassy Bangkok was located in Soi Charoen Krung 30. This soi or lane is also known as Soi Captain Bush. Who was Captain Bush?
Captain John Bush (1819 - 1905), later Admiral Sir John Bush, was an English sea captain who arrived in Bangkok in 1857 in the reign of King Rama IV. This was two years after the signing of the Bowring Treaty which opened up Thailand to international trade.
Captain Bush was appointed by King Rama IV as Harbour Master to restore order to the busy shipping that was sailing into Bangkok port, a post he held this post for 30 years
In 1865 he established the Bangkok Dock Company Limited, an engineering and shipping company.
Captain Bush's home was in House no. 1 Soi Charoen Krung 30 just opposite where the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel is currently located. This was a soi where several expatriates in Bangkok made their homes.
House no 1 has been restored and designated a historical building. Soi Charoen Krung 30 became popularly known as Soi Captain Bush.
I first saw on the Ambassador's Residence, Portuguese Embassy Bangkok back in 2007. It was a chance encounter as I was passing by on a Chao Phraya River boat.
When the grand old building caught my eye, I didn't know what it was until I saw the Portuguese flag flying in the grounds. Back then, I never imagined that one day, thirteen years later I would have the chance to view photographs of the Residence both of the exterior and interior at such close range.
Embassy of Portugal
26 Soi Charoen Krung 30 (Soi Captain Bush)
How to get there
Here are two quick ways of getting to the Portuguese Embassy Bangkok.
You could take the Green Line (BTS Sky Train Silom Line) and alight at the S6 Saphan Taksin Station. From there take a walk along Charoen Krung Road to Soi Charoen Krung 30. With the heavy traffic there, it's faster walking. The distance is about 1.3 km.
Alternatively, take a Chao Phraya River boat to the N3 Si Phraya Pier which is just north of the embassy. Walk straight out from the pier to Soi Charoen Krung 30 and turn right to get to the embassy.
66 (0) 2234 2123
66 (0) 2234 0372
How to get there
Mondays – Fridays 0830 – 1230 hours, 1330 – 1630 hours
Consular public counter: Mondays – Fridays 0830 – 1230 hours
For more Bangkok Museums.
Related pages on the Portuguese in Thailand
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