Luang Prabang Kingdom, fearing invasions from its Burmese neighbours, resolved to ask protection from Siam in 1752, becoming finally a vassal state in 1778. The city remained the residence of local kings and an important spiritual centre. Following the sack of the city in 1887 by Haw Chinese bandits (also named ‘Black Flags’), the Lao Monarchy asked the French for protection. French were already present in Cochinchina and Annam (Vietnam) at that time.
A French Commissariat was established and in 1893, the French-Siamese treaty transferred Laos to the French administration. While the capital of the newly French Protectorate was confirmed in Vientiane, Luang Prabang retained its role as a royal residence. From 1893, the city urban image changed with new administrative buildings and villas being built, mostly in the historical centre, nestled on a peninsula surrounded by the Mekong River. The city received its current shape under King Sisavang Vong in the first half of the 20th century.
Geography and DemographicsLuang Prabang is located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region. The town is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. Mountains (in particular PhouThao and PhouNang mountains) encircle the city in lush greenery.
The city remains relatively small – less than 25,000 inhabitants in its historical boundaries, 50,000 in its “metropolitan” area. Luang Prabang Province has a total population of 400,000 inhabitants.
UNESCO Description of Luang PrabangLuang Prabang is exceptional for both its rich architectural and artistic heritage that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the colonial era. The political and religious centre of Luang Prabang is the peninsula, with its royal and noble residences and religious foundations. It is the core of UNESCO heritage preservation zone with a surface of 1.4 hectare.
The traditional urban fabric of the old villages, each with its temple, was preserved by later constructions. The colonial urban morphology, including the network of streets, overlapped harmoniously with the previous model. Formerly the town limits were defined by defensive walls.
The richness of Luang Prabang architecture reflects the mix of styles and materials. The majority of the buildings are, following tradition, wooden structures. Only the temples are in stone, whereas one- or two-storey brick houses characterize the colonial element of the town. The many pagodas or "Wat" are among the most sophisticated Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia and are richly decorated (sculptures, engravings, paintings, gilding and furniture pieces). Wat Xieng Thong, which dates from the 16th century, comprises an ensemble of the most complex structures of all the pagodas of the town.
Many traditional Lao houses remain; they are built of wood using traditional techniques and materials introduced in the colonial period, such as plaited bamboo panels coated with wattle and daub. Brick colonial buildings, often with balconies and other decorative features in wood, line the main street and the Mekong.
As a result of heritage regulation, no monuments can be destroyed, moved or modified externally or internally. Restoration must adhere to original architectural specifications such as facades, roofs, materials or colours. Advices and assistance for the renovation of existing historical structures can be found at the Maison du Patrimoine- Luang Prabang Heritage House, formerly the Customs House during the French Protectorate.
No photography is permitted inside the museum.