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History of Vientiane

In Lao language the name Vientiane means "City of Sandalwood", which is derived from Pali, the language used by Theravada Buddhism.

The Khounboulom history book describes a hermit using sandalwood to mark the founding of present day Vientiane city in the area of Pakpasak district. However, the Boulichanh history book claims three hermits founded the city at Don Chan Island.

Vientiane was originally called Nongkhanthae. It is recorded that That Luang Stupa was built in 218 after five monks brought one of Lord Buddha's bones to Vientiane. Village Chief Boulichanh constructed the stupa to contain the relics.

Boulichanh later went on to become chief of Chanthabouly town and the first governor of Vientiane. His official name was Phraya Chanthabouly Pasitthisack.

Chinese history books record that a Chinese trader visited a "Van Tan" city in 705-706, which was located in the central basin of the Mekong. It is believed this was Vientiane city.

During the time of the Lan Xang Kingdom in Laos, the word Xieng or Vieng was used as a prefix to all villages, town and cities. Thus we have such places as Viengchan (Vientiane), Viengkham, Viengkae, Xiengmai, Xiengdong and Xieng Khuang.

Vientiane was established as the capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom during the reign of King Sayasetthathirath, who moved the capital from Luang Prabang in 1560. The city's full name was Phra Nakhorn Chanthabouly Sisattanak Khanahood Outtama Rajathany.

The Phrakeo (emerald Buddha) and Phra Xekkham (golden Buddha) images were relocated from Xieng Mai city to Vientiane in 1566. King Sayasetthathiraj oversaw the renovation of That Luang Stupa and the construction of Phra That Phanom shrine, in present day Thailand, and the Phra That Sikhottabong Stupa in Thakhek.

Important Buddha images were also constructed around this time, such as Phra Ongteu, Phra Souk, Phra Seum and Phra Say. Phra Seum is now in Vat Pathoumvanaram, Thailand, Phra Say in Vat Phoxay, Thailand, and Phra Souk was lost in the Mekong River in the area of Ban Veunsouk.

In Pali language the word "tiane" means "moon", thus Vientiane is the city of the moon, which is why the Lao national flag features a moon in its centre.

Various festivals are held in Vientiane at important times of the lunar cycle, including Boun Xuangheua, the dragon boat racing festival which occurs on the full moon night of the eleventh lunar month, usually around mid-October.

Vientiane was under the rule of foreign administrations for 117 years between 1828 and 1945, but triumphed over this history to develop as a unique city.


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