Lopburi is one of Thailand's oldest occupied cities. Archaeological evidence suggest that the area has been settled since neolithic time. It first rose to become a major kingdom during the sixth century. It was then called Lavo, or sometimes Luovo or Lavapura. The name was supposedly an allusion to the ancient name of Lahore in modern Pakistan, where the settlers of this area may have come from. Legend has it that the daughter of one of the kings of Lavo was sent north to found the city of Lamphun.
The Khmer-era ruins of Prang Kaek in Lopburi
Around the middle of the tenth century, the kingdom was absorbed into the mighty Khmer empire based in Angkor Wat, effectively becoming one of the most important western outposts of the empire. Some of the most ancient structures around the city, such as Prang Sam Yod or Prang Kaek, date from the Khmer era.
As Angkor's power began to wane, and Thai kingdoms began to rise, Lopburi regained its independence, but not its importance. In the mid-fourteenth century, a marriage linked Lopburi to the newly emerged Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. Lopburi itself seemed to fade into relative obscurity over the next 200 years.
In the seventeenth century, King Narai revived Lopburi's fortunes when, according to some accounts, western colonialists appeared to threaten Siam. He rebuilt many of the old temples and created a large palace in the city. Throughout his reign, he lived at Lopburi as much as eight months a year. After Narai's death, the city again declined in importance. That may have worked in its favor, since when Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in the eighteenth century, Lopburi was left untouched.
Lopburi was again bought back from obscurity in the nineteenth century when King Rama IV (King Mongkut) built a small throne hall and residence on the grounds of Narai's old palace. Mongkut spent many years as a monk before he was crowned king, and traveled extensively throughout Thailand. His travels gave Mongkut a unique understanding of the rich cultural heritage of Thailand, a history many Thais had forgotten. On coming to the throne, Rama IV wanted to make his people more aware of their heritage. To accomplish this, He moved his court around the country much more than any previous Chakri king. Today, the buildings constructed and renovated by King Mongkut now house the collections of the King Narai National Museum.