Chapels, whose religious role was
indicated either by the presence of one or more Buddha statues or of a stupa, fail into
three categories in Luang Prabang.
Chapels of the first type, of which none exist today, were rather
light and open structures. Constructed on square street-level bases, they featured simple
roofs framed by single balustrades, like the one at Vat Xieng Thong. Others, like the one at Vat Aham, featured tiered
structures and peripheral naves.
Chapels of the second type were constructed from different natural
elements with masonry walls and covered, like the temples, by a roof. Usually, the chapel hail has only a single entrance
and one or two windows along its sides. If the hall is large, it would have pillars; in
this case, the chapel would resemble a real temple.
The funerary chapel of King Sisavang Vong at Vat Xieng Thong, the
most important in Laos , is one of the finest examples.
Chapels of the third type are classified as vaulted chapels.
Decorated with stucco-work, these small chapels were built from bricks and mortar,
including the roofs. The leafs of the only door are as richly adorned as the temple
Niches, looking very much like the vaulted chapels, and mounted on
square-based elevated pedestals, shelter small Buddha statues. Meant for receiving
offerings: flowers, fruits, dishes of food, candles, rice balls - they are erected in
front of the chapels or at the foot of the stupas.
In Luang Prabang, as in other parts of the country; the stupa is a
solid building with votive or funerary characteristics.
According to belief, reliquaries of the Buddha, saint monks, kings,
members of the royal family, high-placed dignitaries, or even of wealthy individuals are
In Luang Prabang, stupa styles, whose height can vary from less
than two meters to several tens of meters, are extremely diverse. The Indian-style
semi-spherical stupa of That Mak Mo within the grounds of Vat Vixun is one of its kind in
Laos . Another stupa characteristic peculiar to Laos is the carafe shaped gemlike type
of construction. Its appearance elsewhere, as in the case of Burmese stupas, indicates an
accessorial function; and not part of the main building.
Previously hidden from view, sema (stones marking the boundaries of
viharns and sacred cultural buildings) are revealed at last. Sometimes decorated with
lotus petals or lotus buds, most of the sema are roughly carved large stone balls that
were buried in the centre or around the sides of the viharn.
Laotian religious architecture is distinguishable by the general
form of the main temple building or viharn and its roof. Three major styles corresponding
to the regions of Vientiane , Xieng Khuang and Luang Prabang can be observed.
The temples of Luang Prabang are characterized by immense two- or
even three-layered roofs covered with flat tiles, sometimes with a change of roof
gradient. Another characteristic is the existence of a peripheral nave.
Roof ornamentation, which is very varied in Luang Prabang, is overall
characterized by horned ridge-tiles portraying a nagas upper torso; these may be
richly decorated or sometimes reduced to a simple schematic contour. A medial spike, often
with three, seven or nine small prasat rises from the top. Depending on the number of
spikes, the prasat represent Mount Sinew (the most important mountain in the Buddhist
cosmology, with seven annular chains on either side. Features like crested spikes and
horn-like gable slopes, designed to cut out the wind, are the finishing touches to roof
ornamentation. The gable planks are generally decorated with stenciled gold patterns on
red and black backgrounds. The main difference between the architecture of Luang Prabang
and that of Thailand and Cambodia lies in the presence of porches under the gables.
In the same way, roof intersections, common in Bangkok and Phnom Penh , are absent
in Luang Prabang. Another feature that differentiates Luang Prabang architecture from that
of the above-mentioned neighboring countries are columns without bases and lotus
leafdecorated capitals. Where one may notice some Chinese or Burmese influence in the
decoration of door leaves, this usually represents deities and persons from Buddhist
mythology Carved from a solid block of wood, these unrivalled pieces are among Luang
Prabangs most beautiful works of art due to their simple and more primitive forms.
The mixture of elements from the vegetable, animal and human world employed in decorations
originated from the animistic beliefs of the Luang Prabang people.
Another wooden article, typical of carving in Luang Prabang, is the
valance, which is composed of a pair of blind arches coupled with a medial pattern
tapering down the facade of the porch. The delicacy of the work shown in the treatment of
animal or floral patterns gives work an overall beehive appearance, hence its
Laotian name Huang Pheung.