According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Chiang Mai is not an ancient urban city frozen in time. Its values do not stop at any epoch in the past centuries. Though a masterpiece product of human creative genius of the late 13th century, Chiang Mai thrives on, and today is a rare and unique city in the world that has been continuously inhabited by diverse groups of population whose traditions and cultures have been combined and blended into a rich living civilization for as long as 700 years. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

Today, many of Chiang Mai's ancient sites, monuments and Buddhist temples have been completely restored, some might have been "made over" in different historical periods and in modern time, so that they would not look like sad remnants of the past, but to function as a living heritage that continue to serve its people in many of the traditional ways of the past, but also in the context of the contemporary society.

Today, the continuously restored city of Chiang Mai proudly exhibits its entire and unique fortification system of inner and outer walls and moats, the beautifully renovated temples located not only in the astrologically calculated cardinal directions, but dotting the city inside and outside supported by the surrounding communities, the spaces in the city center and in many the social and cultural areas have been recently cleaned up and reconstruct in respect of the old city plan. Though constrained and congested by modern urbanization and the influx of migrants and tourists, and overwhelmed by exuberant modern activities, the Chiang Mai historical monuments, sites, and cultural landscape are being safeguarded and still serve the multi purposes for the promotion of social and cultural identity, for educational and value transmission, and for the enhancement of the city's outstanding universal values.

Monuments and Cultural Sites at Chiang Mai

Monuments, Sites and Cultural Landscape of Chiang Mai, Capital of Lanna was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. According to a report submitted by UNESCO: Chiang Mai, the capital of Lanna, represents a masterpiece of human creative genius in the field of urban planning. It exhibits the essence of the traditional Tai people’s social, cultural, and spiritual values of living in harmony with nature respecting its invisible power of the mountains, the valleys, and the rivers. It also exhibits the founders' intelligence in harmoniously taking advantage of its protection and abundance in a sustainable way so that the city can thrive until today. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage]

The concept of the city plan representing the anatomy of the human being, which in the Tai beliefs, has a hierarchy, thus cleverly and logically determines the land use and the zoning, both within the city walls and immediately outside the city proper. Land use in and outside the walled city of Chiang Mai is also creative and visionary, as it takes advantage of the topography of the area, combined with the traditional knowledge and the local beliefs which in those days were widely accepted and thus avoiding the land use conflicts among the various groups of the population.

The nominated serial properties collectively bear an exceptional testimony to a civilization that is still living and is known until today as the "Lanna civilization". This civilization emerged in the 13th century with the independent establishment of the various Tai ethnic and linguistic kingdoms and townships in the northern region of Thailand and their subsequent consolidation and unification under the suzerainty of the Lanna kingdom led by King Mangrai.

Design of Historical Chiang Mai

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Chiang Mai city was designed to serve a multiple set of specific purposes, as follows: a) Defense; b) Central administration to control and oversee the large number of states that were previously independent and, some of them rather distant, united under the suzerainty of his kingdom; c) Connectivity with nature and benefiting from the surrounding natural landscape; d) Prosperity through wet rice cultivation and production; e) Prosperity through trades, both via the ancient routes of transporting goods by tea- horse and ox cart caravans, connecting with the silk route in China, India and other areas, as well as through the river borne trading system using boats of all sizes and linking with other river- based; f) Development of a new Lanna civilization through tangible and intangible cultural expressions and exchanges with the rich diversity of population in the Chiang Mai valley and in the entire Lanna. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The design of the city plan is uniquely ingenious. The city is in the form of a human body, framed by the inner fortification which is now seen in the shape of a square (a rectangular originally).The outer fortification in the east and south is in an oblong shape symbolizing the human stomach. The city thus has the head, the hands, the feet, the back, the stomach, as well as the navel. The navel located in the central part of the city is where the soul or the spirit of the city resides.

The city plans takes into account the cardinal directions, calculated according to the knowledge of astrology and in accordance with the exact planned hour, date, month, and year, designated as the auspicious time of the "birth" of the city to ensure the success and victory of the city foundation. Each direction of Chiang Mai City is, according to some scholastic studies, designated with the “Taksa” calculated according to the astrological theories, and important temples are planned and constructed in accordance with the Taksa.

Urban Planning of Historical Chiang Mai

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Chiang Mai, as a unique creative accomplishement in urban planning displays its authenticity in the founders having the authentic knowledge and experiences, both from the founding of and living in many cities in the past and from further research and from consultations, resulting in his wide decision in choosing the auspicious site of the new city for its sustainability and prosperity.

The knowledge is based on the concept of "Chaiya Phum" combined with knowledge of astrology and Hindhu-Buddhist cosmology. This concept of "Chaiya Phum" is recorded in many regional chronicles, particularly the Chiang Mai Chronicle which comes to us in so many versions, written in the Manna language and scripts on palm leaf manuscripts. Many versions if the Chronicle has been transcribed into modern Thai scripts, and one version, obtained from a temple and studied by the late Dr. Hans Penth of Chiang Mai University, has been subsequently translated into English by the late historian David Wyatt and Arunrut Wichienkeeo. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The authentic dates of the founding of Chiang Mai and its horoscope are also recorded in the various versions of Lanna chronicles, as well as on the stone inscription dated 1592 found and kept at Wat Chiangman, the first temple built by Mangrai in Chiang Mai. All of the written sources show the uniquely remarkable decision making involving not only Mangrai, the founder and King of Lanna, but also the two kings of strategically allied kingdoms: Payoa and Sukhothai. The stele also shows the astrology governing the construction of Chiang Mai as well as other details of the city early development. The physical evidences to verify the shape and form of the City of Chiang Mai, as described in the written sources, can still be confirmed by aerial photographs, old photographs, the physical archaeological remains, as well as earlier reports of the archaeologists/restorers on the

Monuments in Chiang Mai

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: This is a serial nomination comprising six groups, or six series, of selected monuments, sites, and cultural landscape of Chiang Mai. They are nominated together in a single nomination to represent a set of interconnected thematic value or values proposed to be accepted. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The six series of properties are all functionally linked and coherently interrelated. They collectively form the wholeness of the tangible evidences, as well as the associated intangible traditions. Collectively, they define and display the outstanding universal values of Chiang Mai as the capital of Lanna, built in the 13th century but survived its long and sometimes turbulent history and sustained significantly, in tangible forms as well as intangibly, until today.

Temples in the Lanna region are all surrounded by walls with gates on important cardinal directions. The surrounding walls are for the demarcation of the sacred area, though a Buddhist temple is a public place opened to all. Inside the walled temple compound, there are a number of buildings built in different historical periods, and subsequently repaired, restored and renovated in accordance with the social and cultural needs and situations.

The cultural landscape of old Chiang Mai are mixed between natural heritage and cultural heritage. Considered by the founder of Chiang Mai and his advisors to be the auspicious attributes to the ideal and victorious location according to the traditional beliefs and geomancy for city planning, and in accordance with the Lanna philosophy of "Chaiya Phum", today the cultural landscape of Chiang Mai is still of vital importance to the modern-day city, and generally embraced by the people as symbols of their spiritual identity.

Monuments and Sites of Modern Era represent the important human interchanges in the modern era, comprising the following: 1) The First Christian Mission in Chiang Mai; 2) The first school building of the Prince Royal College; 3) The first school building of Dara College; 4) The first hospital building of the McCormic Hospital; 5) The first Chinese community temple; 6) The first Sikh temple; 7) The first Muslim community and mosque

Roads of Historical Chiang Mai

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The road from the foot of Doi Suthep leading to the temple of Pra That Doi Suthep is a very important historical monument because it was built in 1935 under the leadership of a Lanna born and locally revered monk named Kuba Si Vichai (born 1878).Kuba Si Vichai spent part of his life, travelling to all parts in the Lanna area and restored so many old and deteriorated Buddhist temples by successfully raising funds and labor from the local communities. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

Because of his leadership and the inspirational nature of his personality, at least 5000 people from all walks of life and from all the villages in Lanna came daily with their own hand tools to volunteer to work in the construction of the road at Doi Suthep. The construction was symbolically launched by King Kaewnavarut, the ruler of Chiang Mai at that time, on 9 November,1934, at 10.00 a.m. at the foot of Doi Suthep near Huay Kaew. It was completed in 5 months and 22 days, and was opened for public use on 30 April 1935.

The road represents the Lanna villagers' strong devotion to the Buddha's Relic, as well as their powerful sense of community participation to the spiritual and intangible cause for merit-making. The road was complete so rapidly that the leadership of Chiang Mai administration at that time could not believe it could be done.

Along the road leading to Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, Ku Ba Si Vichai also designed and built a few temples where there were waterfalls and stone caves and rock slopes that the monks and villagers who came to work could use for resting. Wat Pha Lad is one of these temples that has been preserved as restored for contemporary use as a meditation center.

The old road from Lampun to Wiang Kum Kam is 10 km long and is lined with majestic Dipterocarpus alatus trees planted when the road was constructed 100 years ago. There used to be as many as 5000 trees on both sides. During the past 2-3 decades, urbanization and growth in the area have resulted in the loss of so many of these trees, cut down to make way for intersections and modern housing. However, the conservation group of Chiang Mai and Lamphun has so far successfully campaigned for the preservation of this historic road and the trees.

Chet Lin

Chet Lin, meaning 7 streams, is at the foot of Doi Suthep only 5 km. from the Chiang Mai Old City, and was seen from an aerial photograph dated 1957 as a doubled walled circular area, with a diameter of 900 m. Its history and functions are still shrouded in mystery. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The area was surveyed by the Unit 6 of the Archaeological Office of the Fine Arts Department who identified it to be the fortified and moated township of the legendary Khun Wiranka, King of the Lawa who according to the chronicle, sent an envoy to ask for the hand of Queen Chamadevi of Haripunchai in the 8th century AD. When his proposition was rudely refused, he sent armies to wage war with the Kingdom and was humiliated and defeated by Chamadevi's 2 sons. The Township was later deserted and the fortified area was temporarily occupied by the Sukhothai armies during the war with King Samfangkaen( . .1945 – 1985) of Chiang Mai.

Traces of ancient Buddhist temples were also identified as evidences of Chiang Mai's expansion into the outer area. The site has been divided into 2 parts by a public road from the city leading up to Doi Suthep. The part on the west which catches and stores the water flowing heavily in the rainy season from Doi Suthep is now preserved as a natural reservoir with the original high embankment made of mounded earth. The reservoir has been protected on this side because it is connected with the compound of the Animal Husbandry Office of the Forestry Department and the Chiang Mai Zoo, but is open and easily accessed from the road. It is marked by a sign post on the roadside explaining its significance. The eastern side of Chet Lin is the larger area of the site and lies within the compound of the Rajamankla University, Chet Lin Campus. It has been seriously surveyed and studied by the university academics who found traces and remnants indicating ancient settlements dated perhaps to more than 5000 years. The project for its preservation and further research has been recently given government’s support.

Mae Ping River

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: This river has its origin at Chiangdoa, a part of Doi Intanon Mountain Range, protected by law as part of the Sri Lanna National Park and the Chiangdoa National Reserved Forest. The River, the largest in the region, runs along from North to south, forming a great river basin and plentiful area east of Chian Mai. Mae Ping River also served as the route of trade and communication between Chiang Mai and its controlled states in Lanna, as well as the outside world. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

Like most rivers in the world, Mae Ping now is being watched. It is being revitalized by the Upper Mae Ping Basin Management Project, undertaken by Wildlife Fund Thailand since 1997, and also joined by Mae Ping community network and Mae Ping Resuscitation Network involving more than 100 villages. In addition, an NGO group called "Love Mae Ping" was formed in 1992 (See Global Perspectives on Integrated Water Resources Management by Ganesh Pangare, VirajShah; and Rivers in Jeopardy and the Role of Civil Society in River Restoration: Thai Experience, by Wason Jompakdee, Chairman, The Coordinating Committee for the Protection of the Ping Rivers Basin and the Environment (CCPE), and Vice Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Chiang Mai University).

Mae Kha is a stream which runs from the north of the Chiang Mai old city and curves along the shape of the outer moat, forming an additional natural moat from the northeast to the southeast of the old city of Chiang Mai. Recently it has become badly polluted and the Chiang Mai community and the Municipality is trying to find the cause and solve the problem.

Monuments in Chiang Mai’s Inner Fortification

The Inner Fortification of the city of Chiang Mai comprise ing the following: 1) The inner city walls on 4 sides, destroyed in certain parts, but restored in important sections and are in good restoration conditions. 2) The inner moats on 4 sides, dug and cleaned regularly, now serve a new function as a city park and a city landscape.[Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

3) The 5 city gates,with the designated names, located on the 5 cardinal directions, restored in different historical periods, and last restored by the City Municipalities and the Fine Arts Department, based on archaeological studies and old photo. A) Pratu Chang Puak (formerly Pratu Hua Kuang), in the north, considered the most important gate. B) Pratu Suan Dok, in the west, which opened into the forested C) Pratu Tha Pae, in the east, which led to the river. D) Pratu Tai Wiang, in the southeast, later renamed Pratu Chiang Mai, which led to Wiang Kumkam and E) Pratu Saen Pung in the southwest, also known as Pratu Haiya leading to the Haiya Cemetery

4) The 4 city corners (Jaeng) which form ramparts in the cardinal direction system, have historically designated names have been restored and now serve a contemporary function as the city’s landscape and park: A) Jaeng Sri Phum, in the northeast; B) Jaeng Katam, in the southwest; C) Jaeng Gu Huang in the southwest; D) Jaeng Huo Lin, in the nortwest

The fortification of the City of Chiang Mai was unique in the sense that it was not only physical and technical in nature, but also spiritual. The core concept of the fortification of Chiang Mai signified the boundary of the Auspicious City (Sri Nakorn), whose fortified rectangular area, as well as the five gates, and the central spot or the naval, were believed to be blessed and protected by all of the sacred beings, petitioned through the offering ceremonies made by Mangrai himself before the commencement of the City's construction as well as at the completion of the construction. In Modern times, offering ceremonies to the guardian spirits of the city and all the inner gates are still regularly held by the Governor and the municipality chief as well as the people of Chiang Mai.

Dated back to Mangrai period, the original city moats, walls and gates were periodically cleaned and repaired as deemed necessary by successive kings of the Mangrai Dynasty. After the prolonged wars with Burma, the fortification of the city was completely overhauled by King Kawila of the Choa Chet Ton Dynasty, as the threats of war still continued.

The monuments and sites listed above collectively represent the physical boundary for defensive purpose and for the demarcation of the center of administration and political power, distinct and separate from the surrounding areas. They were restored most recently in 1985-86 by the Chiang Mai Municipality and the Fine Arts Department.

Important Monuments and Sites Within Chiang Mai’s City Walls

Important monuments selected under this group mostly dated back to the MangraiDynasty. Although suffered from rapid urbanization, change of land ownership, and encroachment of new buildings, all the monuments and sites within the city walls have been relatively well preserved and maintained. Restoration was deemed by the kings of Chiang Mai and the communityas necessary, as most of them are Buddhist temples,to which donations for the repair and maintenances are given by the devotees because they do not want to see Buddhist temples in the state of decay and depreciation. Restoration of historically and archaeologically important monuments in modern days is designed and supervised by the Fine Arts Department, but often the community participation is allowed and welcomed.

The monuments and sites selected under this group are representatives of the primary evidences of the historical development of Chiang Mai. They were built by Mangrai and his descendants and bear testimony to the unique Lanna school of Buddhist architecture and art that continue to flourish until the present. They are listed in 5 subgroups following the 4 cardinal directions plus the concept of the naval of the city, as follows:

Monuments in Northern Direction: six monuments: 1) Wat Chiangman, the first temple built in Mangrai's reign, 1296. (There is an inscription that describes important events in Mangrai's time). 2) Wat Hua Kuang-Saen Muangmas, built by King Muang Kaew, 1521. 3) Wat Moh Kam Duang, built by Tilokaraj, 1476. 4) Wat Kuan Ka Ma, King Yod Chiangrai, 1492. 5) Kum Bureerat, Palace of King Kaew Mun Muang. (6) Wat Chang Lam, built by Mangrai, no date. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

Monuments in Central Area: seven monuments: (1) Wat Chedi Luang, built by King Saen Muang Ma, 1411; 2) Wat Intakhin or Wat Sadue Muang; 3) Wat Pan Toa ; 4) Wat Duang Dee, built by King Muang Kaew, 1496.( mentioned in the inscription); 5) Wat Chai Pra Kiat, built by King Muang Kaew, 1517.; 6) Kuang Luang Central area and the marketplace, built by King Mangrai, 1296.; 7) Wat Pra Choa Mangrai, built by King Mangrai, 1296, standing Buddha image cast by Mangrai

Monuments in Western Direction: seven monuments: 1) Wat Pra Singh. (wat Lee Chiang), built by King Phayu, 1345-1355. ; 2) Wat Prasat, built by King Yod Chiangrai, 1492 (3) Wat See Kerd, built by King Muang Kaew, 1517 (4) Wat Tung Yu, built by King Muang Kaew, 1517 (5) WatPha Pong, built King Yod Chiangrai, 1492; 6) Wat Muen NgernKong, built by King Kuena, 1339-1337; 7) Wat Tang Man

Monuments in the Southern Direction: 10 monuments: (1) Wat Puak Hongs, built King Muang Kaew, 1517 ; 2)Wat Puak Taem, built King Muang Kaew, 1517, Burmese and Mon influence, local metal and gold artisans. ; 3) Suan Buak Hard; 4) Wat Pan Waen, (5) Wat Chet Lin; 6) Wat Fon Soy, built by King Yod Chiangrai, 1488; 7) Wat Muen Toom, (8) Wat Chang Taem; 9) Wat Sai Mun Muang (Thai); 10) Wat Sai Mun Muang (Burmese)

.Monuments in the Eastern Direction: 10 monuments: (1) Wat Muen Lan; 2) Wat Muen Toom; 3) Wat Dok Kam ; 4) Wat Dok Uang; 5) Wat Pan Un; 6) Wat Pha Khoa; 7) Wat Sampoa ; 8) Wat Ban Ping; 9) Wat Umong Then Chan; 10) Wat Pon Soy

Monuments in Chiang Mai’s Outer Fortification

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The outer city walls and the outer moats of Chiang Mai do not follow the plan and the lines of the inner fortification. They are constructed in an oblong shape that begins at the northeastern corner of the City, called "Jaeng Sri Phum" and extends out along the eastern front of the city, like a full stomach or the tummy of a pregnant woman, hanging down to the south, curving around it to reach the southwest corner of the city called "Jaeng Ku Huang". [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

They are listed for the nomination as follows: 1) The Outer Walls which are now called “Kampaeng Din” located on the eastern and southern sides. 2) The 4 Outer City Gates which are located along the curves of the Outer walls, with designated names. 3) The Outer Moats curving along the outer city walls. The monuments and sites located outside the inner fortification are also historically and culturally important. They represented primary evidences of the Chiang Mai 's development in Buddhist arts and architectures. They are listed in 2 subgroups: 5.A representing the monuments located within the Chiang Mai city environs in the 4 cardinal directions; 5.B representing the monuments in the outer district in the Southern outskirt of Chiang Mai.

Northern Side: six monuments: 1) Wat Lok Molee; 2) Wat Jed Yod, build by King Tilokaraj northwestern side); 3) Wat Chiang Yeun.; 4) Wat Pa Ket; 5) Wat Ku Toa, ; 6) Wat Chiang Som; 7) Wat Pha Khoa Western Side: five monuments: 1) Wat Suan Dok; 2) Wat Umong; 3) Wat Pa Daeng. Southern and Southwestern Side: eight monuments: 1) Wat Pa Jee; 2) Wat Pong Noi; 3) Wat Ta Kham; 4) Wat Ram Poeng; 5) Wat Phra That Doi Kam; 6) Wat Ton Kwen; 7) Wat Nantharam; 8) Wat Chiang Khong; Eastern Side: six monuments: 1) Wat Bupha Ram; 2) Wat Ket Karam; 3) The Nawarat Bridge; 4) The Warorot Market; 5) Ton Lamyai Market; 6) TheChiang Mai Railway Station

Monuments and sites in the outer area of Chiang Mai: Wiang Kum Kam: This important archaeological site is, according to the Chiang Mai Chronicle, the former Capital of Mangrai, located in Saraphi District, South of Chiang Mai. Inundated by the floods and deserted for many centuries, Wiang Kumkam has been excavated and restored and is presently being revived as an archaeological and a historical Park. Its important monuments and sites are listed as follows.; 1) Wat Chedi Liam ; 2)Wat Phra Chao Ong Dam-Phaya Mangrai:; 3) Wat ThatKhoa; 4) Wat pupia; 5) Wat Sri Bun Ruang; 6) Wat Soa Hin; 7) Wat Ku Ay Larn; 8 Wat Ku Makrua; 9) Wat Chok Bok; 10) Wat Bot.; 11) Wat Kan Tom (Chang Kam); 12) Wat E Khang; 13) Wat Kum Kam; 14) Wat Noi; 15) Wat Kan Thom.; 16) Wat Hua Nong.; 17) Wat Mai Sang; 18) Wat Kua Nong.; 19) Wat Nong Phung.; 20) Wat Pan Soa.; 21) Wat Pra Ut.; 22) Wat Bo Nam Thip [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

Restoration and Conservation of Historical Chiang Mai

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: At present, Lanna civilization seemed to have suffered a setback from rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, encroachment by modern built structures, the deforestation and disconnectedness with nature, and the changing natural and cultural landscape of the old city of Chiang Mai and its environs.Recent emigrants and the increased number of tourists who invaded the city area and the cultural zones of Chiang Mai have also caused serious concern regarding the “carrying capacity” of Chiang Mai. In the face of this rapid globalization, however, there are many conservation efforts spearheaded by many small groups of people, young and old.Many of these groups are temple-based or community-based, such as "Wat Ket Museum Community" and "Wat Prathat Doi Saket Cultural Community", who are working rather quietly to maintain local museums, supporting community networks, and volunteering to organize cultural and religious festivals and creative events. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The monuments and sites of Chiang Mai nominated in this nomination are mostly temples and public spaces, nationally and regionally held as being historically important, with cultural influences extended to the communities in the vicinity, or in the entire region. In the case of temples, some, such as Wat PraThat Doi Suthep, is regarded as the most important nationally and internationally.

Because the repair and renovation in the past always involved, to a very large extent, the devotees and the communities as the stakeholders, the authenticity as specified in the Operational Guidelines and in the Nara Declaration, such as: 1) Form and design, 2) Materials and substance, 3) Use and function, 4) Location and setting

The temples and sights are already carefully looked after by the stakeholders. For them, the repair and restoration are for the purpose of keeping the old heritage of the past alive, in functions and spirit, as well as in form and style, as they represent their cultural identity dated back to the golden age of Lanna civilization. It is also important that the heritage is upheld in glory and dignity in the eyes of the present generations and continue to do so in the future.

In modern times, however, devotees make voluntary donations towards the maintenance of the temple, and for the restoration or recreation of certain buildings in decaying state. The abbot and the temple committee composed of community members, are normally in charge of restoration, but if the temples are registered as archaeological monuments, the Fine Arts Department will be responsible for the restoration plan and design. Traditions and techniques are of huge considerations and in Chiang Mai, the conservation group and the university as well as the traditional scholars are very vocal on these issues.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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