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Possibly the most impressive and the richest archaeological sight in South East Asia was the capital of the first unified empire of King Anawyahta in 849 AD. Numerous pagodas and temples were built with the flourishing of Buddhism around 1057 AD. Nowadays, the majorities of these well-preserved temples offer and stand testimony to the rich architectural heritage of Myanmar from 11th to 13th centuries. Approximately 2,200 temples stretching as far as the eye can see remain standing. Enjoy the amazing edifices, panoramic view of Bagan and beautiful sunset over the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River.
Bagan is possibly the most impressive and the richest archaeological sight in South East Asia, and one of the man-made wonders of the world. This enchanting city is situated on the eastern bank of the River Ayeyarwaddy about 500 km north of Yangon. The ruins of Bagan city cover an area of 42sq-km.
Bagan was the capital of the first unified empire of King Anawrahta and was founded in 849 AD. After unifying the country, Anawrahta accomplished another noble deed for the country. He introduced Theravada Buddhism into Myanmar with the help of Shin Arahan, a missionary monk from Thaton. It was Buddhism that influenced the rulers of Bagan Dynasty to build innumerable pagodas and temples in and around the city. Bagan only entered its golden age with the conquest of Thaton (Mon Kingdom) by King Anawrahta in 1057 AD, gaining the holy Buddhist scripts, the Tipitaka. The holy Buddhist scripts were not the only trophies gained from the war, the Myanmar army took some 30,000 Mon prisoners of war to Bagan. Among them, numerous craftsmen and artisans, who in following decades not only enriched, but also even determined Bagan's culture. The Pagodas of the following period were almost exclusively built in Mon style.
From this time, until Bagan was overrun by Kublai Khan's forces in 1287 AD, more than 13,000 temples, pagodas and other religious structures were built in the relatively small valley of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Each of them has a different style, size, and decoration. Some have gilded domes, mural paintings, intricate carvings, and steep staircases leading to expensive views. The majority of these well-preserved temples and pagodas offer a rich architectural heritage from the 11th to 13th centuries. Today, seven centuries later, approximately 2,200 temples stretching as far as the eye can see remain standing. The River Ayeyarwaddy has washed away nearly one-third of the original city area, thieves and treasure hunters have torn apart many temples in search of treasures, while earthquakes and the invaders of time have reduced hundreds of others to great piles of crumbled stones. Near the Ananda Temples is the Bagan Museum. It houses many of the artifacts found in temples around Bagan, preserving them for future generations.
Bagan is accessible by air from Yangon, Mandalay or Heho (Taunggyi) in an hour or less. It can also be reached by road from Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi. From Mandalay the 12-14 hour cruise down the Ayeyarwaddy is very pleasant and rewarding. Apart from these normal transports, there are more luxury cruise service like Road to Mandalay and the RV Pan Daw ply regularly between these two ancient capitals, Mandalay and Bagan.
Enjoy the panoramic views of Bagan and there is no sunset like this anywhere else in the world. The endless pagodas stand testimony to the rich cultural heritage of the Myanmar and also to the beauty and grandeur of ancient pagodas. You can be sure that your visit to Bagan will be a most memorable one enjoying amazing edifices, the magnificent Ayeyarwaddy River and the delicate flora of Myanmar's dry zone.
The Bagan Archaeological Museum, situated within old Bagan city near the Gawdawpalin Temple was established in 1998. It is not only imposing but also adorned inside and outside with Myanmar decorated art. On entering the museum, one will first view bronze statue of four famous Kings of Bagan period namely Anawyahta, Kyansitthar, Alaungsethu and Kjaswa and large three dimension of mural painting on the wall depicted Bagan Archaeological Site.
This is where one can enjoy the grand history of Bagan through many masterpieces of excavated objects and concrete evidences. It has a collection of more than 2500 items including Buddha statues, stucco pieces, terra-cotta cups and pots. Museum also houses stone sculptures, wood carvings, metal works, lacquer works, etc.,
One can also view paintings of pagodas, Buddha images with different posture (Mudra) made of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood. Among them, one can see the significant bronze lotus Bud, a masterpiece of bronze sculpture of Bagan period.
Tens of thousands of tourists from at home and abroad turned up every year to admire and marvel at Museum's objects and to gain some knowledge from the ancient inscriptions. Myazedi lithographed inscription of four languages in Pali, Pyu, Mon, and Myanmar will surely catch your curious mind. Actually, all these exhibits displayed in the Bagan Archaeological Museum are witnessing high great of Myanmar cultural standard of ancient time.
King Kyansittha completed this temple in 1091 A.D. He built his meritorious edifice with the best artistic decorations all sphere of arts. It is the "mother of all temples" in Bagan, containing representative works of all the arts, architecture, glazed plaque, woodcarvings, stucco, terra cotta and stone sculptures found in all Myanmar temples. It is King Kyansittha's masterpiece and the crowning achievement of the early style of temple architecture. The plan is that of a perfect Greek cross, soaring to 51 metres. The main hall in the centre is a square shape one with porches of arched entrances on four sides. There is a corridor all around and well ventilated, showing the sign of superiority of the architecture of that time. It received its golden gilding in 1990 in commemoration of the 900th anniversary of its construction. Contained within the temple are four standing great statues of the four previous Buddhas. Kakusandha Buddha faces north, Konagamana Buddha faces east, Kassapa Buddha faces south, and Guatama Buddha, the most recent Buddha faces west.
This 60 metre high temple was built in the 12th century by King Narapatisithu. The temple was badly damaged in a 1975 earthquake but has been completely reconstructed. From the upper terrace of the temple, one can leisurely watch the panoramic view of ancient Bagan and the sunset over the scenic beauty of the Ayeyarwaddy River.
The all largest temples of Bagan were built by King Narathu who reigned from 1167 to 1170. The Dhammayangyi Temple is a very large square single storey pyramidal temple with six monumental ascending exterior terraces. There are two inner ambulatories around a solid square central core. The huge and pyramid-shaped Dhammayangyi looks a little clumsy from the distance. The high and narrow arch shaped corridors look like those of European castles. The Dhammayangyi's brickwork is finely crafted - perhaps it is the finest brickwork in Bagan.
The Gubyaukgyi Temple at Myinkaba was built in 1113 AD by Prince Rajakumar, son of King Kyansittha. In form, it is much like the Apeyadana Temple but the richness of its decoration executed in plaster, contrasts with the Apeyadana's simplicity. Dormer windows lighting the cellar underneath, are set above the stepped pyramid that raises a mitre-shaped tower like that of Ananda Temple. Moreover, a replica of a temple in a slightly different form is set above the vestibule at its western end.
The Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-in), having a spire resembling the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodha Gaya in India, was built in the early 13th century. The main chamber is rectangular in plan rather than square and the vestibule in the east is very much shortened. There is an absence of windows and light is provided by latticed false doorways. This temple is known for its wall paintings depicting scenes from the Jataka (life stories of the Buddha). Stucco sculptures on the exterior of this temple are in particularly good shape.
The Htilominlo Temple was built by King Nadaungmya in 1210 AD, early in his reign to commemorate his selection on this spot as crown prince from among five sons of the king and he became his father's successor. The Htilominlo Temple is a large three story red brick (with some stones) temple on a low platform. It is originally covered in carved white stucco and some of its exquisite finely detailed plasters still remaining are worth seeing. The temple is similar in design and even in detail to the earlier Sulamani Temple and the Gawdawpalin Temple both built by the king's father. There are receding square terraces with stupas or spires at each corner on the second and third levels. Each terrace was originally decorated with terracotta plaques. Htilominlo's imposing central spire rises a bit over 46 metres. The main shrine entrance hall is extended on the eastern side of the structure. There are the remains of fine murals on the interior walls. The damage from the earthquake of 1975 was repaired between 1976-1979.
Mount Popa, also known as Myanmar's Mt. Olympus is situated 80 kilometres southeast of Bagan. Popa derived from Sanskrit word "Pushpa" meaning "Flower". Mount Popa, solitary massive volcanic peak, is 1500 metres above sea level. It was created by a violent volcanic eruption in 442 BC.
It is a place of special importance in both the country's history and culture. The natural springs, flowers and wooded hillsides offer greatly contrast to the dry lands surrounding it. Therefore, it is called the " Oasis of the Myanmar dry zone ". The climate is also totally different from neighboring Bagan.
Mount Popa is considered as home of the Nats (Sprits). In Myanmar, Nat worship remains and coexists with Buddhism and also remains an important aspect of everyday life. The top of Mt. Popa, a major pilgrimage destination, is covered by numerous shrines. Climbing to the top via a winding, covered stairway complete with curious monkeys is interesting.
On the way, one can enjoy the cool mountain air, natural flora and fauna, when reaching the top the views are fantastic. Nowadays, Mt. Popa area has also been designated as a National Park, a perfect place for eco-tourism. National Park covers an area of 49.63 square miles and is established in 1983. Ministry of Forestry is making concerted efforts to preserve the forest area of Popa Mountain and to conserve the unique dry zone ecosystem and biodiversity with various plants and wildlife species.
The graceful bell shape of Shwezigon Stupa, situated four miles northeast of Old Bagan is a prototype for later stupas of Myanmar. It was built in the mid 11th century. Two great kings, Anawrahta (1044 - 1077) and Kyansittha (1084 - 1113), are associated with the construction of this massive pagoda. It was first built by King Anawrahta who was able to finish only three terraces before he died. King Kyansittha took up the task of completing the unfinished pagoda begun by his father. In 1089, only in the reign of King Kyansittha, the pagoda was completed.
According to historical accounts, King Anawrahta had requested a copy of the Tooth Relic from Sri Lanka. When the relic arrived by royal barge at the shore of Bagan, the King himself descended neck-deep into the river to receive it. Then he carried the Relic to the forepart of his palace and installed it there for his private worship. Shin Arahan, a missionary monk from Thaton, advised the king that for the benefit of men, devas and brahmas, he should build a pagoda and enshrine the Relic within it so that it might be worshipped for as long as the Sasana prevails in the world.
Accepting this advice, the king placed the Relic on the back of his white elephant and set the animal free with this oath, " May my white elephant bow down at the spot where the Tooth Relic wishes to reside". And the king enshrined the Tooth Relic on the sand bank where the white elephant had bowed its head and there began to build a pagoda. Chronicles describe that Holly Tooth, Collar - Bone and other Relics of Buddha are enshrined in the pagoda.
The stupa sits on three rising terraces. Enameled plaques in panels around the base of the stupa illustrate scenes of the previous lives of the Buddha. At the cardinal points, facing the terrace stairways, are four shrines where each of which houses a 4m high bronze standing Buddha cast in 1102. These figures are Bagan's largest surviving bronze Buddhas.
The pagoda festival is held annually in October and November. It lasts for several days during-which one can find food stalls, fun-fairs, shops selling local products, dance, theatrical shows, magic shows, puppet shows and so on. Usually the whole week is devoted to the celebration of the pagoda festival and it is very lively because a great number of pilgrims from all parts of the country come to the festival.
Thatbyinnyu Temple ("omniscient" Temple), the highest temple in Bagan, rises to 66 metres, standing proudly on the plain and is located just inside the southeastern corner of the old city wall. It was built by King Alaungsithu in the middle of 15th century.
Lengthy corridors and chambers within the temple are worth exploring. And the flamboyant doorways are also worth a snap. This temple represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style that would soon be followed at the Sulamani, the Gawdawpalin, and at the Htilominlo Temple.
The temple itself reflected that era's innovative architectural and artistic creativity. Thatbyinnyu is a brick masonry building covered in white stucco and with stone in pavements. There is a series of square terraces on both the lower (three terraces) and upper (four terraces) levels. The terraces contain indentations for the planned series of over 500 ceramic plaques.
The heavy damage was caused by the 1975 earthquake and repairs to earthquake damages were being completed in 1979. Being the highest, it overtops all other monuments and offers visitors a magnificent panoramic view over Bagan although it is no longer permitted to climb right to the top.
Bupaya is standing close to the Ayeyarwaddy River. The name Bupaya comes from its bulbous resemblance to the "Bu or Gourd", while Paya means pagoda. It is not clear when the original Bupaya was built. Tradition suggests it had its origin during the reign of King Pyusawhti in the 3rd century AD.
As a result of the disastrous earthquake of 1975, the old Bupaya fell into the nearby Ayeyarwaddy River and was totally destroyed. The former brick masonry construct has since been replaced by a hallow reinforced concrete structure in 1976-78.
The Bupaya is a small stupa setting on a polygonal platform made up of a series of semi-circular terraces overlooking the river. It has long served as a conspicuous landmark for river travelers. The Bupaya is also a favorite place to watch the sunset.
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