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The ancient city of Bagan: the Burmese holy site with 2,230 Buddhist monuments

Ivana Andonovska

Floating in the breeze in a hot air balloon can be a magical and unforgettable experience. Especially when all you can see below you is an exotic panorama of over 3,000 cone shaped temples glittering in the sun. Immensely distinctive from any other place on earth, such is the marvelous view over Bagan and its verdant valley of a thousand temples.

This is the only place where there are so many temples, located in South East Asia in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. Lying densely spread around the slowly flowing Irrawaddy river, these religious monuments were built somewhere between 1057 and 1287, during the height of the Pagan Dynasty, by the kings of Bagan and their wealthy subjects.

Ananda pahto was damaged in the earthquake of 1975, but it has been fully restored and now still lights the sky over Bagan Photo Credit

Ananda pahto was damaged in the earthquake of 1975, but it has been fully restored and now still lights the sky over Bagan Photo Credit

 

Ananda temple is a perfectly dimensioned stylistic structure, and a central monument built in the Pagan valley during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084–1113) Photo Credit

Ananda temple is a perfectly dimensioned stylistic structure, and a central monument built in the Pagan valley during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084–1113) Photo Credit

According to Burmese legends, in order to display their power and surpass the previous ruler, kings would build as many temples as they could during their reign. By doing so, they believed that they were proving their significance to the people they ruled. Although now it might seem like madness driven by vanity, all this competition brought fruition and made the city a strong religious, economic and cultural center for almost 200 years. The capital flourished in size and grandeur.

As a result, the valley held approximately 1000 stupas, 10,000 temples and pagodas, and 3,000 monasteries, all varying in shape and size.

 

Dhammayangyi, the widest and largest temple in Bagan was built during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170) Photo Credit

Dhammayangyi, the widest and largest temple in Bagan was built during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170) Photo Credit

 

Dhammayazika Pagoda – circular Buddhist temple built in 1196 during the reign of King Narapatisithu, located in the village of Pwasaw east of Bagan in Burma Photo Credit

Dhammayazika Pagoda – circular Buddhist temple built in 1196 during the reign of King Narapatisithu, located in the village of Pwasaw east of Bagan in Burma Photo Credit

 

Panoramic view over the plains of Bagan, Myanmar Photo Credit

Panoramic view over the plains of Bagan, Myanmar Photo Credit

 

Ruins of Bagan Photo Credit

Ruins of Bagan Photo Credit

But the Pagan Empire, sadly located in an active earthquake zone, was shattered by series of earthquakes and started to decline. It collapsed completely in 1287 when the kingdom was swept away by Kublai Khan and his invading Mongols. Some 2,230 monuments endured the test of time, standing as a legacy of the kingdom’s Buddhist beliefs. Several huge and well-preserved monuments still shine majestically, in stark contrast to all of the other ruined temples stretched across the plain.

Unfortunately, they were buried under a strict political regime for a long time. However, with the recent downfall of Myanmar’s ruthless military state, has made this breathtaking remnant of a flamboyant city, with its unspoiled historical heritage, to be once again opened to the outer world as a safe and tourist-friendly destination.

Shwezigon Pagoda lays in the Shwe Zigon settlement close to Bagan and serves as a pilgrimage center. It was built during the reign of King Anawrahta, the founder of the Pagan Dynasty Photo Credit

Shwezigon Pagoda lays in the Shwe Zigon settlement close to Bagan and serves as a pilgrimage center. It was built during the reign of King Anawrahta, the founder of the Pagan Dynasty Photo Credit

 

                                                 Balloons are flying over Bagan valley at sunrise. The great Irrawaddy River can be seen in the background Photo Credit

Soon after, Myanmar and the thousand-temple city with its captivating scenery started to develop into a magnet for visitors. Nowadays, the sky is filled with hot air balloons flying above the valley, offering breathtaking sunrise and sunset views of the plain’s canopy of green and the thousands and thousands of beautiful silhouettes which cover virtually everything in sight.

Read another story from us: Borobudur temple in Indonesia is the largest Buddhist temple and one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world

The large panorama of over 2,000 temples and pagodas, spread across the Bagan Valley, means that you can indeed witness the scale of it from the air, and slowly floating is the best way of doing it.