Pagan (Bagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma (Myanmar). From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
According to the Burmese chronicles, Bagan was founded in the second century CE, and fortified in 849 CE by King Pyinbya, 34th successor of the founder of early Bagan. Mainstream scholarship however holds that Bagan was founded in the mid-to-late 9th century by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Nanzhao Kingdom. It was among several competing Pyu city-states until the late 10th century when the Burman settlement grew in authority and grandeur.
From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. Over the course of 250 years, Bagan’s rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments. The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon as well as the Khmer Empire.
The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301). Recent research shows that Mongol armies may not have reached Bagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they inflicted was probably minimal. However, the damage had already been done. The city, once home to some 50,000 to 200,000 people, had been reduced to a small town, never to regain its preeminence. The city formally ceased to be the capital of Burma in December 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom became the new power in Upper Burma.
14th to 19th centuries
Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement, and as a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period. A smaller number of “new and impressive” religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century but afterward, new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with fewer than 200 temples built between the 15th and 20th centuries. The old capital remained a pilgrimage destination but pilgrimage.
20th century to present
Pagan (Bagan), located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975. The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM in Nyaung-U. The quake damaged many temples.Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.
Many of these damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government, which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination. However, the restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics are aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles, and used modern materials, and that the government has also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower.
Bagan today is a main tourist destination in the country’s nascent tourism industry, which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns. The majority of over 300,000 international tourists to the country in 2011 are believed to have also visited Bagan. Several Burmese publications note that the city’s small tourism infrastructure will have to expand rapidly even to meet a modest pickup in tourism in the following years.
There is a well-known saying of Myanmar people : “If you are a real Myanmar, you must have been to Bagan.” Bagan is spirit of history of Myanmar.
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