Myanmar (formerly Burma) is home to various architectural styles from different periods of history and has various neighboring influences. The most prominent architecture in Myanmar includes pagodas, stupas, temples, and Colonial buildings. In the 9th century, the Bamar people of Myanmar had established a kingdom that was centered in Bagan.
Bagan, thus is the heart of many architectural marvels in the country. These include temples with Indian Influence, traditional Burmese architecture, and many ancient religious sites. The Bagan Archaeological site today consists of over 2000 monuments dating from the 11th to 13th century. The Bagan Archaeological Zone is the official term for the traditional district of Bagan’s ancient Kingdom.
If you are a history buff, then the following sites are a must-visit for any architect in Bagan:
1. Old Bagan
The ancient capital of the Kingdom of Bagan was known as “Old Bagan.” From the 11th to the 13th centuries, it ruled over huge areas of modern-day central Myanmar and beyond. In a few areas, the walls that surrounded the kingdom capital have survived.
There are numerous Buddhist temples both outside and within these walls that inspire awe even today. Within the limits of the remaining city walls, Old Bagan now consists mainly of temples and pagodas with the recent addition of hotels and the Bagan Archaeological Museum.
2. Sulamani Pahto
The Sulamani Pahto is one of Bagan’s prime temple attractions. Originally, it used to be a complex consisting of a lecture hall, cells for the monks, library, and many associated buildings. However, only the temple remains today.
The temple, as its name suggests, is the “crowning jewel” of the late period Bagan monument building. It was built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu. It is architecturally similar to the Thatbyinnyu Temple and also serves as a direct blueprint for Htilominlo Pahto.
The temple contains several well-preserved Buddhist paintings, which date back to the 12th century. The red brick structure is a stepped pyramid on a square base and oriented to the east. The pyramid is topped by a beautiful wrought Shikhara or Sikhara that was restored since the devastating earthquake of July 1975.
3. Htilominlo Pahto
The Htilominlo Pahto is a majestic three-storey temple in the northeast of old Bagan. Rising tall at 46 meters, it is similar in design and planning to Sulamani Pahto, constructed three decades before the Htilominlo Pahto. Named after King Htilominlo, the monument pays homage to its builder.
The Htilominlo Pahto is made of brick structurally and was originally plastered with white stucco, although years of wear and tear have left very few plastered bits. The intricately carved stucco depicted mythological creatures and animals. Set on a low platform, the temple is symmetrical except for its East porch which extends out.
The temple’s square base is roughly 140 feet (43 metres) on each face. There are receding terraces with stupas on each corner. The terraces originally consisted of carved plaques from Jataka Tales and the lives of Buddha, though not many remain today.
4. East and West Hpetleik (11th century)
These temples were built before the reign of King Anawrahta and represent the transition from the earlier Pyu prototypes to the ubiquitous Bagan architecture seen in the complex. These temples’ barrel-shaped stupas with flat-roofed bases are distinct from Bagan’s usual structures.
Both temples contain unglazed tiles which depict Jataka tales in the Pali language, and stories of the life of Buddha.
5. Seinnyet Sister Temples
Seinnyet Ama Phaya and Seinnyet Nyima Pahto are two monuments in a single complex, a few kilometers south of Old Bagan. Queen Seinnyet and her sister established the temple and pagoda in the 12th century. The elder sister, Seinnyet Ama, is a Gu Phaya or a hollow shrine, and the younger sister, Seinnyet Nyima, is a pagoda.
Seinnyet Ama Phaya:
From the outside, the monument has an appealing geometrical formality with a sturdy rectangular center topped by a pyramid-like collection of terraces, crowned by a tall shikhara (possibly rebuilt in the 1990s). The interior consists of many paintings depicting Jataka Tales, however; they are badly weathered and hardly discernible today.
Seinnyet Nyima Pahto:
The Seinnyat Nyima pahto is seemingly older than the Seinnyet Ama temple, the former being one of the finest stupas in Bagan. The stupa has three terraces that sit on its solid square base and a bell-shaped dome. The dome is adorned with molded bands and has niches in each of the four cardinal directions.
6. Great Audience Hall, Mandalay Palace
The Mandalay Palace was the last palace to be built by the Burmese Royals. The large Palace complex consists of many buildings such as audience halls, throne rooms, a monastery, a watchtower, a court building, a tooth relic building, and a library where the Buddhist scriptures were kept.
The Great Audience Hall is a very beautiful, eye-catching structure with its seven-storey Pyatthat roof. It is an intricately decorated building, which was originally gilded. The hall is around 245 feet (75 meters) long and is built in teak with traditional Burmese architecture.
7. Shwenandaw Golden Palace Monastery
The single remaining structure of the original Royal Place of Amarapura in Mandalay Hill, the Shwenandaw Monastery is built in a traditional Burmese Architectural Style. It is known for its detailed Teak carvings of Buddhist mythology, which adorns the walls and ceilings of the structure. The teak carvings were once coated in gold, but only few of them exist today.
The Monastery is an ideal place to envision what the Royal Palace would have been like. The Palace was destroyed by fire during the Second World War and only the Shwenandaw Monastery remains the major original wooden structure to have survived the fire.
The Monastery in Bagan has a four-tiered roof, with each section smaller than the one below it. Large teak columns support the monastery. The building houses some of the best-preserved panels depicting Jataka Tales and the lives of Buddha. The main room of the Monastery is home to a large image of Buddha, which is accessible for worship only to men.
8. Ananda Pahto
The Ananda Pahto or Ananda Pagoda, one of Bagan’s most magnificent and well-known temples, was built in 1105 AD during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty. It remains one of the most extensively preserved and possibly the most photographed temples in all of Bagan’s architectural complexes.
The architecture of the temple was reportedly inspired by eight Indian monks who visited Bagan and the stories of their life in the Himalayas.
The elegant and symmetrical structure of the temple is a perfectly proportioned Greek cross layout. The most prominent feature of the temple is the beautifully gilded Shikhara that rises 167ft (or 51 meters) and sits on the central tower. The tower architecture shows North Indian influence and reflects the transition from Early to Middle Bagan Architecture.
The Temple is home to various priceless plaques, statues, and moldings including the Jataka Tales Plaques, the four 9-and-a-half meters tall Buddha images, and the largest collection of Bagan Terra Cotta tiles.
9. Nanpaya Temple
The Nanpaya Temple was built during the reign of King Anawrahta, the founder of the Bagan Empire, and the temple is surprisingly sophisticated for such early work. The temple walls have a sandstone exterior while the interior is faced with baked bricks. Due to this fact, the Nanpaya temple is unique in its structure.
The artisans first built a brick structural support and then added the carved stone on the outside. This temple has Brahma figures and wall arches that are traditionally Indian-style architecture.
The temple today is plain and not dramatic in appearance. Many decorative motifs in the temple go on to become ubiquitous in the architecture of Bagan. Thus, this temple is an early specimen of the Hindu influence and the development of Bagan architecture.
10. Dhammayangyi Pahto
The Dhammayangyi Pahto is Bagan’s most massive shrine extending approximately 255 feet (78 meters) on each side. It was built by King Narathu in 1170. The construction of the brick stepped square pyramidal structure is very immaculate, yet the structure was never completed.
Three of the four ambulatories of the temple are filled in with debris, possibly by resentful workers, as it is believed that King Narathu’s rule was very harsh.
11. Shwezigon Paya
It is possibly the most replicated pagoda design all over Myanmar. The Shwezigon Paya was built by King Anawrahta, the founder of the Bagan Empire. The complex has seen several additions of shrines and temples in the year 1090. Since it enshrines many important and sacred Buddhist relics and texts, it is a major religious site.
The Shwezigon temple was damaged in several earthquakes but has been restored since. One of the key features of the pagoda is its gilded bell-shaped stupa that sits on a square base, at the base of which sit four golden lions at every corner.
12. Thatbyinnyu Pahto
With a height of over 196 feet (60 meters), the Thatbyinnyu Pahto is one of the tallest monuments in Bagan. The Thatbyinnyu is one of Bagan’s first two-story structures, following the single-story pagodas of the early period, such as the Shwezigon pagoda.
There is a small temple near the Thatbyinnyu, called the Tally Pagoda. During the huge Thatbyinnyu’s construction, it seems that one brick was set aside for every 10,000 bricks used to keep count of the number of bricks used. The tall pagoda was built after the completion of the Thatbyinnyu with the bricks that had been set aside.
13. Nathlaung Kyaung Temple
Located slightly west of Thatbyinnyu, the Nathlaung Kyaung Temple is the only remaining Hindu temple in Bagan, Myanmar. It is also one of the earliest of the Bagan Temples. This stepped square temple was built in devotion to Vishnu, perhaps by the artisans who were brought from India to work on other Bagan Temples.
Of the original temple complex, only the superstructure and the main hall remain, and the other structures have disappeared or been damaged.
14. Le-myet-hna Temple
The Le-myet-hna Temple is located very close to the Minnanthu Village near Old Bagan. The proximity of the temple to the village allows for the Villagers to use and maintain this ancient structure. This is the only structure that is currently in use and is a great example to witness the use of a Bagan temple in the way it was intended.
The Villagers regularly maintain and whitewash the walls of the temple, thus it is difficult to date the structure.
15. Nann Myint Tower
The Nann Myint or “High Palace” Tower is the place to go for viewing over 2000 monuments in the Bagan area of Myanmar at once. The 196 feet (60 meters) tall tower rises above a luxury resort in the eastern part of the Bagan archaeological site.
The tower has 13 levels- a galleria and souvenir shop on the first floor, meeting rooms from level 2 to 4, offices and restaurants from level 5 to 10 and Levels 11 to 13 are viewing rooms.
The structure is fairly plain and the color adds to its intent of camouflaging into the dry setting of Bagan. Without intruding too much into the skyline, the Nann Myint tower provides spectacular panoramic views of the site and allows for views of the tops of pagodas as well.
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