Bagan was founded in 849 on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy river about 500 kilometers north of Yangon. Today it is only a small town ... with a big past. Bagan once was the capital of the first realm in today's Myanmar, whose area of dominance had roughly the extent of the present Burmese state.
Bagan ... today it is, strictly speaking, more of an archaeological site than a town, because more than 2,000 pagodas cover in mostly undamaged condition an area of about 40 square kilometers about the extent of the classical Bagan. Besides that, one finds in this area, which can be managed in walking stages, at least another 2,000 temple ruins. Even though Bagan is less famous than Angkor Wat in Cambodia, it is occasionally compared to the templecity of the Khmer concerning its archaeological importance.
Bagan's peak time coincided with Myanmar's architectural peak time in 1044 with Bagan King Anawratha's ascension to the throne. Only one year after King Anawratha's conversion to Buddhism in 1056 by a Mon monk, Shin Arahan, he went to war against the Mon town of Bago to gain possession of holy Buddhist scripts (the Tripitaka), which Mon King Manuba was unwilling to surrender voluntarily.
After a siege lasting several months Manuba finally surrendered. Bago was destroyed and the Tripataka was transported to Bagan on the backs of 32 white elephants.But the holy Buddhist scripts were not the only trophies gained from the war. The Burmanese army took 30,000 Mons prisoners of war to Bagan, among them numerous craftsmen and artisans, who in following decades not only enriched, but even determined, Bagan's culture. The Pagodas of the following period were almost exclusively built in Mon style.
The integration of the Mon artisans and craftsmen not only caused the pagodas to be built in Mon style, but also led to a so far in Myanmar unparalleled level of construction activity.
In 1287 hordes of Mongolian horsemen under Kublai Khan conquered Bagan. The town, at least the wooden, secular buildings, were mostly burnt down. Soon after, the realm of Bagan disintegrated into many, smaller kingdoms and fiefdoms. In latter times the town was not rebuilt.
In 1975 a strong earthquake damaged and destroyed many smaller temples and even a number of large and massively built temples and pagodas were harmed.
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