Mandalay


Mandalay, situated about 600 kilometers north of Yangon on the Ayeyarwaddy river, is with about half a Million inhabitants Myanmar's second largest city.

Despite the wonderful sound of its name, inviting associations to an archaic fairy tale kingdom, Mandalay is neither very old nor particularly beautiful. But Mandalay was the capital of the last, independent Burmese kingdom, which in 1886 was finally conquered by British colonial forces.

The town had been founded only 29 years earlier in 1857 by King Mindon, making it thecapital of an independent kingdom for less than 30 years.

Contrary to other Burmese towns, especially Yangon, Mandalay has not grown from a smaller settlement to town proportions. In 1857 Mandalay was set up in an empty area, because, according to an ancient prophecy, in that exact place a town would come into existence on occasion of the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism.

King Mindon decided to fulfill the prophecy and so in 1857 transferred his capital a modest 12 kilometers from Amarapura to the South.

At that time a transfer of the capital not only meant leaving an old town and erecting a new town in a different place. As all secular buildings of that time, including the royal palaces, were built from wood, a transfer of the capital meant the complete dismantling of the houses of the old settlement, which then were loaded on carts and the backs of elephants to be reconstructed at the place chosen for the new town.

This way of moving entire capitals is a tradition in Myanmar. The transfer of the capital from Amarapura to Mandalay had not been the first of its kind. The most important Burmese town of the northern Ayeyarwaddy valley had for a long time been the town of Ava, founded in 1364 about 20 kilometers southwest of Mandalay. In 1636 the at that time powerful royal family from Taungu about 280 kilometers north of Yangon and 320 kilometers south of Mandalay moved to Ava and made it the capital of a Burmese realm roughly equalling the extent of the present Burmese state.

But in 1782 the town was packed up and moved about 8 kilometers to the Northeast, to the aforementioned Amaraputra. In 1823 the entire capital was dismantled again and rebuilt 8 kilometers Southwest in Ava. But in 1838 Ava was damaged by an earthquake, and was therefore in 1841 packed up again and once more transferred to Amarapura. But this was not of duration either, as only 16 years later the entire town was moved again this time 12 kilometers to the Northeast to the present Mandalay.

Who, in the face of all this moving of the Burmese capital, might assume that it was more or less only a temporary camp of tents, is very wrong. At least the royal palaces, despite their being made from wood, were immensely large. Many, enormous teakwood tree trunks served as pillars to support the royal palaces, often several stories high.

The royal palaces of Amarapura were erected on a square area in Mandalay, about one kilometer from the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy. The palace grounds were fenced in with a wall and ditch.

After the British had conquered Mandalay in 1886 they turned the royal palaces of Mandalay into their military headquarters and christened the complex Fort Dufferin.

During World War II the Japanese installed a military camp in the same place, which then was bombed by the allies, until nothing was left of the ancient palace buildings.

Today the former palace ground is known by the name of Fort Mandalay. Of the ancient palaces a few concrete replica have been built and further reconstructions are being conducted.

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