Bagan was born when King Anawrahta took the throne by force in 1044. He unified the country, introduced Theravada Buddhism and began building Bagan’s first temple, the grand Shwezigon. The hubristic Anawrahta coveted the sacred Buddhist scriptures (the Tripitaka) held by the very Mons who enlightened him. When they refused to hand them over, he took them by force. Anawrahta was eventually killed by a wild buffalo, but his dynasty ruled for 200 years. This was Bagan’s golden age, a period of manic temple building. Things began to go bad under the decadent King Narathihapati, who built the gorgeous Mingalazedi pagoda but bankrupted the city, leaving it vulnerable to attack by Kublai Khan in 1287..
Today, about 2,200 monuments remain in various states of repair, which makes Bagan one of the most dense concentrations of temples and pagodas in the world.
The scale of Bagan can be overwhelming with its thousands of monuments as far as the eye can see. Some are very well maintained and have been restored, while others are neglected and overgrown with vegetation.
Recognizing its importance, UNESCO has placed the Bagan archeological zone, an area of about 104 km2 on its tentative list for consideration as a future World Heritage Site.
The city was crushed again in 1975, when an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale damaged many of Bagan’s principal structures. During the 1990’s the Burmese government had many of the damaged temples and pagodas restored. Unfortunately, the renovations were not done with the original architectural concepts in mind.
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