The ancient cities of Myanmar have long been a cultural attraction with their ancient temples and ruins that mark the rise and fall of kingdoms that once flourished. Some of them date as far back A 200BC and it is a true wonder to stand among the ruins of a once great city and marvel at the structures that have withstood the test of time.
In Myanmar’s long history, capitals were moved several times for various reasons. For example King Mindon moved the capital from Amarapura to Mandalay to fulfil a Buddhist prophecy. The entire process of moving a capital was not easy, as the buildings had to be dismantled and transported – the most important monasteries would be rebuilt later on.
The Sagaing empire was governed by Shan kings from 1315 to 1364 and rests on the west bank of the Ayeyarwady River. It has a large number of pagodas and monasteries, with the U Min Thonze Pagoda a well-known structure for its 45 large Buddha images that are arranged in a crescent. On top of Sagaing Hill is Kaungmudaw Pagoda, built in 1636 as one of the largest stupas in Myanmar. Due to warring Shan kingdoms, the empire collapsed in 1364.
Innwa was also called Ava, and served as the capital of Myanmar during five separate occasions, the first being from 1365 to 1555 during the Ava Kingdom. The kingdom had several successful rulers between the 14th century to the 19th century and was occasionally rebuilt. However, most of the city was destroyed during a great earthquake in 1839. The remains of the Royal Palace today is a tilting watch tower and moat, and protective walls that surround the palace. The most noticeable landmark is the Brick Monastery, which is an elaborately decorated building with brick walls. The most impressive, though, is Bagaya Monastery. It was built in 1834 and today it serves as a school for monks.
South of Mandalay is Amarapura, which was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1783. It became the capital of Myanmar during the Konbaung Dynasty for 38 years, before being replaced by Innwa. It was slated as capital again from 1841 to 1857 until King Mindon moved the capital to Mandalay. The U Bein Bridge was built here in the 19th century using the leftover wood from dismantling the other buildings, and is 1,200 metres long. The other monasteries that are worth a visit in Amarapura are Pahtodawgyi Pagoda, built in the 10th century and Shwe Gu Gyi Pagoda, built in the 12th century.
Today, Amarapura is known for its silk industry, so you can visit a silk-weaving workshop to watch craftsmen at work. You can also visit Mahagandayon Monastery on the way, as it is one of Myanmar’s largest teaching monasteries.
Bagan is an ancient city that once thrived from the 11th to the 13th century, during a time where Bagan was the capital of the first Myanmar empire. Located on the banks of Ayeyarwady River, this city was once home to a civilisation that dwelled in the 13,000 brick temples that lay scattered throughout the land. The entire area is known as ‘Old Bagan’, and 2,300 temples can be visited today in the Bagan Archaeological Zone.