The Royal Palace at Mandalay
One of the foremost attractions of Myanmar is the massive Mandalay Palace located right at the heart of the cultural capital of the country. Mandalay is Myanmar’s last royal capital and the palace is witness to Myanmar’s royal past.
Mandalay was founded by King Mindon Min in February 1857. While forming the new capital at Mandalay, King Mindon ordered the construction of a new Royal Palace called the Mya Nan San Kyaw. The old palace was located in Amarapura, the former capital. He decided to dismantle this palace and build a new one at Mandalay.
Hence, many parts of the palace were constructed using materials from the former palace at Amarapura. The parts were moved by elephants to this new located at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The construction started in June 1857 and was completed in May 1859.
However, the British invaded the palace a few decades later and burned down much of it including the royal library. During this time, the royal regalia of the country was removed and taken to London. It was however returned in 1964 as a gesture of goodwill. The British renamed the palace Fort Dufferin. The palace was used as a supply depot by the Japanese during World War II. However, most of it was destroyed due to bombings during the war. Only the watchtower and the royal mint survived.
The Department of Archaeology started reconstructing the palace in 1989 in association with the regional and national governments of the country. Much of the credit for the Mandalay Palace we can see today goes to the immense efforts put in during the reconstruction process.
Components of the Palace Grounds
Mandalay Palace is spread over an extensive area and consists of a lot of components. As a tourist, you need to visit each of these components to understand the historical background of the palace.
The Royal Palace: The Royal Palace consists of three parts – the Great Audience Hall on the east, the Lion Throne Room on the east as well and the glass palace on the west. All these structures stand on a platform, as is the tradition of any palace in Myanmar.
The Great Audience Hall consists of the left audience hall to the north and the right audience hall to the south. They are called left or right based on their position when the king used to sit on the throne in the centre.
The Lion Throne Room consisted of eight thrones of which the Lion Throne was the biggest. The King alone had the right to sit on the throne. The throne has intricate traditional designs which stand witness to the expertise of the artists of the 19th Century.
The Glass Palace is the most beautiful structure in the palace compound which served as King Mindon’s living space. The palace is divided into two rooms – the east room and the west room by a wooden partition. The east room is called the Bee Throne and is adorned with figures of bees. The west room was the principal room where the King stayed. Only the King and the four principal queens were allowed to sleep here.
Watch Tower: You cannot miss this impressive tower with a 7 tier pyatthat when you are in Mandalay. It can be spotted from afar. The King and the Queen used to stand in this tower to witness a panoramic view of the scenic countryside dotted with the river, lakes and immense greenery. And this is exactly the scene waiting for you even today when you climb up this tower.
Clock Tower: The clock tower is located on the northern side of the palace. A simple building with high square plinth and a wooden platform, it has a hti or umbrella on top. From this platform, the time was informed to the people y sounding a gong and a large drum every third hour. Day and night were each divided into four watches.
Hluttaw: This is the supreme court building where the official business of the court was carried out. You can see a lion throne where the chief used to seat. The entire structure has intricate decorations and massive teak pillars painted red in the bottom.
Royal Mausoleums: To the north of the clock tower lies a number of mausoleums bearing the memories of the members of the royal family. The most important one was erected in the memory of King Mindon who died in 1878. It was originally built by his son King Thibaw and was a humble structure. The Sawbwa of Yawnghwe later decorated it with glass mosaic.
Royal Mint: After visiting the mausoleums, walk towards the northeast and you will be able to see the place where the first Burmese coin was minted in 1865. The mint was used as a bakery for the troops once the British occupied the palace. The royal mint is one of the few palace structures that occupied the bombings during World War II.
Relic Tower: To the south of the clock tower stands the relic tower or the Tooth Relic Tower which dons traditional Myanmarese architecture. The tower has three parts – a low basement, a terrace rising from the basement and a relic chamber with a three-tiered roof. The entire structure is crowned by a hti or umbrella. Although the tower is called the Tooth Relic Tower, the tooth relic was never enshrined here. The tower was built following the tradition that all royal cities contain a tooth relic tower.
Entry Fee to Mandalay Palace
Mandalay Palace is included in the Mandalay Free Zone Pass which you can obtain by paying USD10.
Tips for visiting the Mandalay Palace
Here are a few things tourists need to know about visiting Mandalay Palace:
- Tourists can enter through the East Gate of the Palace.
- The Palace is a military zone and will have military personnel posted all around.
- All foreigners are required to carry their passports with them. They will have to surrender their passport at the entry gate since the palace is a military zone. Each tourist is given a tag in lieu of the surrendered passport. Tourists can submit these tags and take their passport back at the exit point.
- There are several restricted zones within the Palace. Tourists are requested to take a note of that.
- The Palace compound is quite large and can take about an hour to cover. For tourists who have a problem in walking can hire motorcycle taxis at the entry gate for assistance.
- Several books are available at the entry gate to understand the history of the Palace. Tourists can also hire guides for assistance.
Mandalay Palace is one of the most impressive structures in the country and it should not be missed!