GPS: 21.171879813598, 94.858574700158
Bagan is the ancient capital of the first Burmese empire, the Kingdom of Pagan. It thrives from the mid-9th to the end of the 13th centuries, about the same period as the Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia. It was during the reign of Burmese king Anawrahta, at the origin of the unification of the kingdom in the 11th century, that Bagan became its capital. He distinguished himself militarily by annexing several territories (the kingdoms of Dvâravatî, Sri Ksetra and Dali) backed by the basin of the Irrawaddy River. From these victorious battles, the sovereign brings back as spoils of war many relics, manuscripts and sacred texts like the Tripiṭaka (founding texts of Buddhism). He discovered the theravāda (an ancient and rigorous branch of Buddhism from India and Sri Lanka) then decided to be converted by the monk Shin Arahan, originally from Thaton, the former capital of the Mon kingdom of Dvâravatî.
King Anawrahta imposed the theravāda on his subjects as the new state religion of his empire and abandoned the Mahāyāna Buddhism practised by his predecessors. He built in Bagan a vast complex of religious monuments dedicated to the worship of the Buddha and to Buddhist teaching. This titanic project was continued by its successors at the head of the kingdom of Pagan before gaining its contemporary nickname “land of a thousand pagodas”. Despite several earthquakes and the devastating invasion of the city by the Great Khan of the Mongols and future Emperor of China (Yuan dynasty), Kublai Khan in 1287, Bagan retains countless archaeological remains. Divided into three geographic areas (New Bagan to the south, Old Bagan to the north and Nyaung-U to the east) along the Irrawaddy River, this place mainly impresses by the density of its temples, pagodas, monasteries, stūpas (structures in bell) and Buddhist sanctuaries. In total, these form more than 2,200 religious sites and monuments still standing, which are spread over a vast plain covering an area of more than 100 km².
Veritable archaeological treasure, Bagan is today one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Buddhism. Located in a region of high seismicity, its jewels are under the constant threat of new earthquakes. The last major shake dates back to August 2016 (magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale), damaging numerous temples and pagodas. Under the aegis of Unesco, major restoration works will be carried out on nearly 500 buildings in Bagan and its area in the coming years.