What to Know about Bagan - The New UNESCO World Heritage Site

11 Jul 2019 by Admin

The ancient city Bagan with its massive amount of temples has finally be added to the list of World Heritage sites selected by UNESCO. The announcement was made during a meeting of the UN's cultural body in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 06, ended the long wait for Myanmar.

Bagan was nominated by the Myanmar government to be named World Heritage site in 1995 but the proposal was halted due to lack of inappropriate preservation plan and legislative intervention of military government then. At that time, many officials of military junta were accused of constantly ignored expert’s advice on conservation endeavors which is another reason Bagan application was set aside to tentative - status list.

Bagan - World Heritage Site Recognition

After the political transition in 2011, Myanmar has put on more efforts, renewed the application, and taken actions to get Bagan more recognition. The most recent earthquake in August 2016 with 6.8 magnitudes had destroyed nearly 400 monuments in Bagan. Myanmar had to cooperate with multiple organizations like UNESCO, the World Bank, etc. and get help from other countries like Germany, China, and Japan to recover Bagan after that disaster.

Bagan - the land of "a living heritage" that has existed for a thousand years. 

Concerns and donations from different agencies flowed in to serve one main purpose which is to restore this sacred land so it continues to be a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, an archaeological zone and most importantly “a living heritage” that has existed for a thousand years.

The multi - layered value of Bagan is undeniable. After undergoing difficult trials, Bagan has ultimately received the recognition it deserves thanks to the nonstop efforts of Myanmar's government.   

The double - edged sword tourism has always been the biggest obstacle for many World Heritage sites and Bagan is not an exception. Global scale recognition (that will draw an inflow of tourists into the site) and the needs of scrupulous preservation makes an ironic situation. The development and maintenance of the site must be balanced.

Thus, Myanmar submitted an all-inclusive plan of management on preserving Bagan heritage in January that served as a primary part of the application to put Bagan on the list. The International Council on Monuments and Sites stated: “Myanmar had adopted a new heritage law and had formed plans to reduce the impact of hotels and tourism developments around the temple.”

It took a long time but Myanmar and UNESCO did not give up on Bagan all due to its high value on history and architecture.

The History of Bagan 

History of Bagan is very much relevant to Myanmar’s history. Located on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy River, Bagan was founded a millennium ago by King  Anawrahta along with a frenzy of constructions built over the land. King Anawrahta was not only the first King to build a Burmese kingdom but also an enthusiastic devotee of Buddhism who was said to introduce Buddhism religion to the country.

Over ten thousand of temples, stupas, monasteries had been constructed during the Bagan dynasty by King Anawrahta and his successors. Bagan was the first capital of Burma formed, a political and economic center as well as where Burmese culture took shape (which was dominated by religion).

After the collapse of Bagan dynasty in 1287, evidence shows that the city continued to be a religious center in which many of the temples were protected by subsequent generations. 

The sacred Buddha images in Dhammayangyi Temple

Bagan’s Glorious and Meticulous Architecture

The impressive Bagan is not just known for the number of structures but for the glorious and meticulous architecture that showed the fantastic level of Myanmar’s ancient handicrafts. There are more than two thousand monuments that are still extant on Bagan plain, mostly made of brick and there are some made of sandstone.It is truly incredible that this massive amount of temples remains intact or just partially destructed after centuries.

There are two primary architectural styles used in Bagan. Fine carvings, gorgeous decoration on magnificent stupas can be found easily in Bagan Archaeological Zone, for instance, Bupaya, Shwezigon or Nagkywenadaung. Fully gilded Buddha statue in huge multi - storied buildings might be found in Ananda, Dhammayangyi, Gawdawpalin. Each has its own ravishing beauty both inside and outside.

Ananda Temple - one of the most beautiful temples in Bagan Archaeological Zone

Bagan Travel & Tours

With such blessed scenery, traveling to Bagan has become hotter than ever. It is said that the best way to enjoy the landscape of the whole Bagan is to ride a hot - air balloon.

These hot - air balloon flights usually start at either sunrise or sunset to take advantage of the stunning hue from the sun. 45 minutes flying over the site enable travelers to marvel at the whole plain of Bagan dotted with beautiful pagodas, decorated by the villages, a peaceful river and rolling mountains in the distance. Magical would be the word to describe the panoramic bird’s - eye view from the hot - air balloon basket.

From above, everything is hazy and glowing at the same time because of the mist and the sunlight, making Bagan a fairytale version of an archaeological zone. 

Magical would be the word to describe the panoramic bird’s-eye view from the hot-air balloon basket

Another mean of transport tourists love in Bagan is the royal way - the horse-drawn carriage. It is suitable for those who want to escape the fast pace of modern life to enjoy the landscape in an elegant manner. The humble bicycle is also a common way to explore the sacred city Bagan.

A way to escape the fast pace of modern life to enjoy the landscape in an elegant manner

Thanks to the flat relief, there are only a few uphill areas so riding a bike is not too harsh. Riding a bicycle gives tourists a closer look at rural life as well as enables tourists to take the initiative and stop anytime anywhere for photography. Once reached the Shwe San Daw temple, there are chances to catch a superb view of the sunset over Bagan.

With a bike, you can get to almost everywhere in Bagan Archeological Zone 

Myanmar river cruises on the Irrawaddy are also available for those wish to explore Bagan in a different way. Embark on the luxury cruises to soak up the tranquility, capture the infamous sunset and the rural villages on the river banks as well as indulge in the high - end services and many interesting activities onboard. 

the strand cruise 3The Strand Cruise - an ideal option for cruising downstream or upstream the Irrawaddy River

Bagan has now gained UNESCO World Heritage status and started to be gone through serious preservation and protection. This ancient city might stand still for another thousand years to serve the eyes and spirits of international tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. 

» For more useful tips for traveling in Myanmar, please see Myanmar Tourist Guide

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