I believe for most people when they think of Bagan, they think of the hot air balloons with the sun setting or rising in the background. The rich orange and yellow glow of the sun reflecting off the ancient temples in the distance. The burnt orange temples with their artistic details littering the plains. This is all exactly how it is today. It’s almost like walking through a dream set in a time where kings and royal courts walked amongst the people. Its daunting just how old these structures are.
Bagan is said to be dated back as far as the 9th century, however, the construction of the vast amount of structures were made during the 11th and 13th centuries. At that time there were over 10,000 different Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries in an area of 40 square miles. Today there are about 2,229 still standing. The culture of Bagan has always been dominated by religion. Beginning in the early 10th century Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Empire and was a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies. In the late 12th century the Pagan Empire collapsed because of repeated Mongol invasions. A city that had been home to some 200,000 people was reduced to a small town and never again regained its prominence.
Over the years many smaller less important temples fell into disrepair. The more larger popular ones have been maintained by devotees. Bagan is in an active earthquake zone and has suffered several earthquakes in its time. In 1975 a quake of 8MM shook through Bagan which left many temples severely irreparable. In the 1900 the military government began restoration on many of the damaged structures in hopes of making it a tourist attraction, unfortunately very little thought was given towards the original architectural styles and modern materials were used compromising the integrity and history of the buildings. In 2016 Bagan was hit by another major earthquake that destroyed some 400 temples.
Today Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is almost always compared to Angkor Wat in Siem Riep, Cambodia. I haven’t been there yet so I can’t compare the two. The UNESCO experts have taken great measures in protecting the remaining structures and many damaged temples are not to be entered. Before you are allowed to enter any of the temples or pagodas you must pay an archaeological zone fee costing roughly $20 USD. I’m praying this goes into the upkeep and restoration of this beautiful stretch of land, but I’m not convinced that is the case.
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