Referred to as “the new Angkor Wat” by one blogger, Bagan, in central Burma, lies 90 miles southwest of Mandalay. In an area covering 16 square miles, this capital of several ancient kingdoms is home to thousands of temples, pagodas, monasteries, stupas and other religious monuments — and at one time there were thousands more.
Most of these extraordinary structures, such as the Shwezigon and Sulamani temples, were built between the 11th century and 13th centuries. With a gilded bell-shaped dome that is an architectural prototype for later temples, Shwezigon, built in the 11th century, houses four 13-foot bronze Buddhas and representations of all 37 nats, or spirits. Red-brick Sulamani, erected in the late 12th century, displays fine frescoes and skilled plasterwork carvings.
Writing about seven hundred years apart, the great explorer and merchant Marco Polo and the noted author Somerset Maugham expressed their awe of the many temples of Bagan:
“They make one of the finest sights in the world, being exquisitely finished, splendid and costly. When illuminated by the sun they are especially brilliant and can be seen from the great distance.”
“They loom, huge, remote, and mysterious, like the vague recollections of a fantastic dream.”