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Bagan Temples

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Burma.

  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
  • Photo of Bagan Temples
Photo of Bagan Temples
Photo by flickr user organic guru
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There are two enormous ancient temple complexes in Southeast Asia: Bagan in Burma and Angkor in Cambodia. Both sites are remarkable for their expanse of sacred geography and the number and size of their individual temples. For many visitors Bagan is the more extraordinary because of its wonderful views.

Scattered across a vast dusty plain may be seen scores of exotic Buddhist temples. The kingdoms of Bagan date to the early 2nd century AD, yet the region entered its golden age during the reign of King Anawrahta in 1057 AD. From this time, until it was overrun by Kublai Khan's forces in 1287 AD, more than 13,000 temples, pagodas and other religious structures were built. Today, seven centuries later, approximately 2,200 temples remain standing. The river Irrawaddy has washed away nearly one-third of the original city area, thieves have torn apart many temples in search of treasures, while earthquakes and the ravages of time have reduced hundreds of other temples to piles of crumbling stones.

Two of the loveliest temples are the Mahabodhi and Gawdawpalin. The Mahabodhi, a smaller replica of the famous Bodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, India (where the Buddha attained enlightenment), was built during the 13th century reign of King Nantaungmya and is covered with niches containing seated Buddha figures. The 60 meter tall Gawdawpalin temple, built in the 12th century by King Narapatisithu, was badly damaged in a 1975 earthquake but has since been reconstructed. Many of the temples of Bagan are still functioning and large numbers of pilgrims visit the ancient holy place.

Photos: Mahabodhi temple, Bagan, Burma

Gawdawpalin temple, Bagan, Burma

Sacred Sites Information on the Bagan Temples.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Other expert and press reviews

“The Crumbling Ochre Temples of Bagan, Burma”

As a tourist, you’ll never run out of temples to see in Southeast Asia. After two years of exploring temples, from Thailand to Cambodia to China and back, nothing stands out in my memories like the crumbling ruins of Bagan. Formerly Pagan, it was f… Read more...

Written by  Jodi Ettenberg. Read more on Jodi's blog

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers


Definitely the least visited Ruin that we have ever visited. Bagan is a wonder of Asia. Located in Myanmar (Burma) we took a ferry from Mandalay on the Irrawady River to the ruins. This Buddhist complex was built in 1057 and covers 16 square miles.

We hired a horse cart to take us through the complex and it was magical. Time stands still in most of Burma and this feeling is even heightened in Bagan. Farmers ride by on their ox carts, very few many locals pray at the temples and monks walk the street in the morning searching for alms.

Like most other ruins, the highlight is walking to the top of the highest temple; Thatbyinnyu Pahto to overlook the complex. But one of the most extraordinary temples is Ananda Pahto. Inside stands 4 giant Buddhas and two sacred Buddha footprints. Visiting Bagan made a believer out of me! It is a spiritual sight that gives off a feeling of calm and peace.

What we loved about Bagan was how we could enter almost all of the temples. We studied their scriptures up close and checked out the architecture. This was actually the only ruin that we spent 2 full days exploring. It is just to big and extraordinary.

It is sad that this extraordinary site is located in a country run by a military junta. They unfortunately are doing a terrible job restoring the pagodas. Shoddy work with no care for staying with its original design. But the temples that are restored and have weathered time are an incredible sight and worth a visit. It would have been higher on the list if the government didn’t repress its people so much. How can we give a site top marks if it isn’t staying true to the message of its ancestors and respecting its people.

Bagan on bikes

The temples at Bagan - getting quite toursity but still great to take out bikes in the early morning and explore the temples, roving over the sandy lanes with no one to really disturb you from the remnants of this once great empire.

Pagodas at Bagan

The thousands of layer built, stone carved pagodas at Bagan, Burma were built between the 11th and 13th Centuries during the time the city was a thriving Buddhist centre. Their designs alter from pagoda to pagoda, with some featuring luxurious mosaic or frescos, some complicated internal tunnels and mazes, some grand statues and some complicated rounded exteriors. The richness of design and culture found here can be attributed to the Mon monks who were brought to Bagan in the 11th Century and who were responsible for teaching the locals the alphabet as well as the scriptures.

While there once could have been as many as 10,000 pagodas there are now around 2,000, most having been felled in earthquakes and destroyed at the end of the 13th Century when Kublai Kahn’s forces invaded Bagan.

The most impressive pagodas still standing are Dhammayangyi, containing an inner maze of tunnels and staircases, Thatbyinnyu, at the height of a 15 storey building it is the tallest of the remaining structures, Anada, at 172 feet is among both the most intricate and best preserved and Shwezigon, a bell shaped stupa inside which stand several important golden Buddhist statues and important relics including a holy tooth relic given to the founder of the pagoda by the King of Sri Lanka.

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