Though this culturally rich country boasts of a proud history of pre-colonial and post-colonial architecture and art, continuous political and social changes have given an everlasting quality of change to buildings which has not helped its traditional forms of architecture to stand the test of time. You’ll be amazed at the richness of Burmese Architecture which stands in contrast to the crumbling and neglected state of many historically valuable buildings.
Deep religious devotion of Burmese people could be seen in the sheer quantity of Pagodas and Temples scattered in and around the country. Thus leaving no doubts as to why Myanmar came to be called “the land of million pagodas”
1. Pagodas (Stupas)
This solid structures cannot be entered and are said to contain sacred Buddhist relics that are hidden from view in containers buried at their core or in the walls. Clear examples of the classical model of the Burmese stupas (with a square base of several recessed terraces, a stairway on each side leading up to one or two octagonal terraces, on top of this a circular bell-shaped dome extending upward into a conical, ringed spire) can be seen in the great Shwezigon Stupa in Pagan and the Kuthawdaw Stupa in Mandalay. Of course you cannot miss the towering symbol of Buddhism, the ever popular shwedagon pagoda of Yangon which is another example of the richness of Pagoda architecture in Myanmar.
- Temples With an open central sanctuary. You can see hundreds of examples of this kind at Bagan. Larger temples of this type have a central shrine that can be entered from all four sides. At times you can find four Buddha images seated back to back at the center.
- With a solid core ringed by a corridor. These are square shaped structures with four entrances. You can find four images placed in a niche facing each entrance. These four images usually represent, the Great Events in the Buddha’s life – Birth, Enlightenment, First Sermon and Death – or in some temples you’ll find four identical Buddhas representing the four previous Buddhas of our era. The fifth Buddha in some temples represents the future Buddha, Maitreya. You will find more than several temples of this type at Bagan.
- A combination of the two. You’ll find this type of architecture in most of the larger temples of Bagan. (e.g.: Nagoyan Temple).This type They usually have a square central sanctuary surrounded by a circumambulatory corridor with an entrance hall and porch on one side. You’ll see the primary Buddha image in the central shrine facing the entrance, and numerous smaller images filling niches throughout the temple.
You’ll see temples built inspired by:
- The Mon phase such as the The Nagayon temple, built by King Kyanzittha about 1090 AD
- Transitional phase (between Mon phase and Burmese phase) such as the Ananda Temple built by King Kyanzittha in 11l2 AD
- Burmese phase, such as The Thatbyinnu Temple built by King Alaungsithu, between 1150 - 1160 AD.
- Hindu culture. The Nathlaungkyaung is the only Hindu temple at Bagan dedicated to God Vishnu
- Single, enclosed, two-story brick building. You can easily find this type inside the compound of important temples or stupas in Bagan. A library occupies the center stage of the first floor with a corridor around it with doors opening to the timber pavilion and to the outside. The second floor is basically reached with the help of stairs built into the thickness of a sidewall and usually consists of a central room ringed by a hallway. A second staircase can be seen leading to the flat terraced roof.
- Multi cell monasteries. These have several small, single-cell rooms opening into a rectangular courtyard and are similar to those built in India at Nalanda, Ratnagiri, and Mainamati. These are often built to hold two-stories and the main shrine is enhanced with a circumambulatory corridor. Some of these have underground rectangular courtyards with a staircase directly leading to ground level. Monks’ cells can be seen in the open courtyard at times a well could be seen as an added structure. Many examples can be found at Pagan
- Other than visiting these historic monasteries you can also pre- arrange to visit a current Buddhist monastery in Myanmar to take a glimpse at the traditional lives of monks and nuns in Myanmar.
4. Colonial Buildings
Yangon or formerly called Rangoon by the colonial rulers provides you an opportunity to witness some of the massive colonial buildings of its time. Most of its colonial buildings were constructed during 1900 - 1920, and were mostly designed by architects who had never been to Yangon.
Among some of the sights that will fascinate you with their magnificent haughtiness mixed with the weather beaten look of standing through time, old crumbling colonial era tenement houses, the once proud secretariat building of Yangon, the Yangon Court House inspired by the Queen Ann style architecture, the supreme court of down town Yangon, would be hard to miss.
In particular a soothing walk through the Strand river front would lead you to a world of British Colonial architecture.
5. Royal palaces
In spite of the fact that you will witness some hastily renovated palaces (e.g.: in Mandalay, Shwebo etc…), most of these proud structures made solely of teak (expensive hardwood) have almost vanished out of sight due to Burma’s sometimes violent history and the only trace of some of these wooden buildings is the pattern of the post-holes that were dug to contain the supporting timber.