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Ancient cities around Mandalay: Sagaing, Amarapura, Innwa & Mingun

Around Mandalay are the remains of the ancient cities Amarapura, Sagaing, Innwa and Mingun, the first three of which were all capitals of a Burmese Kingdom. During Burma’s long history, capitals were moved many times for various reasons. King Mindon for example moved the capital city from Amarapura to newly built Mandalay to fulfil an ancient Buddhist prophecy.
Sagaing Hill & Mekong river
Around Mandalay are the remains of the ancient cities Amarapura, Sagaing, Innwa and Mingun, the first three of which were all capitals of a Burmese Kingdom. During Burma’s long history, capitals were moved many times for various reasons. King Mindon for example moved the capital city from Amarapura to newly built Mandalay to fulfil an ancient Buddhist prophecy.
Moving the capital often involved the dismantling of wooden Palaces and the most important wooden monasteries, transporting to the new capital and rebuilding them there.
The four ancient cities close to Mandalay have a great number of interesting sites and monuments among them. If you have bought a ticket for the Mandalay Archeological zone visiting one of the sites in Mandalay, carry this ticket around since it is valid at a number of sites around Sagaing, Amarapura and Innwa.

Innwa (Ava)
Innwa, which was called Ava before, just South of Amarapura was the capital of Burma for a number of times over the course of several centuries, the first time in the 14th century. Innwa was founded in 1364 on an artificial island with the Irrawaddy river in the North and the Myitnge river to the East. A canal was dug out on the West and South making Innwa an island, which made it easier to it defend against invasion attempts.
Innwa was mostly destroyed by the large 1838 earthquake. What remains today are the moat, the protective walls, one of the entrance gates and the ruins of the Royal Palace. The watch tower of the Palace is tilting, and is thus known as the leaning tower.
Most noticeable landmark of Innwa is the Maha Aung Mye Bonzan monastery, also known as the Brick Monastery, a richly decorated building dating back to 1818. The Bagaya Kyaung Monastery was built in 1834 during the reign of King Bagyidaw. The 57 meters long and 32 meters wide structure is made entirely from teak wood and sits on 267 huge teak stilts. It is decorated with very intricate wood carvings with floral motifs, animals and mythical figures. Inside the monastery is a small Buddha image seated on a large golden throne.

Sagaing
On the West bank of the Irrawaddy river lies Sagaing, which was the capital of the small Sagaing Kingdom in the 14th century. Sagaing is now an important place for Buddhist study and meditation. A large number of monasteries and pagodas are scattered on the hills of Sagaing. The U Min Thonze Pagoda on Sagaing Hill is known for the 45 large Buddha images placed in a crescent row in the main hall. The Kaungmudaw Pagoda in Sri Lankan style was built in 1636 and is one of the largest stupas in Burma. The Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda on top of a small hill was built early 14th century. From the top are great views of Sagaing and the Irrawaddy river.

Amarapura
Amarapura, just South of Mandalay was an old capital of the Konbaung dynasty. When King Mindon moved the capital from Amarapura to Mandalay, the old Royal Palace was dismantled, taken to Mandalay and rebuild there. Of the old Amarapura Palace only the watch tower and the treasury building remain.
The U Bein bridge was built halfway the 19th century using wood of dismantled buildings. The all teak wooden bridge is about 1,200 meters long and crosses Thaungthaman Lake.
Across the bridge, on the East side of the lake is the beautiful Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. This pagoda was built in 1847 and modelled after the Ananda temple in Bagan. The temple houses a 5½ high marble Buddha image and contains beautiful mural paintings.
One of the largest monasteries of the Mandalay area is the Mahagandayon Monastery, also known as the Maha Ganayon Kyaung. Over 1,000 monks study the Buddhist teachings here. Every morning monks and novices queue up in procession towards the dining hall receiving their food in bowls that they carry, a spectacle witnessed by many tourists.
Other monasteries in Amarapura worth seeing are the early 10th century Pahtodawgyi Pagoda and the Shwe Gu Gyi Pagoda dating back to the 12th century.

Mingun
It is a short ferry across the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay to the ancient city of Mingun. On the bank of the river sits the huge Mingun Pagoda, built at the end of the 18th century, which was meant to be the largest pagoda ever built, but was never completed. Just North of it is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, an all white structure built to resemble a pagoda on Mount Meru and the seven mountain ranges surrounding the holy mountain.

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