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Though Bagan had been a major city since King Pyinbya moved the capital here in AD874, it was not until the Bamar King Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism in the mid 11th century that the 'golden period' of Pagan commenced.

In 1057 he overwhelmed the Mon capital of Thaton, capturing over 30,000 prisoners, including the Mon royal family. Yet the influence of the Mons was key to the development of Bagan. During Anawrahta's 33 year reign the Mon language became the official Royal language instead of Pali and Sanskrit, and Theravada Buddhism became the state religion. It was in honour of this new found religious fervour that Anawrahta ordered temples to be erected, the most notable being the Shwezigon Pagoda. It was however under the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113) that temple construction reached new heights, perhaps the most famous being the Ananda with its 170ft golden hti or stupa.

Buddhist monks walk together in BaganBy the start of the 13th century Bagan had become known as the 'city of four million pagodas' and a complex system of irrigation supported extensive rice cultivation on the otherwise arid plain on which Bagan sits. The end of Bagan's dominance was heralded when King Narathihapate assassinated an ambassador of Kublai Khan bringing down on himself and his people the considerable wrath of the Mongol empire in 1287.

Over the next four of five centuries Bagan was left to the elements and considered by many as a region haunted by nats (spirits). The earthquake in 1975 destroyed almost half of the pagodas although what remains today may be just a glimpse of Bagan at the height of its powers it is without a doubt a remarkable footprint of a once glorious period in Myanmar's history.

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