DISCOVER BAGAN, THE CITY OF 4,000 TEMPLES AND PAGODAS
It is no coincidence that Myanmar is known as "the country of gold". In all corners of this Southeast Asian state you can find religious buildings dedicated to Buddha and covered with a thin sheet of gold, a decoration that leaves breathless visitors who come for the first time to the great archaeological heritage of the country.
But there is a place that, more than all the others, is capable of surprising and astonishing: Bagan. This esplanade of about 40 square kilometers houses, almost one next to the other, more than 2,000 structures between pagodas, temples and monasteries. A unique show in the world that in 2014 was declared a World Heritage Site.
Bagan is, without a doubt, the tourist city par excellence. It is located in the center of the country, in the region of Mandalay, and is bathed by the Irrawaddy River, the longest in the country. Called Pagan under British rule, and also known as Arimaddanapura ("the city that tramples enemies"), Tambadipa ("the land of copper") or Tassadessa ("the dry land"), Bagan was the capital of several ancient kingdoms in Myanmar
Both the royal family and ordinary citizens were devout Buddhists and erected numerous religious constructions, inscribed on stone slabs describing their charitable actions, a way of making merit and thus escaping from samsara (the cycle of reincarnation) and to reach nirvana (the ultimate goal of life, the state in which the release of pain is obtained).
In these slabs were registered, for example, farms and rice plantations that some devotees left as a donation, as well as a series of warnings sent to those who intended to cause damage to donations, who were called "blasphemers" and who, therefore, they were not worthy of worshiping the Buddha.
Throughout the 12th century Bagan was known as the land of the four million pagodas. Until it was conquered by the forces of the sovereign of the Mongols Kublai Khan, in 1287, the area was the center of a great religious architecture.
Currently, according to official statistics, in Bagan the identifiable monuments are 2. 217 and the piles of bricks and earth that can not be identified reach almost the same number.
The main historical architectural structures that can be visited in Bagan are two. The first is the pagoda (in the Burmese language, zedi), which has the shape of a bell and is supported by a square or octagonal brick structure; it usually has a slightly conical peak in golden metal, covered with a decoration in the form of a sacred umbrella (in Burmese, hti).
Often these structures were covered with stucco and decorated with fine carvings. The pagodas are still built to pay homage to Buddha, to honor a remarkable person or even to keep the indelible memory of an important family.
The other great form of architecture that survives in Bagan is the temple (in Burmese, gu), which can take a variety of forms. They are bigger buildings and with more heights, places of worship inside of which there are corridors richly decorated with frescoes of sacred images and statues.
The temples were often built around a pagoda and include a number of other buildings such as dormitories for monks and meeting and prayer rooms. The temple has a square or rectangular structure, with an external terrace that represents Mount Meru, the symbolic residence of the deity, surrounded by a thick wall to separate the kingdom of the sacred from the outside world.
To visit the entire Bagan area you have to buy a ticket that lasts five days. To adventure autonomously in the endless jungle of pagodas and temples, you can rent an electric scooter, ideal not to disturb the sanctity of this place.
The influx is never excessive. They are mainly Asians: monks and Buddhist visitors photograph themselves, carry gifts-flowers and candles, bowls with food and water-and pray on their knees or with their foreheads on the ground. The air smells of incense and the jasmine with which long necklaces braid.
Unfortunately there is a threat that clouds the brightness of Bagan gold. For decades Burmese and foreigners have perpetrated a systematic looting of treasures. This happened especially in the second half of the 19th century, when western adventurers and archaeologists moved statues, frescoes and other antiquities to take them to distant museums.
Although the current government of Myanmar has banned the export of antiquities, there are important elements that continue to disappear at the hands of wealthy private collectors, a tragic fate that the few security controls in the pagodas and temples of Bagan can not prevent.