Mrauk U is a little known archeological site in Western Burma. In the beautiful hilly landscape of the Rakhine state hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas, many of which are well preserved remain of the powerful empire that once flourished here.
The site used to be the capital of the Mrauk U Kingdom, a powerful empire that existed from 1430 until 1785.
Today Mrauk U is a small town where the centuries old monuments form the backdrop for every day life of local people. Goat herders tend to their animals, farmers work their fields and women fetch water from the wells between the ancient temples and pagodas. Often the area is foggy, especially during the early morning hours, which creates a mystical atmosphere.
Mrauk U is a site that receives very few visitors compared to sites as Angkor in Cambodia or Ayutthaya in Thailand. Recently the Rakhine area has been the scene of unrest and the area has been temporarily closed to foreign visitors. Before travelling to the area, make sure there are no travel restrictions. Information can be obtained from the Burmese embassy in your home country.
Mrauk U archeological zone
Centered around the town of Mrauk U is the Mrauk U archeological zone, an area of 7 km2 where hundreds of temples and pagodas were built between the 15th and 18th century. The capital of the Kingdom was protected by 35 kilometer long walls and moats; at the center of the city was the Royal Palace. While practically nothing remains of the palace, some remnants of the walls and city gates can still be seen today.
Impressive bunker like temples like the Htukkanthein and the Shite-Thaung built from stone and brick and surrounded by thick solid walls were constructed. As these temples were often built on top of hills, allowing people good views of the surrounding area and possible approaching enemies, they probably served as places of refuge during times of war.
In 1996 excavations and restoration works started. While a number of monuments have been restored to their original glory, many are still buried under soil and thick vegetation. Visitors to the zone are required to buy a Mrauk U archeological zone pass at US$ 10. The fee as well as a 3,000 Kyat light fee is collected at several places including the Shite-Thaung temple.
History of Mrauk U
The Mrauk U Kingdom was founded in 1430 by King Min Saw Mon. At the height of its power the Kingdom ruled over much of present day Bangladesh and Burma, for a large part thanks to its large naval fleet. The Mrauk U Kings would have Japanese samurai fighters as body guards.
Mrauk U was well protected by a defense system consisting of defensive walls and the clever use of waterways. A system of moats, canals and man made lakes allowed them to flood the area in case of invasion. As the empire grew more wealthy, the King and rich inhabitants built temples and pagodas to gain religious merit.
Mrauk U was an important port in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ships from many countries frequented the city to do trade. Although about 70 kilometers from the sea, Mrauk U could at the time be reached by the largest sea going ships from the Bay of Bengal
In 1785 the Mrauk U Kingdom was besieged by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung dynasty. Burma’s most highly revered Buddha image, the Mahamuni image which was cast in Dhanyawadi near Mrauk U was seized by Bodawpaya and taken back to Amarapura. The image is now enshrined in the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay.
The remains of the Royal Palace are found in the center of town, just East of the market. Very little is left of the teak wood building that once stood here; only parts of the walls remain. Located on the grounds is the Archeology Museum which opens from 9 am until 4.30 pm, admission is US$ 5 per person.