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The Pagan Period: Burma’s Classic Age – 11th To 14th Centuries

The Pagan Period: Burma’s Classic Age – 11th To 14th Centuries

Part 2


C.  Architecture

1. General Characteristics

a. Major types of Buildings

The remains of a variety of building types are found at Pagan including stupas, temples, monasteries, ordination halls and libraries.

Stupas are solid structures that typically cannot be entered and were constructed to contain sacred Buddhist relics that are hidden from view (and vandals) in containers buried at their core or in the walls. Temples have an open interior that may be entered and in which are displayed one or more cult images as a focus for worship.  Although this simple distinction between Stupa and temple is useful, the distinction is not always clear. There are stupas such as the Myazedei that have the external form of a stupa but are like a temple with an inner corridor and multiple shrines.

Floor plan of Myazedei

Floor plan of Myazedei

Exterior View of Myazedei from South

Exterior View of Myazedei from South

003-Corridor within Myazedei

Corridor within Myazedei

Also, there are temples that enshrine a small stupa instead of an image of the Buddha while numerous temples have a diminutive stupa atop their tower (shikhara) or towers.

004-Temple with stupa inside, general view

Temple with stupa inside, general view

Temple with stupa inside, detail

Temple with stupa inside, detail

A third building type of which there are abundant examples is the monastery that can be either a one-room building or a vast complex of buildings.  Libraries and ordination halls appear to have been infrequently built but are also found among the structures at Pagan.

Domestic architecture, including the royal palace, was constructed of wood and consequently, has completely vanished. The only trace of these wooden buildings is the pattern of the post-holes that were dug to contain the supporting timbers.

The structures at Pagan vary greatly in scale from very small one-room structures to enormous temples with multiple floors and shrines that soar to 200 feet.  The eleven largest buildings at Pagan are all royal foundations that were built before 1300. Each contains within its mass more than fifty times as much material as the average temple or stupa. Therefore, the volume of these eleven buildings is equivalent to one quarter of the building activity during the Pagan Period.

b. Organization

Temples and stupas, even though adjacent to one another, were generally designed to stand alone as single buildings without planned relationships between one another. A boundary wall, thought be a protection against fire, surrounded the largest and most important buildings.

These enclosing walls were usually square with an entrance in the middle of each side. The main buildings, at times raised on a platform, were located in the center of this large enclosure with smaller structures placed around them.

View of gatehouse and boundary wall, Htilominlo Temple

View of gatehouse and boundary wall, Htilominlo Temple

Massive boundary wall surrounding Htilominlo Temple

Massive boundary wall surrounding Htilominlo Temple

c. Materials and Techniques

All Pagan structures were made of brick plastered with stucco except for three buildings that were made of stone or were faced with stone.

Nanpaya Temple, brick faced with stone

Nanpaya Temple, brick faced with stone

Nanpaya Temple, Cross section

Nanpaya Temple, Cross section

Nanpaya Temple, Elevation, side view

Nanpaya Temple, Elevation, side view

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3 responses to “The Pagan Period: Burma’s Classic Age – 11th To 14th Centuries

  1. Kyaw Lat October 27, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Dear Madam/Sir
    I would like to send my research paper to you. How can I contact you?
    Otherwise I have been following your website and thanks.
    Dr. Kyaw Lat, Hon. Professor, Yangon Technological University

  2. thiri May 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I really love to know about Myanmar , our country , and really proud of being as Myanmar. So I love to know about its culture , its historical places . Very glad to meet this site.

  3. Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer September 4, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Again, there is a mandala there. See: The World of Buddha Footprints.

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