From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
After Mongol invasions eventually led to the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city was reduced to a small settlement, never to recover its former glories. The area did, however, remain a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. A few hundred temples were added between the 13th and 20th centuries, but the extensive earthquake damage over the years means that only 3,800 monuments of various size remain, in varying states of repair.
Indeed, over the last 500 years many of the existing temples have been renovated – a process that, continuing to this day, has yielded mixed results. It is said to be due to the government’s insensitive ‘updates’ in the 1990s (including a golf course and modern watch tower) that Bagan has not attained UNESCO World Heritage site status, although it is once again being considered. But the area is large enough, and there remains so much of what is original still to see, that none of this stops the temples of Bagan being a unique wonder to behold.