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AMARAPURA

Amarapura is a classical Pali name and means ‘The City of Immortals’. Founded by King Bodawpaya in1783, the year after he came to the throne, and it superseded Ava as capital of the Konbaung empire. Bodawpaya died in 1819 and his grandson Bagyidaw shifted the capital back again to Ava in 1823. In 1841, during the reign of Tharrawaddy (the brother of Bagyidaw), the capital reverted to Amarapura. In 1857 King Mindon ostensibly for astrological reasons moved the palace-city to a new site at Mandalay.

When a king moved capital the teak pavilions containing the great chambers of state, audience halls, parliament, private royal apartments not to mention government offices, military barracks, stables for horse and elephant, and apartments for courtiers, officers of state and civil servants were all dismantled and re-erected at the new site. For this reason there is little to see of the original palace and even the original walls have been lost to road and railway makers needing brick. The palace was photographed though in 1855 by Captain Lineaus Tripe, a member of Col Henry Yule’s mission and there are sketches by Colesworthy Grant. One photo shows a stockade used for breaking wild elephants. In all the picture is a spectacular one for Amarapura was founded when the Burmese empire was unchallenged and at its zenith.

Nowadays Amarapura is a suburb attached to the south of present day Mandalay. The area is populated by craftsmen who, in a legacy from royal times, when people lived by royal order in occupation defined communities, still live in the quarters given to them by King Mindon. Thus south of the Maha-muni along the road to Amarapura there are quarters for: stone carvers, wood carvers, bronze casters and in the heart of Amarapura itself a community of silk weavers.

There is a Chinese temple, or Joss House as they were known in the old days, that is mentioned in Yule’s Narrative. According to Symes writing in 1795 Italian missionaries had introduced the grape and wine was made here. A century later Scott O’Connor’s noted that vines still adorned people’s verandas. Along the Joss House road, once known as the Street of Ambassadors, shoeless British envoys trod towards the palace-city with all its might and pomp, fearful that they might never see St James' Palace again. Amarapura was the invention of Bodaw-hpaya a megalomanial king who having defeated the Arakanese in 1786 set his eyes on Siam and British India. In 1795 the British envoy Captain Symes recorded his arrival by water:

“the sun shone full upon the hill, and its reflected rays displayed the scenery to the highest advantage. On entering the lake, the number of boats that were moored, as in a harbour to avoid the influence of the sweeping flood, the height of the waters, ... and the amphitheatre of lofty hills that nearly surrounded us altogether presented a novel scene exceedingly interesting to a stranger.”

Cruises which visit Amarapura