Today is the 160th birthday of Mandalay, as King Mindon moved his kingdom’s royal capital from Amarapura—small in size and vulnerable to British attack—to Mandalay on this day in 1859.
Construction on the royal capital began in 1856 and took nearly seven years to complete. King Mindon himself designed the physical layout of the city—the city blocks and streets, the palace, the moat, residential buildings and markets—on a square plot of land under the shadow of Mandalay Hill.
During King Mindon’s reign the city bustled with a population around 200,000. There were diplomatic missions, pagodas, temples, mosques and churches in the city, whose streets teemed with British, Italian, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese and Indian people.
The city remained the royal capital under King Thibaw, the son of King Mindon, but fell with the rest of the country into the hands of the British in 1885.
Throughout the colonial period, Mandalay—being the last royal capital of Myanmar—remained the religious and cultural hub of the country, and enjoyed improved transportation and infrastructure.
Many of the city’s heritage structures were lost to the bombings of World War II.
A decade after Myanmar regained independence in 1948 the centenary of Mandalay was held on a grand scale at the foot of Mandalay Hill, in 1959.