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Mrauk U Palace

Mrauk U Palace

An inner wall surrounds the palace site, itself with an area of nearly two square kilometers and situated on the Taungnyo hill. Excavations in 1997 have confirmed earlier accounts which say that after Meng Saw Mun began construction in 1430 it was rebuilt at least twice, in the middle and at the end of the sixteenth century. In all 49 kings are said to have resided there for 354 years. The site itself is made up of three terraces, the highest about 29 meters above the lowest. The earliest outer walls were constructed of brick, while later work strengthened these with sandstone blocks on two occasions. The latest of these is around two meters thick at the base and one and a half at the top. Only one gate remains, at the south east corner entrance to the second enclosure, although more are in the process of being uncovered. The palaces of Myanmar throughout history had twelve gates, three opening to each cardinal point, and this may have been the case at Mrauk U. By analogy with Mandalay palace and from contemporary accounts we can assume that the lowest terrace contained buildings such as arsenal, stables for elephants and horses, guard houses and barracks, watch towers and possibly the mint and royal tombs. The second terrace would have contained audience and coronation halls, the residences of courtiers and officials and some members of the royal family, lesser queens and concubines, while the third held the royal apartments. The current excavations will elucidate this.

Structure of the Palace

Palace ruins, Mrauk U
Inside the Palace

While the palace itself, being made of wood, has not survived, some indication of its architecture can be discerned from the stone relief sculptures of the royal shrines. Of note is the use of flame-like arch pediments over entrances, windows and thrones, a feature which developed in the architecture of Bagan and is still to be found at wooden monasteries throughout Myanmar. According to an account of the palace by the Augustinian monk Fra Sebastian Manrique, who in Mrauk U from 1629 to 1637, it says that the palace buildings ........ have great wooden pillars of such length and symmetry that one is astonished that trees so lofty and straight can exist...... those inside the houses are entirely gilded over. Such palaces also contain rooms made of odiferous woods such as white and red sandal-wood and forest or wild eagle-wood, which thus gratify the sense of smell by their own natural fragrance.... there was one room known as the 'House of gold' as being entirely ornamented from top to bottom in that metal. It had in it a creeper along the ceiling made of the finest gold, with a hundred or more gourds of the same metal .... In this chamber were also seven idols of gold, each of the size and shape of a man.. ornamented with many fine precious stones.... The reference to the "creeper of gold" is interesting in that it appears to refer to a design better known in China than in India. The "idols of gold" were the booty of war, Khmer bronzes taken in war from Cambodia to Thailand and thence to Bago (Pegu) before they were seized by the Rakhine King Meng Raza Gri when he invaded Bago in 1600. Considered to possess the power to protect the country, they were taken from Rakhine by Bodawpaya when he invaded Mrauk U. They were placed together in the Mahamuni pagoda at Mandalay, where some remain today.

Door guardians sculpted in fairly low relief guarded the palace entrances. Those surviving today belong to the later period. Strictly frontal and highly stylized, they carry arms and are dressed in the apparel of the royal guard. Two are now in the Mrauk U museum, which itself stands on the palace site. Another is in worship at the excavation site. The residents of Mrauk U today recount stories of the woes which have beset those who interfere with the guardian in even recent times.

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