Friday, 30 January 2015

Old Pictures: Bagan

Plonked in the middle of Burma is the ruined city of Bagan. Once the capital of a kingdom, peaking in around the 12th Century, it went to ruin until all that remained were stone temples. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, some big, some small. It's a simply splendid place to visit.

There is it in 1282, as visited by Marco Polo (he referred to it as "The City of Mien"). I'd love to tell you this was an original drawing from the time, but it isn't. It was done by a man called Henry Yule in 1874, based upon the writings of Marco Polo, but it's not too far from the real thing either. That's because Yule was in Burma in the mid-1850s, following the second of three Anglo-Burmese wars, none of which ended well for the locals.

Yule visited Bagan during an official expedition in 1855. Among the group was another upstanding British citizen, in the mould only Victorian Britain could manage, called Linnaeus Tripe. Linnaeus Tripe! There's a name. He sounds like the villain in a Roald Dahl book, but actually he was a photographer, way back in the day before people even know photography was a thing. He took a sensational series of photos of the ruins. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Let's take a quick breather. Just for the record, the above are Thatbyinnyu, Gawdawpalin twice, Ananda twice, and Shwegugyi temples. Now, let's have a few more of Tripe's pictures. What a champ.

And there are the temples of Mahabodi, Pahto-tha-myaDhammayangi three times, and Shwezigon Pagoda.Just looking at all these pictures, it's fairly clear that despite centuries of abandonment, Bagan was doing alright. This was all before any restoration, of course.

I should probably end it right there, as Tripe seems to have pretty much nailed it. But, just in case Yule's recreation of Marco Polo's vision and Tripe's photos weren't enough for you, another man was on that same 1855 mission hellbent on recording what he saw. This was the official artist, Colesworthy Grant. Colesworthy! Now, there's a first name. He drew a couple of lovely panoramics of Bagan.

I wish I'd been around in 1855 and had been on that mission with them. It sounds like they had a great time. I would have called myself something like "Duval LaGarde" to fit in and I'd have walked with a cane. That's the bare minimum you needed back then to be considered a gentleman (I've already got the beard).


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