caused it to grow from the original 66 feet (20 meters) to its present height.


Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar; architect(s) unknown, ca. 1455–1462. Detail of main gilded shrine.

Although it was in the insignificant Lower Myanmar town of Dagon, it seems that Shwedagon emerged as a major shrine during the Mon Kingdom of Hantharwaddy toward the end of the fourteenth century a.d., when King Binnyau undertook repairs to its structure. Between 1455 and 1462, Queen Shinsawpu built the terrace, balustrade, and encircling walls and gilded the pagoda, by then raised to a height of 302 feet (92.3 meters), with her body weight in gold leaf. Further changes were made in the eighteenth century.

In 1755 King Alaungpaya, patriarch of the Kon-Baung dynasty, reunited the whole of Myanmar. He recognized the strategic importance of Dagon and renamed it Yangon (“the end of strife”), which it retained until the British occupation of Burma in 1851. Shinbyushin, king of Ava, extended the Shwedagon Pagoda to its present height in 1774 and crowned it with a new golden htidaw—a seven-tiered umbrella. His son Singu regiled it four years later. In 1786 the top half of the building was brought down by a violent earthquake. The pagoda’s present form dates from its rebuilding at that time. A major renovation was ordered by King Mindon in 1871, when another new htidaw of layered gold, copper, steel, and zinc was erected. No major maintenance was then undertaken until 1999.

When the periodical gilding was being applied at the end of 1998, workers discovered the serious deterioration of King Mindon’s htidaw. Under the direction of the Committee for All-Round Perpetual Renovation of Shwedagon Pagoda, a 700-strong team of laborers and artisans set about to preserve the failing structure. Ngi Hla Nge of Yangon Technological University supervised the engineering work. At the end of April 1999 a new htidaw, consisting of a steel frame covered with gold and alloys and studded with nearly 8,000 precious stones, was hoisted into place; at its pinnacle there is a 76-carat diamond. Most of the cost was met by donations of cash, gold, and jewelry. The restoration was completed by the end of 1999.

Further reading

Aung Than, U. 1957. Shwedagon. Rangoon: Government Printer.

Fitch, Ralph. 1625. The Voyage of Master Ralph Fitch, Merchant of London. London: n.p.

Moore, Elizabeth, Hansjorg Mayer, and U. Win Pe. 1999. Shwedagon: Golden Pagoda of Myanmar. Bangkok: River Books.

Taik, Aung Aung. 1989. Visions of Shwedagon. Bangkok: White Lotus; Berkeley, CA: Independent Scholars of Asia.

Sigiriya (Lion Mountain)

Sri Lanka

Sigiriya (Lion Mountain), about 130 miles (210 kilometers) from Colombo in central Sri Lanka, is a ruined ancient stronghold built on a sheer-sided rock pillar. It rises 1,144 feet (349 meters) above sea level and 600 feet (180 meters) above the surrounding plain. On the summit King Kasyapa I (reigned a.d. 477–495) built a palace. Together with the surrounding gardens, it is the best-preserved first-millennium