Bagan’s golden era of sacred building spanned 250 years, during which time architectural styles evolved in a dramatic fashion. Initially imitating the cylindrical structures of the ancient Pyu city of Sri Ksetra, Bagan’s stupas gradually grew more slender and bell-shaped, culminating in the elaborately embellished, tapering spire that remains the classical Burmese archetype today. Temples changed from simple replicas of wooden shrines to soaring masterpieces with entrances on four sides, cavernous interiors, and spectacular roof finials – innovations enabled by the emergence of the pointed arch in Bagan. Charting this stylistic metamor phosis and piecing together the historical shifts it represents is one of the great pleasures of a visit to the site.
Myanmar’s oldest surviving stupas are those at the city of Sri Ksetra (see pp98–9). Their cylindri cal, elongated shapes influ enced the forms of Bagan’s first pagodas. These slowly became more bell-like, with squat middle sections and tapering spires, and grew larger and higher, set on grand stepped terraces .
Taking their cue originally from Indian architecture, Bagan’s temples grew slowly more imposing, ethereal, and distinctively Burmese over time, culminating in the giant, double-storied shrines that tower above the northern plain to this day.