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The name was derived from Pagan which again is derived from Pyugama, meaning "village of Pyu." The word "Pyugama" then pugan and then pagan. It is situated on the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) in the dry zone of Myanmar and is the most important historical site in the country. It was the capital for two and a half centuries when the Myanmar empire reached its zenith. It is to Bagan that the religion of the people owes its greatest debt. The vast plain is thickly studded with thousands of pagodas of all sizes and shapes. Eroded by time and weather, most of the carvings and artwork on the exterior are now gone. What's left are the skeleton of red bricks. The wondrous sight is the most spectacular in Myanmar and among the best in South East Asia. The ruins of Bagan cover an area of about sixteen sq. miles, in which are nearly 5,000 monuments (pagodas) which are largely in brick and stucco. Three sides of the square city wall together with the Sarabha Gate are the only remnants of secular architecture. All the edifices numbering nearly five thousand were devoted to Buddhism.

It was here that Myanmar art and architecture passed through a golden age. Its early history, however, is wrapped in uncertainty. Tradition asserts that it was originally a cluster of nineteen villages, and pushes back the foundation of the dynasty of fifty-five kings to early 2nd century. It is only in the middle of the 11th century that the legendary accounts give place to more substantial facts. Authentic history of the dynasty begins with the accession of Anawrahta (Aniruddha, 1044-77) in whose reign Bagan rose to pre-eminence.