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Mandalay ( ; in Burmese, or in English) is the second largest city and the last royal capital of Burmamarker. Located north of Yangonmarker on the east bank of the Irrawaddy Rivermarker, the city has a population of nearly 1 million, and is the capital of Mandalay Divisionmarker.

Mandalay is the economic hub of Upper Burma and considered the center of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants mostly from Yunnan Provincemarker in the past twenty years has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup and increased its economic dynamism. Despite Naypyidawmarker's recent rise, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.


The city gets its name from the nearby Mandalay Hillmarker. The name is likely a derivative of a Pali word although the exact word of origin remains unclear. The root word has been speculated as: "Mandala" (meaning, circular plains), "Mandare" (believed to mean "auspicious land"), or "Mandara" (a mountain from Hindu mythology).

When it was founded in 1857, the royal city was officially named Yadanabon, the Burmese version of its Pali name Ratanapura which means "The City of Gems". It was also called Lay Kyun Aung Myei (Victorious Land over the Four Islands) and the royal palace, Mya Nan San Kyawmarker (The Famed Royal Emerald Palace).


Plan of Mandalay Palace

Early history

Like most former (and present) capitals of Burma, Mandalay was founded on the wishes of the ruler of the day. On 13 February 1857, King Mindon founded a new royal capital at the foot of Mandalay Hillmarker, ostensibly to fulfill a prophecy on the founding of a metropolis of Buddhism in that exact place on the occasion of the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism.

The new capital city site was 25.5 square miles (66 km²) in area, surrounded by four rivers. The plan called for a 144-square block grid patterned citadel, anchored by a 16 square block royal palace compound at the center by Mandalay Hill. The 1020-acre (413-hectare) citadel was surrounded by four 6,666-foot (2,032 m) long walls and a moat 210 feet (64 m) wide, 15 feet (4.57 m) deep. Along the wall were turrets for watchmen with gold-tipped spires at intervals of 555 feet (169 m). The walls had three gates on each side, and five bridges to cross the moat. In addition, the king also commissioned the Kuthodaw Pagodamarker, the Pahtan-haw Shwe Thein higher ordination hall, the Thudhamma Zayats or public houses for preaching the Doctrine, and the library for the Buddhist scriptures. In June 1857, the former royal palace of Amarapuramarker was dismantled and moved by elephants to the new location at the foot of Mandalay Hill although construction of the palace compound was officially completed only two years later, on Monday, 23 May 1859.

For the next 26 years, Mandalay was to be the last royal capital of the last independent Burmese kingdom before its final annexation by the British. Mandalay ceased to be the capital on 28 November 1885 when the conquering British sent King Thibaw and his queen Supayalat to exile, ending the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

The Thudhamma Zayats built during the reign of King Mindon

Colonial Mandalay (1885–1948)

While Mandalay would continue to be the chief city of Upper Burma during the British colonial rule, the commercial and political importance had irreversibly shifted to Yangon. The British take on the development of Mandalay (and Burma) was mainly through commercial lens. While rail transport reached Mandalay in 1889, less than four years after the annexation, the first college in Mandalay, Mandalay Collegemarker, was not established until 40 years later, in 1925. As for respecting Burmese sensitivities, not only did the British loot the palace, some of the which are still on display in the Victoria and Albert Museummarker, but they also renamed the palace compound Fort Dufferin and used it to billet troops.

Throughout the colonial years, Mandalay was the center of Burmese culture and Buddhist learning, and as the last royal capital, was regarded by the Burmese as a primary symbol of sovereignty and identity. Between the two World Wars, the city was Upper Burma's focal point in a series of nationwide protests against the British rule. The British rule brought in many immigrants from India to the city. In 1904–05, a plague caused about a third of the population to flee the city. Many again fled the city during World War II when the city was under Japanese occupation from May 1942 to March 1945. The city suffered heavy damage. The palace citadel, turned into a supply depot by the Japanese, was burnt to the ground by allied bombing; only the royal mint and the watch tower survived. (A faithful replica of the palace was rebuilt in the 1990s.)

Contemporary Mandalay (1948–present)

After the country's independence from Britain in 1948, Mandalay continued to be the main cultural, educational and economic hub of Upper Burma. Until the early 1990s, most students from Upper Burma went to Mandalay for university education. Until 1991, Mandalay Universitymarker, the University of Medicine, Mandalaymarker and the Defence Services Academymarker were the only three universities in Upper Burma. Only a few other cities had "Degree Colleges" affiliated with Mandalay University that offered a limited number of subjects. Today, the city attracts a fraction of students as the military government requires students to attend their local universities in order to reduce concentration of students in one place.

In November 1959, Mandalay celebrated its centennial with a festival at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Special commemorative stamps were issued.

During Gen. Ne Win's isolationist rule (1962–1988), the city's infrastructure, never great even during the British rule, deteriorated even more. By the early 1980s, the second largest city of Burma resembled a big town with low-rise buildings and dusty streets filled mostly with bicycles. In the 1980s, the city was hit by two major fires. In May 1981, a fire razed more than 6,000 houses and public buildings, leaving more than 36,000 homeless. On 24 March 1984, another fire destroyed 2,700 buildings and made 23,000 people homeless. Fires continue to plague the city. A major fire destroyed Mandalay's second largest market, Yadanabon Market, in February 2008, and another major fire in February 2009 destroyed 320 homes and left over 1600 people homeless.

A Chinese-owned hotel in downtown

The 1980s fires augured a significant change in the city's physical character and ethnic makeup. Huge swaths of land left vacant by the fires were later purchased mostly by the ethnic Chinese, many of whom were recent immigrants from Yunnanmarker. The Chinese influx accelerated after the current military government came to power in 1988. With the Burmese government turning a blind eye, many Chinese immigrants from Yunnan (and also from Sichuanmarker) poured into Upper Burma in the 1990s and many openly ended up in Mandalay. In the 1990s alone, about 250,000 to 300,000 Yunnanese are estimated to have migrated to Mandalay. Today, the Chinese are believed to make up about 30%–40% of the city's population, and are a major factor in the city's doubling of population from about half a million in 1980 to about a million in 2008. Chinese festivals are now firmly embedded in the city’s cultural calendar.

The enterprising Chinese are largely responsible for the economic revitalization of the downtown, now rebuilt with apartment blocks, hotels and shopping malls, and returning the city to its role as the trading hub connecting Lower Burma, Upper Burma, China and India. The Chinese dominance in the city center has pushed out the rest to the suburbs. The urban sprawl now encompasses Amarapura, the very city King Mindon left some 150 years ago. Mandalay celebrated its 150th birthday on 15 May 2009, precisely at 4:31:36 am.

Despite the rise of Naypyidaw, the country's capital since 2006, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.


Mandalay metropolitan area seen from satellite


Mandalay is located in the central dry zone of Burma by the Irrawaddy river at 21.98° North, 96.08° East, 64 meters (210 feet) above sea level. Its standard time zone is UTC/GMT +6:30 hours. Mandalay lies along the Sagaing Fault, a tectonic plate boundary between the India and Sunda plates. (The biggest earthquake in its history, with a magnitude of 7, occurred in 1956. The devastation however was greatest in nearby Sagaingmarker, and it came to be known as the Great Sagaing Quake.)


Mandalay experiences a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw).


Atumashi Monastery has been rebuilt as a faithful replica of the original destroyed by a fire.

Around the city

  • Mandalay Hillmarker: The hill has for long been a holy mount. Legend has it that the Buddha, on his visit, had prophesied that a great city would be founded at its foot. Mandalay Hill, 230 metres in elevation, commands a magnificent view of the city and surrounding countryside. The construction of a motor road to reach the hill-top has already been finished.
  • Mandalay Palacemarker: The whole magnificent palace complex was destroyed by a fire during World War II. However, the finely built palace walls, the city gates with their crowning wooden pavilions and the surrounding moat still represent an impressive scene of the Mandalay Palace, "Mya-nan-san-kyaw Shwenandaw", which has been rebuilt using forced labour. A model of the Mandalay Palace, Nanmyint-saung and Cultural Museum are located inside the Palace grounds.
  • Shwenandaw Monasterymarker: Famous for its intricate wood-carvings, this monastery is a fragile reminder of the old Mandalay Palace. Actually, it was a part of the old palace later moved to its current site by King Thibaw in 1880.
  • Maha Muni Pagodamarker: The Image is said to have been cast in the life-time of the Gautama Buddha and that the Buddha embraced it 7 times thereby bringing it to life. Consequently, devout Buddhists hold it to be alive and refer to it as the Maha Muni Sacred Living Image. Revered as the holiest pagoda in Mandalay, It was built by King Bodawpaya in 1784. The image in a sitting posture is 12 feet and 7 inches (3.8 m) high. As the image was brought from Rakhine Statemarker it was also called the Great Rakhine Buddha. The early morning ritual of washing the Face of Buddha Image draws a large crowd of devotees everyday. The Great Image is also considered as the greatest, next to the Shwedagon Pagodamarker, in Burma. A visit to Mandalay is incomplete without a visit to Maha Muni Pagoda.
  • Kuthodaw Pagodamarker (The World's Biggest Book): Built by King Mindon in 1857, this pagoda modeled on the Shwezigon Pagodamarker at Nyaung U, is surrounded by 729 upright stone slabs on which are inscribed the entire Buddhist Scriptures as edited and approved by the Fifth Buddhist Synod. It is popularly known as "the World's Biggest Bookmarker" for its stone scriptures.
  • Kyauktawgyi Pagoda: Near the southern approach to Mandalay Hill stands the Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image built by King Mindon in 1853–78. The Image was carved out of a huge single block of marble. Statues of 80 Arahants (the Great Disciples of the Buddha) are assembled around the Image, 20 on each side. The carving of the Image was completed in 1865.
  • Buddha's Replica Tooth Relic Pagoda: One of the Buddha's Sacred Replica Tooth Relics was enshrined in the Mandalay Swedaw Pagoda on Maha Dhammayanthi Hill in Amarapuramarker Township. The pagoda was built with cash donations contributed by the peoples of Burma and Buddhist donors from around the world under the supervision of the Burmese military government. The authorities and donors hoisted Buddha's Replica Tooth Relic Pagoda Mandalay's Shwe Htidaw (sacred golden umbrella), Hngetmyatnadaw (sacred bird perch vane) and Seinhpudaw (sacred diamond bud) on 13 December, 1996.
  • Atumashi Kyaung: The " Atumashi Kyaung ", which literally means the inimitable monastery, is also one of the well known sights. The original structure was destroyed by a fire in 1890 though the masonry plinth survived. It was indeed an inimitable one in its heyday. The reconstruction project was started by the government on 2 May, 1995 and completed in June, 1996.
  • Yadanabon Zoological Gardensmarker: A small zoo between the Mandalay Palacemarker and Mandalay Hillmarker. It has over 300 species and is notably the only zoo to have Burmese Roofed Turtles.


The Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) is the city government. The Mandalay Districtmarker consists of seven townships.


Mandalay's strategic location in Central Burma makes it an important hub for transport of people and goods. The city is connected to other parts of the country and to Chinamarker and Indiamarker by multiple modes of transportation.


Mandalay International Airport
Mandalay International Airportmarker is the largest and most modern airport in Burma. Built at a cost of US$150 million in 2000, the airport is highly underutilized; it serves mostly domestic flights with the exception of flights to Kunmingmarker. The airport has come to represent the military regime's propensity for bad planning and penchant for white elephant projects.


The Ayeyarwady Rivermarker remains an important arterial route for transporting goods such as farm produce including rice, beans and pulses, cooking oil, pottery, bamboo and teak.


Central Railway Station on 78th & 30th
Mandalay Central Railway Stationmarker is the terminus of Myanmar Railways's main rail line from Yangonmarker and the starting point of branch lines to Pyin U Lwinmarker (Maymyo), Lashiomarker, Monywamarker, Pakokkumarker, Kalaymarker, Gangawmarker, and to the north, Shwebomarker, Kawlinmarker, Naba, Kanbalumarker, Mohnyinmarker, Hopinmarker, Mogaungmarker and Myitkyinamarker.

Mandalay does not have an intra-city metro rail system.


Mandalay literally is at the center of Burma's road network. The highway network includes roads towards:

Most stretches of these so-called highways are no more than one lane roads in extremely poor condition.

A busy street junction

Buses and cars

As the government allows only a few thousands of vehicles to be imported each year, motor transportation in Burma is highly expensive for most of its citizens. Most people rely on bicycles, motorcycles and/or private and public buses to get around. The most popular car in Mandalay is the 1982/83 Nissan Sunny pickup truck. Because of its utility as a private bus or taxi, the two-and-a-half-decade old model still had strong demand and heady prices to match—from K10 million to K14 million (US$8,000 to US$11,000) in mid-2008. To get around severe import limits, people of Mandalay have turned to illegally imported and hence unregistered (called "without" in Burmese English) motorcycles and cars despite the government's periodic confiscation sprees. (The number of domestically made cars remains negligible. Mandalay's small car makers produced i.e. assembled only about 3000 cars in 2007.)

In March 2008, Mandalay had nearly 81,000 registered motor vehicles plus an unknown number of unregistered vehicles. Although the number of cars in a city of one million is low, traffic in Mandalay is highly chaotic as thousands of bicycles and (unregistered) motorbikes freely roam around all the lanes of the streets. Unlike in Yangon where motorbikes, trishaws and bikes are prohibited from entering downtown and busy areas, in Mandalay it is anything goes. That many traffic lights in Mandalay do not work only adds to the chaos.


A 2007 estimate by the UN puts Mandalay's population at nearly 1 million. The city's population is projected to reach nearly 1.5 million by 2025. While Mandalay has traditionally been the bastion of Bamar (Burman) culture and populace, the massive influx of ethnic Chinese in the last 20 years has effectively pushed the Bamar out of the city center. The foreign-born Chinese can easily obtain Burmese citizenship cards on the black market. Ludu Daw Amar of Mandalay, the revered writer and journalist who died in April 2008, had said it felt like "an undeclared colony of Yunnanmarker". Today, the number of Chinese, perhaps 30% to 40% of the city, is believed to nearly rival that of the Bamar. A sizable community of South Asians also resides in Mandalay.

Burmese is still the principal language of the city although Mandarin Chinese is increasingly heard in the city's commerce centers such as Chinatown and Zegyo Marketmarker. English is a distant third language, spoken only by the urban elite.


Mandalay is Burma's cultural and religious center of Buddhism, having numerous monasteries and more than 700 pagodas. At the foot of Mandalay Hillmarker sits the world's official "Buddhist Bible", also known as the world’s largest book, in Kuthodaw Pagodamarker. There are 729 slabs of stone that together are inscribed with the entire Buddhist canon, each housed in its own white stupa. The buildings inside the old Mandalay city walls, surrounded by a moat,which is repaired in recent times using prison labour, comprise the Mandalay Palacemarker, mostly destroyed during World War II. İt is now replaced by a replica, Mandalay Prison and a military garrison, the headquarters of the Central Military Command.


Much of the media in Mandalay — like elsewhere in Burma — comes from Yangon. The city's non-satellite TV programming comes from Yangon-based state-run TV Myanmar and military-run Myawaddy, both of which provide Burmese language news and entertainment. Since December 2006, MRTV-4, formerly a paid channel, has also been available in Mandalay. Mandalay has two radio stations. Naypyidawmarker-based Myanmar Radio National Service is the national radio service and broadcasts mostly in Burmese (and in English during specific times.) Semi-state-run Mandalay City FM (87.9FM) is the Mandalay metropolitan area's pop culture oriented station.

The military government, which controls all daily newspapers in Burma, uses Mandalay to publish and distribute its three national newspapers, the Burmese language Myanmar Alin and Kyemon and the English language New Light of Myanmar. The state-run Yadanabon is published in Mandalay and serves the Upper Burma market.


Mandalay's sporting facilities are quite poor by international standards but are still the best in Upper Burma. The 17,000 seat Bahtoo Stadiummarker is largest in Upper Burma and hosts mainly local and regional football and track-and-field tournaments. Since May 2009, professional football has arrived in Mandalay, with Yadanabon FC representing the city in the newly formed Myanmar National League, the country's first professional football league.


Chinese blankets for the Mandalay winter
Mandalay is the major trading and communications center for northern and central Burmamarker. Much of Burmese external trade to China and India goes through Mandalay.

Among the leading traditional industries are silk weaving, tapestry, jade cutting and polishing, stone and wood carving, making marble and bronze Buddha images, temple ornaments and paraphernalia, the working of gold leaves and of silver, the manufacture of matches, brewing and distilling.

Ethnic Chinese have increasingly dominated Mandalay's economy since the imposition of sanctions by the United Statesmarker and the European Union in the 1990s.


Mandalay University
Mandalay has the best educational facilities and institutions, after Yangon, in Burma where state spending on education is among the lowest in the world. Students in poor districts routinely drop out in middle school as schools have to rely on forced "donations" and various fees from parents for nearly everything – school maintenance to teachers' salaries. Many wealthy Mandalay parents enroll their children in the city's English language private schools for primary and secondary education and Chinese and Singaporeanmarker universities for university education. Some wealthy ethnic Chinese families also send their children to "cram schools" where students study for entrance exams into Chinese universities from 6am to 8am, then to government high schools from 9am to 3pm, and finally preparation classes for Singapore GCE O levels from 4pm to 9pm.

For the rest of the students who cannot afford to go abroad for studies, Mandalay offers Upper Burma's best institutions of higher education. The city's University of Medicine, Mandalaymarker, University of Dental Medicine, Mandalaymarker, Mandalay Technological Universitymarker and University of Computer Studies, Mandalaymarker are among the nation's most selective universities. The vast majority of university students in Mandalay attend liberal arts universities: Mandalay Universitymarker, the oldest university in Upper Burma, and Yadanabon University.

Health care

The general state of health care in Burma is poor. The military government spends anywhere from 0.5% to 3% of the country's GDP on health care, consistently ranking among the lowest in the world. In 2005, the public health care system of Mandalay Divisionmarker with over 7.6 million people consisted of slightly over 1000 doctors and about 2000 nurses working in 44 hospitals and 44 health clinics. Over 30 of the so-called hospitals had less than 100 beds. Although health care is nominally free, in reality, patients have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals lack many of the basic facilities and equipment.

Nonetheless Mandalay remains the main health care center for Upper Burma as almost all of large public hospitals and private hospitals are in Mandalay. The city has ten public hospitals and one hospital specializing in traditional Burmese medicine. For a semblance of adequate health care, the well-to-do from Upper Burma go to private hospitals and clinics in Mandalay. For more advanced treatments, they have to go to Yangon or abroad. The wealthy Burmese routinely go abroad (usually Bangkokmarker or Singaporemarker) for treatment.

Sister cities

Mandalay in popular culture


Image:Mandalay Hill, Myanmar.JPG|Mandalay HillImage:MandalayHill.JPG|Mandalay Hill from Mingunmarker across the IrrawaddymarkerImage:View-from-Mandalay-Hill.JPG|A view from Mandalay HillImage:Foot-of-Mandalay-Hill.JPG|Another view from Mandalay HillImage:Mandalay-Palace-Watch-Tower.JPG|Mandalay Palace Watch TowerImage:Mandalay Hluttaw.JPG|The Hluttaw Hall inside Mandalay PalaceImage:Mahamuni.JPG|Mahamuni Buddha, A Rakhine masterpieceImage:Birmanie 0005a.jpg|A Mandalay girlImage:Mandalay-Shwe-Kyaung.JPG|Shwe Kyaung, a famous monasteryImage:Atumashi monastery.JPG|The Atumashi MonasteryImage:MANDALAY PUENTE COLONIAL SOBRE EL RIO AYEYARWADY.jpg|Now defunct old Sagaing Bridge


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