Yangon, or Rangoon, has gone through a few transitions: previously as the capital city of Myanmar, and now as the commercial capital of the country. This cosmopolitan city is the home to different races and religions as extensive as those throughout the country.
The architecture and arrangement of Yangon reflect this diversity, with its temples, mosques, churches, and pagodas dotted all over the city. The colonial era streets downtown are arranged in a grid pattern with every street a center of specialization for some kind of business or craftsmanship.
A Brief History of Yangon
Yangon, like many cities located around major waterways in Southeast Asia, emerged into the sights of Europeans through their desire for exotic goods and trade. So while the Europeans raced around the region, competing over the control of trade routes, they also established trading posts, ultimately making their way to Myanmar, or Burma, as it was known then.
The British-controlled East India Trading Company expanded into the Burma trading post, extending their operations into the country and started trading with the Burmese kings. Tensions between the two nations would eventually incite three Anglo-Burmese Wars. It was during the Second Anglo-Burmese War, in 1852, when the British gained control over Southern Burma and declared the trading post its capital, corrupting its name from ‘Yangon’ to ‘Rangoon’. Previously known as ‘Dagon’, the city had changed its name to ‘Yangon’ when King Alaungpaya conquered the area in 1755.
The Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 caused the overthrow of King Thibaw in Mandalay and changed the capital for the entire country from Mandalay to Rangoon.
Dr. William Montgomerie designed the city’s grid layout and was executed by Lt. Alexander Fraser from the Bengal Engineers. Many architects were hired to fill in the city plan with the schools, hospitals, banks, and administrative buildings you can still see today.
Looking at present Yangon, it is clear that the colonial times are long gone, but their influence has left behind rich architectural heritage, one that has been lost to “progress” in many other cities in the region. In fact, Yangon contains the largest number of colonial buildings in the Southeast Asian region.
Downtown Yangon has many of the colonial buildings in the city. They’re still used to host state institutions and authorities like government banks, the Port Authority, the High Court, and City Hall. The famous Strand Hotel is also downtown, built by the Sarkies Brothers in 1901. You can still book a room there or visit for high tea and you’ll get a first-hand experience of how life used to be.
Yangon stands out from many regional counterparts because it’s still very much a green city, even after the devastating effects of a cyclone in 2008. Throughout spaces like Kandawgyi Lake and Inya Lake to its wide avenues, Yangon still has countless aged trees and vegetation. It’s easy to see the allure of Yangon in a panorama – from the spectacular golden Shwedagon Pagoda on one side of the hill leading to the ancient Sule Pagoda on the other, the city is both a jewel of the past and the present.
Destinations in Yangon, Southern Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda is one of most revered Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar. The 100m tall stupa situated on Singuttara Hill majestically illuminates the skyline above the Yangon city. The stupa is covered in gold plates, gold leaf and its throne is decorated with diamonds and other precious gem stones.