Mandalay is the second-largest city in Burma, and was its final royal capital. Today, with a population of around one million, it is the economic hub of Upper Burma and is considered the center of Burmese culture, though an ongoing influx of Chinese immigrants are changing the city’s character.
The origins of Mandalay’s name are unclear but it seems apparent that Mandalay and mandala have a common origin in the Pali word for “circle.” The city is not nearly as old as some of the other settlements in the area: it was founded at the foot of Mandalay Hill in 1857 as a new royal capital by decree of the king. The location was chosen to fulfill a Buddhist prophecy concerning this particular spot. Mandalay remained the capital until 1885 at the end of the third Anglo–Burmese War when the British sent the royal family into exile and the capital was shifted to Yangon. Many of the palace treasures were taken by the British and some of these are still on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Most travelers to Mandalay visit the picturesque, walled Mandalay Palace complex—rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire during World War II—and Shwenandaw Monastery, famous for its intricate wood carvings. There are several other pagodas of architectural interest. Not much remains of colonial-era structures due to fires in the 1940s and 1980s and redevelopment by Chinese immigrants, who are thought to comprise as much as 30% to 40% of the city’s current population.