After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the East India Company’s annexation of Pegu province put Yangon into British hands. In 1885, the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulted in Britain’s complete annexation of Burma, and Rangoon (now Yangon) was named as the capital of Burma (now Yangon). From 1852 until Burma gaining independence in 1948, Rangoon saw major urban transformation under the British, with splendid colonial structures constructed all over the downtown. After independence, political and military turmoil among ethnic groups threatened the survival of the new nation, and then in 1962, a coup d’etat brought the nation into a 48-year military dictatorship until the first civilian elected president came to power in 2010. During the period of political turmoil and authoritarian rule, Yangon, together with much of Myanmar, was largely isolated from the outside world. Many colonial buildings from the British era were neglected and left for natural decay. Ironically, Yangon’s decades of lack of development led to the successful preservation of Southeast Asia’s largest concentration of colonial architecture. Recently, international investment began to pour in as the country gradually opened up. Some historical buildings had since then became redevelopment targets for foreign developers. Before heading north to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, we spent a brief time wandering around the lower downtown of Yangon to admire its awesome but fading colonial architecture.
Yangon City Hall, one the most prominent colonial building in the city, stands across the street from Sule Pagoda. Designed by Burmese architect U Tin and completed in 1940, the City Hall is a fine example of Burmese colonial architecture where local influence (in this case the multi-tiered pyatthat roof) has been incorporated into the otherwise largely Western design. The City Hall building exemplifies nationalist Burmese architecture at the twilight stage of colonial rule.
Across the street from the City Hall, the Ayeyarwady Bank occupies the former Rowe & Co. Department Store building. Completed in 1910, the Rowe & Co. Department Store was the most splendid shopping venue in Rangoon. This century-old building featured a innovative steel structural frame, electric lifts and ceiling fans over a century ago.
Across the street from the City Hall, the Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) has long been a public park at the heart of Yangon since 1868. While we were there, audience seating and a stage were set up for an upcoming event.
Also designed by Burmese architect U Tin, the Independent Monument at Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) was erected at the centre of the park in 1948 to commemorate the nation’s independence, replacing the former statue of Queen Victoria at the same location.
Flanking the east side of Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park), the former High Court is one of the most iconic buildings in Yangon. It was also one of the first in Yangon to have toilet and plumbing facilities as well as electricity. During the military rule, the Supreme Court was replaced by the socialist Council of People’s Justices controlled by the General. Today, Myanmar’s Supreme Court has been relocated to the new capital Naypyidaw.
Further south from Mahandoola Garden, at the intersection of Sule Pagoda Road and Strand Road stands the baby blue and white Myanmar Economic Bank building (formerly Bank of Bengal and then Imperial Bank of India). The Imperial Bank of India was the most prominent bank in colonial Burma, serving like the central bank for the nation.
The former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department were housed in a magnificent building with three octagonal towers. These former colonial departments oversaw taxes and trade customs for British Burma, which was belonged to the Government of British India.
Today, the building is in poor condition, especially for the wings along Bank Street and Mahabandoola Garden Street. Overgrown weeds took over parts of the building facade.
The building hasn’t changed much since the Japanese bombing in 1942.
This former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department building was partially occupied by Yangon Divisional Court and Department of Pensions nowadays.
Each of the octagonal towers houses a ornate spiral staircase.
The red-brick Customs House is one of the few historical buildings still serving its original functions today.
Since 1916, the two-faced clock has been the iconic feature of the Custom House.
Further down Strand Road, we arrived at Myanmar Port Authority (former Port Trust Office). The corner tower is an iconic landmark for the city, both for today and back in 1920s, when the new building was erected to reflect Rangoon as one of the busiest port in the British Empire.
Myanmar National Airlines occupies the 1920s building of the former Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation, whose diverse business included exporting teak wood. Right next door stood the splendid Strand Hotel, the 1901 glamorous hotel for affluent visitors in the early 20th century. In 1993, the hotel was fully renovated with a budget of USD 10 million.
The former National Bank of India building (now Myanma Agricultural Development Bank) was built in 1930. Designed by Thomas Oliphant Foster and Basil Ward, the same architects who had done the Myanmar Port Authority building, the beautiful entrance canopy and the golden entrance door remain as special features of Pansodan Road.
Written with “A Scott & Co” and “erected 1902” on the triangular pediment of today’s YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee) building, this colonial architecture had witnessed the era when Rangoon had a strong trading connections with Scotland.
Wandering in Downtown Yangon offered us a chance to see a number of the city’s finest colonial buildings in just a short walk. Throughout the walk, we passed by many anonymous buildings from the British era.
We planned to visit Secretariat (Ministers’ Building), the former administrative centre of British Burma and Yangon’s most important colonial building. On our way, we passed by several more interesting historical buildings. Unfortunately the Secretariat complex was not open to the public. We could barely see it from outside the fence, and decided to move on to Shwedagon Pagoda.
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Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR
The sky wasn’t as clear as the morning when we arrived at Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖). In our Nikko day trip from Tokyo, Lake Chuzenji was our last destination of the day. The scenery of Lake Chuzenji is dominated by the magnificent Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山), an active stratovolcano that had erupted 7000 years ago. If visiting in the autumn, we can take the Tobu bus up to the lookout of Mount Hangetsuyama (半月山) to enjoy a fantastic view of the conical volcano and its perfection reflection in the lake. Since the bus only operates in the autumn months and we didn’t want to hire a car just for the lookout, we decided to enjoy Lake Chuzenji by doing a short walk along the southeastern shore to the former British and Italian Embassies.
From the bus station, it was only a five minute walk to the shore of Lake Chuzenji.
We walked along the southeastern shore of Lake Chuzenji and passed by many swan pedal boats.
Soon we reached the entrance of Chuzenji Temple (中禅寺), the Buddhist temple that gave the name to Lake Chuzenji.
Another short walk from Chuzenji Temple brought us to our destination of the afternoon, the former Italian Embassy. Designed by American architect Antonin Raymond, the villa was built in 1928 as the summer villa for the Italian Embassy in the past. Antonin Raymond cladded the entire building with Japanese cedar bark, a local material from the area.
Today, the building becomes a museum for the public.
The Viewing Hallway on the ground level allowed a magnificent panorama view of the lake.
There are three bedrooms on the upper floor. The decor is simple and elegant.
After touring the Italian Embassy Villa, we walked down to the landscaped area by the shore.
A timber jetty outside the Italian Embassy Villa brought us closer to the lake.
From the jetty, we could see the sacred Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山). The lake was extremely peaceful with super clear water.
We walked back towards the starting point of our short walk. Soon, we reached the jetty of another old western villa, the former British Embassy Villa.
Similar to the Italian Embassy Villa, maximizing the panoramic views of the lake seemed to be the main concept of the house design.
The viewing hallway of the British Embassy Villa was equally impressive with the beautiful scenery of the lake.
After the embassy villas, we walked slowly back to the village of Chuzenji where we got off the bus.
We were way too early to see the fall colours, but instead we saw some beautiful flowers along the way.
We also saw several people recreational fishing in the lake.
Back to Nikko town, we still had about an hour’s time before our train departed for Tokyo. We dropped by Komekichi Kozushi, a small sushi restaurant just a stone throw from the train station, for a quick and decent dinner.
The father and son owners of Komekichi Kozushi were quite serious about the correct way to eat sushi. The food was very delicious and we highly recommend Komekichi Kozushi to any Nikko visitor.
After dinner, the sky was getting dark, and we could see the dramatic silhouette of Mount Nantai backed with vivid skies.
As we stepped into Nikko Tobu Railway Station, our one-day visit of Nikko was coming to an end. We hopped on the limited express train for Asakusa Tokyo.