With a few brief interruption, Innwa (formerly known as Ava) was the capital of the Myanmar kingdom for more than four hundred years. No other city in Myanmar had been the seat of government over such a long period. Founded by a Shan Prince, Thadominphya in 1364 on an island between the rivers Ayeyarwaddy and Myitnge, and destroyed by the Mon in 1752, Innwa lost its status as a royal city several times before it was finally superseded by Amarapura in 1841. Due to an earthquake in 1838, very little remains of the royal buildings. The villages that have now grown up on the site of the former capital radiate an almost idyllic rural atmosphere.
The original pronunciation of Innwa is said to be Angwa. Ava was corrupted by the Hindus and the Malays into Awa, and by the Europeans into Ava. It's official name was Ratanapura (City of Gems). Thai pronunciation of Innwa is still Ungwa as they had several military confrontations in the heydays of Konbaung dynasty.
Maha Aungmye Bonzan
The Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery, however, is relatively well preserved. More well-known as Me Nu Oak Kyaung, this monastery was commissioned by King Bagyidaw's principal wife, Me Nu, in 1818, and built of stone in traditional style, with elaborate stucco ornamentations that look like carvings. In the middle of this ochre-coloured monastery is a statue of Buddha on a plinth, decorated with glass mosaics.
A few kilometers away from Innwa, in Paleik, stands the Yadana Labamuni Hsu-taung-pye Pagoda, also known as the Snake Pagoda, which is believed to have been built by King Alaungsithu of Bagan in the 12th century. A special feature fo this pagoda is the three large pythons nestling at the head and feet of Buddha, which are said to have appeared in the temple from the nearby forest in the mid 1970s and are carefully washed and fed every morning. Many people visit this place every day to watch the spectacle and to be photographed with one of the pythons. There are countless images of snakes everywhere, alluding to the harmonious relationship between the Buddha, animals and humans.
One of Innwa's finest attractions is the happily un-renovated Bagaya Kyaung, which dates from 1834. The entire monastery is built of teak and supported by 267 teak posts (the largest measures 18m in height and 2.7m in circumference). The cool and dark interior feels old and inviting.
The 27m-high masonry watchtower, Nanmyin, is all that remains of the palace built by Bagyidaw. The upper portion was shattered by the 1838 earthquake and the rest has taken on a precarious tilt - it is known as the 'leaning tower of Innwa'.