Innwa is situated at the confluence of the Ayeyarwady and Dokhtawadi (Myitnge) rivers in Upper Myanmar. It was founded after the subversion of Sagaing and Pinya by the Shans in 1364 and was the seat of a kingdom for nearly five hundred years. In 1841 it was finally abandoned in favour of Amarapura. Its classical name is Yatnapura, the City of Gems. Until modem times Myanmar is usually referred to as Innwa by the outside world.

Inwa historical site in Myanmar

Inwa historical site in Myanmar

Thadominbya, after founding Innwa, led an expedition towards the south where the Mons had established themselves at Bago since the fall of Bagan. But he died on his way and was succeeded by Minkyiswa-sawke. The latter was a descendant of the king of Bagan and his succession to the throne w’as hailed with delight by the Myanmar. He adopted his predecessor’s policy of re-conquering the whole of the Myanmar dominions and succeeded, in the course of a few years, in establishing the power of Innwa as far as Pyay. He then invaded Bago, the Mon country, but was repulsed, and the following years witnessed a long struggle between the Myanmar and the Mons. The story of the fight between Minkhaung and his valiant son Minye-kyawswa on one side and Razadarit of Bago on the other became a popular theme on Myanmar stages. Minkhaung died in 1422 and in the following year Razadarit met his death from a wound received while hunting elephants. There was a lull in the struggle for supremacy.

In the meantime, Taunggo which had been allowed to remain partially independent was growing into an important kingdom, and its population was increasing due to the emigrants from Innwa during the supremacy of the Shan kings. In 1530 Tabinshweti succeeded to the throne of Taunggo. He was looked upon by the Myanmar as a champion of their race. When Tabinshweti attacked Bago the Mon king fled to Pyay. As Pyay was then a vassal state to Innwa, Thohanbwa came down with a Shan army to the assistance of Pyay. The attack of Tabinshweti’s army was not successful, but it gave cause in the succeeding years to a series of invasions on Myanmar proper by Tabinshweti and his successor. Innwa fell in 1555 and a Myanmar prince was placed on the throne as a tributary of the Taunggo empire under Bayinnaung. It was not till 1636 that Innwa became, for the first time in its history, the capital of the Myanmar kingdom when King Thalun moved there from Taunggo. The power of the Myanmar again declined after a century when the Mons rose once again with a success that was as stupendous as it was brief. The city of Innwa was taken and destroyed in 1752, and its king was carried away as captive to Bago. However, a few years later, Alaungpaya regained the lost territories and became the undisputed emperor of Myanmar. Thus the power of the Mons was broken for ever. Alaungpaya set up Shwebo in the north as the seat of his kingdom. But Innwa again became the capital in the reign of his son Hsinbyushin and his successor Singu Min. When Bodawpaya came to the throne he founded Amarapura as his capital. But his successor Bagyidaw again moved to Innwa. It was almost destroyed by earthquake in 1838, and was abandoned three years later by Shwebo Min in favour of Amarapura.

Farmers planting wet rice near Taungoo

Farmers planting wet rice near Taunggo

The city is bounded on the north by the Ayeyarwady, on the east by the Myitnge and on the south and west by a canal linking the two rivers. Unlike the conventional plans of most of the ancient cities in Myanmar the brick fortifications do not take a quadrangular form. The zigzagged walls assume the outline figure of a stylized lion seated on its hinds ; and the citadel is not centrally disposed but occupies the north-eastern sector of the outer enclosure. Improvements and reconstruction of the layout of the inner city were made three times, firstly by Nyaungyan Min in 1597, secondly by Hsinbyushin in 1763 and lastly by Bagyidaw in 1832. Now there are several villages within the city area and a large part of it is under cultivation. Jungle growth covers most of the ruins but the remains of the fort walls and the moat are still clearly visible.

Some of the pagodas go back to Bagan period, such as Htilaingshin pagoda built by Kyansittha. King Shwenankyawshin of the first Innwa dynasty is renowned to have built a magnificent wooden palace and the ceremonies attending its construction were recorded in an inscription, now badly damaged but preserved in a masonry shed near the Htilaingshin pagoda. The solitary building which remains of Bagyidaw’s palace is the Nanmyin, a ninety-foot high masonry watch tower. The earthquake of 1838 shook its foundations and toppled the upper portion, while the lower part is left leaning to one side.
Nanmadaw Me Nu, Bagyidaw’s chief queen, built a fine masonry monastery, the Maha Aungmye Bonzan, for the royal abbot Nyaunggan Sayadaw. Its architecture is in simulation of wooden monasteries with multiple roofs and a prayer hall of seven-tiered superstructure. It was also damaged by the earthquake of 1838 but was repaired by Hsinbyumashin, the daughter of Me Nu and a queen of Mindon.

Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery

Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery

Another monastery of a later date is the Bagaya Kyaung embellished with ornate carvings in wood. It is constructed of 267 teak wood posts. The exterior ornamentation is now lost through long exposure to inclement weather.
About a mile below the city is the ruins of the Innwa fort built during the reign of Mindon. It forms a triad with the Sagaing fort on the opposite bank and the Thabyedan fort above Innwa.
An old brick causeway leads from the south city gate towards the town of Tada-u from where one could reach Pinya which had briefly attained the pride of place as the capital of Shan kingdom.