Today’s featured UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ancient Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh. Somapura Mahavihara was built around 810 AD, during the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in the area. Although Somapura Mahavihara, which means “Great Monastery,” was intended for Buddhist monks, according to Wikipedia it eventually became an important intellectual and religious center for Buddhists, Jains and Hindus alike. Somapura Mahavihara was part of a network of 5 major monasteries that dominated South Asia, and was an important destination for many Buddhist scholars.
The Great Monastery remained a fixture of the region until the 12th century AD, when many of the people living in the surrounding villages and towns converted to Islam. Eventually, the monastery was abandoned and left to the jungle. It was excavated in the early 16th century and made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
Today, the massive, intricately decorated ruins are one of Bangladesh’s most important archaeological sites and a major tourist attraction. On its website, UNESCO explains why Somapura Mahavihara is both an important historical site and an attractive place for visitors to explore:
Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia.
To visit Somapura Mahavihara, you need a passport and a Bangladeshi visa, if you are a US citizen. In theory, Bangladesh issues visa on arrival, but in practice, according to the US Department of State, you’ll have a much easier time getting into the country. For more information about what you need to get your Bangladeshi visa, see BangladeshVisa Requirements for Tourists.
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