“Rangoon owes its history to two factors, the Shwe Dagon Pagoda and the River. The former made it a place of note in earlier ages; the latter has made it the chief port of Burma today.”
Rangoon is a recent capital. In 1854, following the 2nd Anglo Burmese War the British made the small port with its important national pilgrimage shrine the administrative capital of their recent acquisition — Lower Burma. Up till then, despite its excellent location on the Rangoon River, Rangoon had been of limited economic and political significance .The city stands on the Eastern edge of the Delta and is on the Rangoon River, not the Irrawaddy. It was not connected by water to the Irrawaddy proper till the construction of the Twante Canal in the early part of this century.
Originally known as Okkala and later Dagon (as in the Shwedagon Pagoda), Rangoon was renamed Yangon or ‘The End of Strife’ after the conquest of Lower Burma by King Alaunghpaya in 1755. The city later became anglicised as ‘Rangoon’. The name has now officially reverted to Yangon. The downstream port of Syriam had up till then been the entreport for Upper Burma.
The British laid out the city with its grid plan — the cross-streets being numbered in the American way. The city soon prospered as a glance at the magnificent colonial architecture will tell. Rangoon was a cosmopolitan capital with large Indian and Chinese communities.
As you walk along the street
Many curious folk you will meet,
Nearly every sort of man
From the Shores of Hindustan;
Persians, Turks, and bland Parsis
Moguls, Gurkhas, Siamese,
Placid folk from far Cathay -
Where’s the Burman stowed away?
Rodway Swinhoe. The Incomplete Guide to Burma. 1923
Though the non-Burman population decimated in number and wealth by the 1962 Revolution the cosmopolitan nature of the city can be seen in the many temples and mosques, churches and cathedrals, commercial buildings and palatial residences.
Rangoon has always been one of the loveliest cities in Asia and until recently caught in an enchanted time warp. As the country opens and money floods in from other Asian countries the first casualty is the magnificent architectural heritage.
Rangoon Division now has a population of over three million and covers an area of over 200 square miles.