Bangladesh is definitely not short of architectural heritage sites, which is doubly remarkable when you consider how small this country is. This is the home of Mahasthangarh and the Shat Gombuj Masjid (Sixty Dome Mosque) as well as of the Mosque City of Bagerhat. Besides these archaeological treasures, there is also the famous Somapura Mahavihara, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country and a place that takes a good part of its fame from the fact that it is the second-biggest of all the Buddhist monasteries in the region.
This place was constructed around the 8th century, according to the archaeologists working on the site. It is credited to King Dharmapala, one of the members of one of the old Indian imperial powers, the Pala Dynasty. Over subsequent centuries, the place remained in the hands of the Pala rulers, until they vacated it around the 12th century. According to historians, this was due to the increasing number of incursions by the rulers’ foes and their armies. In the 11th century, it was actually burned down, and it was shortly after that that it was abandoned and left to be overrun by foliage and grass-to the point of becoming near-forgotten, in fact. Another name for it among the locals is actually Paharpur, which means Hill Town: for the longest time, people actually mistook it for a mere grassy hill.
It could hardly be ignored for long, though, and in the 1920’s, excavations started up once again. This enormous place spans an area of about 20 acres. The walls are about 281 metres in length each, which should give you an idea of its breadth. The most curious part of the structure is the fact that there is a central structure that is said to be a Buddhist stupa and whose precise purpose people have yet to explain, it being that the superstructure is already gone. This is not a common feature in Bangladeshi architecture. In fact, on the whole, historians describe the Somapura Mahavihara as being something of an exception in the area when it comes to its architectural style. There is widespread consensus on the fact that it resembles the Burmese, Cambodian, and Javanese styles of architecture far more than the Indian.
The Somapura Mahavihara was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Like many of the other sites in Bangladesh, a good deal of the structure is made of terracotta, which means that there has been significant degradation on the site owing to increasing salinity and sulphates in the environment. That said, the archaeological teams regularly coming to the place have done it a great deal of good, and this is definitely a place that tourists should visit when coming to the country. It is merely 282 kilometres away from the capital and a road trip to it would take only about 7 hours if you are coming from Dhaka. There is also a museum in the location for those hoping to get more information about this heritage site.