Previously known as East Bengal, civilisation in Bangladesh dates back over four millennia, to the Chalcolithic. The country’s earliest history involved successive Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms and empires vying for power. The result is a host of historically fascinating sites which represent a range of architectural designs and eras.
Though neighbouring India is a hugely popular tourist attraction, many sites in Bangladesh are equally stunning, and make for a visit which is slightly more off the beaten track. Here’s our pick of 5 of the best.
What are the best Historic Sites in Bangladesh?
1. Lalbagh Fort
The Lalbagh Fort is a seventeenth century Mughal fortified palace in Dhaka which was never completed. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Lalbagh Fort was the scene of – ultimately unsuccessful – revolts by the local soldiers against the British during the Great Rebellion. Three main sections of the fort are complete, namely the Mausoleum of Pari Bibi, Diwan-i-Aam (the Hall of Audience), and Quilla Mosque. The Mausoleum of Pari Bibi consists of a white marble room with the tomb in the centre and access to the room is restricted.
The fort is now maintained by the archaeological department of Bangladesh. It is a key tourist attraction in Dhaka and about three million people visit Lalbagh Fort every year.
2. The Liberation War Museum
The Liberation War Museum chronicles the history of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Located in Dhaka, the Museum starts in the lead up to this nine-month long conflict, looking at different aspects of the war and its outcome.
From photographs and newspaper extracts to personal belongings and even human remains, the Museum has a range of artefacts and sources which tell this dramatic story of Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan.
3. Somapura Mahavira
Somapura Mahavira is one of the world’s grandest and most important historic Buddhist monasteries. Built under the remit of the Pala Emperor Dharmapala in the seventh century, the name Somapura Mahavira – meaning the Great Monastery – hints at its vast size.
Somapura Mahavira continued to thrive as an academic and religious hub until the twelfth century and today it is considered to be one of the best examples of the artistic excellence of its time. The site is now open to the public and there is a small museum exhibiting local finds.
4. Kotila Mura
Kotila Mura is an important Buddhist site in Bangladesh, one of fifty such sites amongst the Mainimati ruins. Made up of three stupas, the site is believed to have been in use from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries. Of these three Buddhist shrines, each represents one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, being Dharma, Sangha and Buddha.
Excavations at the site began in the 1950s, uncovering items now held in the museum that were used to date the structures. Kotila Mura remains a cultural and architectural place of significance in Banglasdesh
5. Salban Vihara
Salban Vihara is one of the most important Buddhist sites found amongst the Mainimati ruins. A large monastery probably built in the eighth century, this flame coloured building would have been able to house 115 monks. Excavations at Shalban Vihara began after road builders in 1875 uncovered what they thought was an old fortress. Discoveries from the site included 8 inscribed copperplates, around 400 gold and silver coins, multiple terracotta and baked clay seals, as well as a large number of sculptures made of bronze, stone and terracotta. An Abbasid gold coin found suggested that Shalban Vihara was inhabited until the 13th century.
Today, the Shalban Vihara temple and former monastery for Buddhist students remains a peaceful place surrounded by the Lalambi forest. The site is one of Bangladesh’s most popular tourist sites although it has not yet been fully excavated: the northern wing and 2 stupas are yet to be cleared.