Shwedagon Paya, Rangoon
According to legend, the stupa was originally built during the lifetime of the Buddha (563-483 BC) to enshrine eight hairs which he had donated to the Burmese. A visit by Ashoka (Indian emperor, 272-231 BC) also belongs to legend. More plausible is a recorded visit by King Anawratha of Pagan (1044-1077). From the 14th century onwards, royal patrons would intermittently repair and improve the stupa, raising its height and offering multiples of their own weight in gold for gilding it.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the stupa had reached almost 300 feet, or about 90% of its present height. However, it had to be repaired several times in the following centuries due to earthquake damage. Its present shape dates to 1769, the year of the last such major repair. Since then the stupa has undergone several minor repairs, and its surface decoration and gilding is renewed every year.
The stupa is solid all the way through, and made of bricks underneath its decorated "skin." It ascends on a series of angled terraces that create a graceful transition between its square platform and the circular base of the "bell." The decorated shoulder of the bell rises to a stem with circular moldings; above that some lotus-petal bands, a so-called "banana bud," and then the hti, an umbrella-shaped finial. Gold leaf an astonishing 53 metric tons of it, according to the Lonely Planet Guide (p. 181) decorates the lower parts of the stupa, while the upper stem and hti are gold-plated. Above the hti is a flagpole-and-orb which is studded with jewels and diamonds, ending with one 76-carat diamond at the very top.