In 1755 King Alaungpaya conquered central Myanmar and built a new city at Dagon, a village that had existed for centuries around the Shwedagon Paya. He renamed the place Yangon, meaning ‘end of strife’, and, a year later, following the destruction of Thanlyin (Syriam) across the river, built it up into an important seaport.
In 1841 the city was virtually destroyed by fire. The rebuilt town again suffered extensive damage during the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852. The British, the new masters, renamed the city Rangoon and mapped out a grand building plan for what would become the capital of their imperial colony.
By the 1920s Rangoon was thriving as a port and key stopover point for steamships in the region, notable international visitors. In 1937 Amelia Earhart dropped in during the second of her attempts to fly around the world.
The city was also the spawning ground for Burmese independence. When that independence came in 1948, Rangoon continued as the nation's capital. However, its fortunes took a turn for the worse when military rule was imposed in 1962. The Burmese road to socialism as promulgated by General Ne Win and his cohorts drove Rangoon, like the rest of the country, to the brink of ruin.
In 1989 the junta decreed the city would once again be known as Yangon. Six years later the military announced that the newly constructed city of Nay Pyi Taw in central Myanmar was to be the nation’s capital. Yangon again suffered as government ministries departed from the downtown area, leaving behind empty and uncared for state owned buildings.
In late 2007 Yangon was the centre of huge nationwide fuel protests, which were led by Buddhist monks. The protests quickly escalated into antigovernment demonstrations, which resulted in the deaths of many protestors and worldwide condemnation.
In May 2008 the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s recent history, Cyclone Nargis, hit the south of the country. Yangon was declared a disaster area by the government. However, when reconstruction work began, it was found that most of the city had escaped major structural damage. By mid-June 2008, electricity and telecommunications were back to normal, and shops and restaurants had reopened with brand new, corrugated tin roofs.
Since the 2010 elections, Yangon's fortunes have skyrocketed along with its land prices, as both local and foreign investors scramble to grab a foothold here. A game changer will be the Yangon Dalah bridge connecting the city's downtown to rural areas across the Yangon River. Ground was broken on this in 2016 with the aim of completing the crossing by 2020.
In the meantime, decades of economic stagnation and under investment are only too apparent in the city's slums and creaking, frequently overwhelmed infrastructure, something you will quickly realise as you crawl into town in a taxi from the airport.