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Sri Lankan history is dated as far as 3500 years ago. Hundreds of kings have ruled the country, many dynasties have invaded and ruled over them. One of the most renowned capitals of many of these rulers and dynasties is Anuradhapura. The Anuradhapura ancient city dates back to 377 BC. It is also believed that the king Ravana, an important character in Hindu mythology Ramayana, used this city as his capital.
Now, many of the city’s monuments have been turned into ruins. But even so, these Anuradhapura ruins act as an important attraction to tourists all over the world. The city also houses many stupas which are very sacred for the Buddhist community. The sacred Bo-tree in the city is one of the main attractions for Buddhists and other tourists all over the world.
Location: Anuradhapura District
Nearest Airport: Colombo
How to reach: by air/road/train
Famous for: Ancient ruins of the oldest Srilankan civilization, Buddhist Heritage and UNESCO site
Best time to visit: April to September
WHAT TO SEE
Anuradhapura Kingdom, Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
Thuparna Dagoba, Ruvanveli Dagoba
Jetavana Dagoba, Abhayagiri Dagoba
Samadhi Buddha, Isurumuniya
Mihintale, Awkana and Kuttam Pokuna
The Anuradhapura ancient city is one of the best tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. This was the first kingdom that was founded in Sri Lanka. The ruins date back to 543 BC.
The Anuradhapura Kingdom was founded by King Pandukabhaya in 377 BC and was treated as the capital for the whole Kingdom. This kingdom then continued its reign with a total of 113 rulers after king Pandukabhaya, over 1300 years. But then in 993 AD, the kingdom was attacked, invaded, and captured by the Indian Chola Dynasty Emperor, Rajaraja 1. After this incident, the place was abandoned by the people for almost 1000 years and it turned into Anuradhapura ruins until it was discovered by the Britishers. This led to the repopulation of the city and then in 1980, the city was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sri Lanka used to be a dry country as it is presently. In ancient times, the harvesting of crops could only be done through the rainwater. Thus, the farmers used to depend a lot on the monsoons, which sometimes made their lives very hard. To overcome this problem, the rulers of the kingdom built a complex drainage system throughout the city to collect and store the rainwater. A long chain of canals was also constructed for the distribution of water as per need, thus making this one of the oldest and most complex irrigation systems of the world.
The culture of this kingdom is greatly influenced by the Hindus and Buddhists. The kingdom houses one of the oldest trees in the world. This tree is known to have originated from the Shri Maha Bodhi Tree, the tree under which Lord Buddha first attained enlightenment. The tree known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is known to be grown from the branch of the original Shri Maha Bodhi Tree. Thus, this is a very sacred place for the Buddhists.
After the invasion of the Indian Emperor, Rajaraja 1, the Hindu culture spread throughout the country as well. Thus you may find many things around the Anuradhapura ancient city related to the ancient Hindus. It is also said that Anuradhapura was the capital of Asura King Ravana and his ashes are somewhere in the city even today.
The city faced severe damage to its capital because of the many invasions through South India. But the invasion that hurt the most was that by Emperor Rajaraja and that turned the monuments of the city into Anuradhapura ruins. The ruins are classified into three kinds of buildings, Dagobas, monastic buildings, and Pokunas.
Some famous ruins that can be visited are mentioned below:
The sacred Shri Maha Bodhi: This Bo-tree is one of the oldest trees in the world. It has been saved and nurtured through 23 long centuries and is believed to be a part of the original Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. The tree is now surrounded by iron crutches and protected by golden railings. Many beautiful and colorful flags surround the tree that is offered by the pilgrims.
The Ruwanweliseya’s carved Elephants: Ruwanweliseya Stupa is one of the greatest Stupas of the Anuradhapura ancient city and it was constructed by the Hero King, Dutugemunu. The stupa is constructed above a huge stone and is supported by a high wall along with an army of Elephants. These Elephants are located such that it looks like they support the wall.
Thuparama: Thuparama, is the oldest Stupa in the city. The size of the stupa is very small, but the attraction is comparatively huge. It is also considered as one of the most sacred stupas for the Buddhists because it is believed to enshrine the right collarbone of Lord Buddha.
Jetavanarama Monastery and Stupa: Founded by the great king Mahasena, the Jeetvanarama Stupa is the largest Stupa of the city. It stands 122 meters tall and has a diameter of 113 meters. This Stupa was the centerpiece of the Jetavanarama Monastery.
The Abhayagiri Monastery: Founded by King Vattagamini, this Monastery lies in the northern part of the city. It used to be the second most powerful institution of its time just behind the king. It is believed to have housed more than 5000 monks at once. The main ruins of this Monastery are centered in the Abhayagiri Stupa.
Sigiriya: Sigiriya is the home to one of the ancient fortresses of the island. The 1600 years old Sigiriya Fortress was built by the then king Kasyapa. The white palace situated in the city is truly an epitome of beauty. This was believed to be the residence of the king himself.
Minneriya National Park: Spread around 89 sq km of area, this National Park is a house to a great variety of wildlife. The National Park is one of the best reserves to see wild elephants in large numbers. Other animals that can be spotted in the park are the toque macaques, Sambar deers, crocodiles, and many others.
Mihintale: The village of Mihintale is located approximately 13 km east of Anuradhapura ruins. The village also houses many temple complexes. It is attached to one of the ancient lores of the country.
King Devanampiya Tissa was on a hunt for a stag on the Mihintale hills where he was approached by Mahinda, the son of Emperor Ashoka. Mahinda tested the king’s wisdom, and he found the king to be a worthy disciple. Thus, he converted the king to a Buddhist, and since then Mihintale is known to be associated with Buddhism.