Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Located in the North Central Province, 206 km from Colombo, the Sacred city of Anuradhapura is a magical place. Featuring some of the most ancient archaeological treasures in Sri Lanka, this vast heritage site is an impressive remember of an ancient civilization.
Once one of the grandest monastic cities the world has ever seen, it was established in the 4th century BC, rising to prominence with the arrival of Buddhism, a pivotal event that saw the city transformed into a major centre of Buddhist pilgrimage and learning. The great kings of Anuradhapura oversaw a golden age in the island’s history, building colossal dagobas that rivalled the pyramids of Egypt in scale.
The city’s fame spread afar and features in writings from ancient Greece, Rome and China. But after enduring frequent invasions from South India, Anuradhapura eventually fell into decline in the 10th c. AD.
You feel overwhelmed at the scale of ancient Anuradhapura. At the centre of the ancient city is the Mahavihara, the oldest of the city’s monasteries. Worshiper still come to meditate here, drawn to the Sri Maha Bodhi, grown from the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment in Northern India. The Thuparama dagoba, erected in the 3rd c. BC, was the first dagoba to be built in Sri Lanka and enshrines the Buddha’s right collarbone. Standing before the red-brick Jetavana dagoba – once the third tallest structure in the world – is an owesome experience. The Abhayagiri dagoba is still covered in earth and vegetation, while the more famous Ruvanvalisaya dagoba, fully restored, is beautifully illuminated at night. The magnificent Kuttam Pokuna or ‘twin baths’ with the Brazen Palace – once a nine-storey structure with 1,000 rooms – is 1,600 granite columns. The Isurumuniya rock temple houses a famous 5th c. AD Indian – style sculpture known as the lovers.
Anuradhapura is nestled between three vast reservoirs known as tanks – the Basawakkulama, the Tissa Wewa and the Nuwara Wewa. Part of a sophisticated irrigation system developed from the 4th c. BC onwards, these still carry life-giving water to the fields in the dry zone, living testament to the engineering skills of the ancient rulers. The raised bunds of the tanks are perfect for an evening stroll and some bird-watching, while also offering great views of the city’s dabogas.