Anuradhapura is the capital  of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province.  It’s a city  famous for its well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is also reported to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

If you haven’t already guessed, Anuradhapura will be the focus of this second part of my series on Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle.  Here goes …

Getting to Anuradhapura

Lying north west of Dambulla, Anuradhapura sits on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya river, the second longest river in Sri Lanka.

From Colombo the drive is roughly 5-6 hours, and from Kandy around 3 hours.  Our drive from Dambulla and our own pt1 Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle took around 90 mins or so.

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Anuradhapura – The city and its history

So here’s a quick (ish) history lesson about Anuradhapura …

From the 4th century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD, Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka . According to records the city was founded in the 5th century BC, but archaeological data can put the date as far back as the 10th century BC.   Pretty Old!

Anuradhapura is considered sacred to the Buddhist world and with the introduction of Buddhism, Anuradhapura grew both in reputation and stature, and in order to meet demands it grew and grew, a phase of mass building had begun.  First King Kutakannatissa built the first (sizable) city wall with a moat in front of it. Then later the wall was made even bigger by King Vasabha. King Vasabha also added fortified gatehouses at the each of the entrances, of which you can still see the ruins today.

Inside of the city walls, as more and more people flocked to Anuradhapura to live and settle, the living facilities also improved.  The Malwatu Oya River was dammed to create lakes. The Nachchaduwa wewa was among the biggest of the lakes thereafter created.  The idea was that the lakes would irrigate the local paddy lands and supply water to those who had settled.

Anuradhapura sights

Anuradhapura is pretty big, and there’s a fair bit to see over several sites  We had a guide show us the sites, he was very informative, but cracked some appalling jokes. Here’s a few bits I personally loved and would recommend based upon what our guide showed us.

Bodhi Tree Temple (The Sri Maha Bodhiya): is the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka, after the  Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy. The Bodhi Tree is allegedly a cutting from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. I’d learnt in advance about it from The Local Tree Experts, who also happen to be the same folks who tend to my garden. Either way, the temple has been guarded for over 2000 years, making it the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world.  You can see below the extent to which the tree is guarded and looked after, bamboo scaffolding props up branches that are in danger of snapping off under their own weight.

Bodhi Tree Temple, Anuradhapura

Ruwanwelisaya: the oldest and biggest stupa (mound like structure containing Buddhist relics. Also known as “Dagoba”) at Anuradhapura.  Now fully restored and painted a bright white, Ruwanwelisaya is today a place of worship. Keep an eye out for the surrounding walls either their engraved elephants and brightly coloured flags.

Ruwanwelisaya, Anuradhapura

Ruwanwelisaya, Anuradhapura

Jetavana: a large stupa currently in a period of restoration.  At ~120m (400ft.) tall, this was the third tallest structure in the ancient world (after the Great Pyramids at Giza), and the largest in Sri Lanka.  Whilst visiting Anuradhapura I was lucky enough to be able to help (in a very very minor way) with the reconstruction.  Joining a long line of volunteers, we passed materials from one to another towards to Dagoba.  We could also see Monks at work at the very top of the structure.

Jetavana, Anuradhapura

Jetavana, Anuradhapura

Jetavana, Anuradhapura

Jetavana, Anuradhapura

Samadhi statue: shows Lord Buddha in a meditating position. The statue is situated in Mahamewna park, a quite and tranquil place.

Samadhi statue, Anuradhapura

The Moonstone: moonstones are to be found throughout Anuradhapura, at the entrances to monasteries.  Moonstones represent the movement from the secular to the sacred worlds by following the path to enlightenment.  This photo probably doesn’t do justice to the size and detail of the moonstone, they’re well worth looking for.

Moonstone, Anuradhapura

Kuttam Pokuna: once the finest bathing tanks in Anuradhapura. They were most likely used by monks from the monastery. Although they’re referred to as twins, they’re actually a little different in size.  The southern pond, 28m long, is smaller than the 40m-long north pond. Back in the day, water entered the northern pond through the mouth of a makara (mythical multispecies beast) and then flowed to the smaller pond through an underground .

Kuttam Pokuna, Anuradhapura

Entrance Fee

Again entrance fee info is not easy to find.  I’m sure its changed from when I visited, but from what I’ve found entry to the various sites can cost between US$15 – $25 is the reported price for 2012.  Worth it in my books, although on a couple of forums it was commented that it seemed a little high.


Video credit – ILoveSriLankaNetwork

Other Resources

Want to read something a little more comprehensive?  Check out the following sites.