Sri Lanka’s civilization is one of the oldest in documented history. It goes back to over 2500 years. Ruins of well planned ancient cities, majestic palaces, large reservoirs, ancient Buddhist temples with monuments and massive relic chambers known as DAGOBAS, beautifully landscaped gardens, and several works of art are all proof of a glorious past.
To appreciate the history of Sri Lanka one must understand the influence of Buddhism on its rulers and the people. The progress of Buddhism goes hand in hand with its cultural heritage. Sri Lanka’s richest archaeological sites are within the famous cultural triangle linked by three ancient capitals, Anuradhapura, Pollonnaruwa and Kandy with Sigiriya in the centre.
Of the eight UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka, six are archaeological sites, Five of them are located within the cultural triangle, namely, Anuradhapura, the ancient city of Pollonnaruwa, the famous rock fortress of Sigiriya, the golden rock temple of Dambulla, and the sacred city of Kandy. Sixth world heritage site is the Galle fort in deep south.
The Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC, until the beginning of the 11th century AD. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. Situated 205 km away from Colombo in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is a perfect model for planning and construction of ancient cities. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Anuradhapura is considered one of the most sacred cities of the Buddhist world. The ancient city covering an area of over sixteen square miles boasts of a number of heritage sites with great historical significance including the ‘Eight Most Sacred Places’ or ‘Atamasthana’ for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
The Garden City of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruva was the second royal capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura during late 9th century AD. Polonnaruva was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu, who defeated the Chola invaders in 11th century AD to reunite the country once more under a local King. The Golden Age of Polonnaruva however was during the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great during the 12th century AD. It was a reign during which art, culture, trade and agriculture flourished and great irrigation systems that are far superior to those of the Anuradhapura Age were constructed.
Polonnaruva is one of the history’s most astonishing urban creations, both because of its unusual dimensions and because of the very special relationship of its buildings with their natural setting. Polonnaruva is currently a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Rock Fortress of Sigiriya
A UNESCO world heritage site since 1982, Sigiriya is the best preserved city centre in Asia from the first millennium, with its combination of buildings and gardens with trees, pathways, water gardens, the fusion of symmetrical and asymmetrical elements, use of varying levels and of axial and radial planning. The complex which displays the grandeur and complexity of urban-planning in the 5th century Sri Lanka, consists of the central rock, rising 200 metres above the surrounding plain, and two rectangular precincts covering 90 hectares on the east and 40 hectares on the west, surrounded by two moats and three ramparts. The plan of the city is based on a precise square module duplicating the layout and design on either side. Sigiriya has a long history and may have been inhabited through pre-historic times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery even during the 3rd century BC.
Aukana Buddha Satue
‘Aukana Buddha Statue’ is considered the most elegant undamaged Buddha statue of the Anuradhapura period. Some 30km northwest of Golden Dambulla Rock Temple, the village of Aukana located close to the large ancient Kala Wewa rainwater reservoir, is home to this most perfectly preserved statue, built in the 5th century AD. Aukana Buddha statue is a masterpiece by an unknown sculptor.