The ancient city of Anuradhapura is one important reason why Sri Lanka is a fascinatingly mystical tourist destination. Sri Lanka has a total of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of them is Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals and is now the home of well-preserved ruins that testify to the beauty of ancient Lankan civilization.
Located 205 kilometers north of the capital city of Colombo and beautifully situated on the banks of historic Malvathu Oya, Anuradhapura is one of the oldest existing cities in the world. It was inhabited before it became the Sri Lankan capital in the 4th century BC. It was the capital city until the 11th century AD, and through those years the city was very stable and durable as the country’s seat of political power and urban development. Not only was it the seat of politics but also of Buddhism. Today, the religiosity of the city is quite evident as there are several monasteries scattered in a 40-square-kilometer area.
Archeological finds suggest that the city had its beginnings as early as the 10th century BC, while other historical records place it at 5th century BC. Evidence also suggests that the city began to expand from 700 to 600 BC. It was situated within a lush jungle, which was why it was well protected and sustained through the centuries and millennia. From 500 to 250 BC, the city finally underwent organized planning as King Pandukabhaya built gates, quarters, roads, shops and so on. Around that time, the city expanded to become a square kilometer wide.
Today, ancient remains provide a glimpse of Anuradhapura’s bygone golden years. Ancient ruins include ancient irrigation systems, water tanks, temples, sculptures, palaces, stone platforms, foundations, stone pillars and bell-shaped monastic buildings or stupas that were made from small sun-dried bricks. The most popular of these ancient stupas is the Brazen Palace or Lohaprasadaya that was constructed by King Dutugamunu in 164 BC. There are also a number of ancient bathing tanks called “pokunas” scattered all over the jungle. Pokunas were also constructed to supply drinking water to the local people.
In 200 BC, Buddhism was introduced by the Sinhalese people as they arrived in the 6th century from northern India. It was around this time that other kingdoms flourished alongside Anuradhapura. They were Polonnaruwa, Kandian and Jaffna. When the British came, these different kingdoms were joined into one for administrative purposes. In 1948, the British left them as one country – Sri Lanka. Today, the north-central area of Sri Lanka is made up of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla, which are all ancient kingdoms that date back more than 2,500 years. The north-central province is known as Sri Lanka’s historical and cultural triangle.
Some of the leading attractions in Anuradhapura are the Sri Maha bodhiya (refutably the oldest living tree in the world), Ruwanwelisaya (a magnificent stupa with about 1,900 stunning elephant sculptures), Thuparamaya (a Buddhist shrine that keeps a collarbone of the Buddha), Abhayagiri Vihara temple, Jetavanarama (the largest stupa during its time), Mirisaveti Stupa, and Lankarama stupa, among many others.