Founded in the 4th century BC, Anuradhapura was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest centres of political and religious power. The ancient city is home to temples, immense dagobas,pools and ruinedplaces, all of which hint at the splendor of the place at the height of its power during the 9th century AD. Anuradhapura suffered repeated incursions from south India, but it was only after the Cholas occupied the city in the 10th century that it fell into decline. It was reclaimed by the jungle and largely forgotten until the area was cleared in the 19th century. The ruins are spread out over a large area, but the main points of interest lie in the centre close to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, east around the Jetavanarama Dagoba and north around the Abhayagiri Dagoba.
The first dagoba to the built in Sri Lanka, Thuparama was constructed by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC and is said to house the right collarbone of the Buddha. Originally in the “head of paddy” shape, the dagoba was restored to the bell shape when it was renovated in 1862. It is surrounded by the pillars of a vatadage, which was added in the 7th century.
Begun by King Dutugemunu in 2nd century BC, the 55 m high dagoba is enclosed by a striking wall with a frieze of elephants. Restorations over the years have changed the dagoba’s appearance, which was originally said to be bubble shaped.
Dating from the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, this rock temple houses a shrine with a reclining Buddha. The museum on the site has some of the best sculptures in the city, including The Lovers from the 5th century.
Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
The largest and oldest of the many bo trees in the enclosure, the Sri Maha Bodhi is said to have grown from a cutting brought over from India by Princess Sanghamitta, sister of Mahinda, in the 3rd century BC.
Anuradhapura is surrounded by three tanks that were built to store water for the irrigation of fields surrounding the city. The largest of these tanks is Nuwara Wewa that lies to the east and is spread over an area of 120 sq km. built around 20 BC, it was expanded by later kings. To the south lies the 160 ha Tissa Wewa, which was built by Devanampiya Tissa, and to the north is the city’s oldest tank, the 120 ha Basawakkulama, which is said to date back to the 4th century BC.
The northern area of Anuradhapura is home to a cluster of interesting sights that provide more insight into the history of the city. Visitors should first stop at the Royal Palace complex, where the Mahapali Refectory and the Dalada Maligawa can be found, before heading further north to see the ruins of Abhayagiri, the third of Anuradhapura’s monastic complexes; the other two are the Mahavihara and the Jetavanarama Monastery. Established by King Vattagamini Abhaya in 88 BC, it went to become the largest and the most influential monastery in the country, and by the 5th century, it was home to 5,000 monks. East of the monastery are the Samadhi Buddha statue and the Kuttan Pokuna, both of which are worth a visit.
Founded in the outskirts of the city, this monastery dates from the 8th century. The monks of the monastery gave sanctuary to those in need. The guardstone at the entrance is the finest in Anuradhapura; it depicts a nagaraja (copra king) sheltered under a seven headed cobra.
Although not much remains of the original monastic complex, the moonstone here is one of the most beautiful on the island. It dates from around the 8th century, and features five circles representing the journey to attain nirvana.
Built in 88 BC by Vattagamini Abhaya, the dagobaformerly stood 115 m tall. When the structure lost its pinnacle, it was reduced to a height of 70 m.
Although known as the “twin ponds”, there two pools differ significantly in size. While the northern pond measures 40 m in length, the one to the south in 28 m long. There were built in the 8th century, and were probably used as ritual baths, as there are steps from each side leading into the water.
A fine example of Sinhalese sculpture, this statue dates back to the 4th century and depicts the Buddha in the samadhi pose.
Once part of the Royal Palace, the refectory has a large stone trough that used to be filled with rice to feed the monks.
This palace was built by King Vijayabahu I after he defeated the Cholas in AD 1077, although the capital had already moved to Polannaruwa by then. While it is newer than a lot of other structures in the ancient city, little remains today apart from the terrace and the guardstones. more