Our Travel Official Logo

Anuradhapura:

A Guide to the Ancient City

Anuradhapura: A Guide to the Ancient City of Sri Lanka

It is one of the oldest and most important cities in Sri Lanka. It was the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom for over 1,300 years, from the 4th century BC to the 11th century AD. During this time, Anuradhapura was a major center of Buddhism and culture, and it is home to some of the most impressive ruins of ancient Sri Lanka

History 

It was founded in the 4th century BC by King Pandukabhaya. The king chose the site for its strategic location, its fertile soil, and its abundance of water. Anuradhapura quickly grew into a prosperous city, and it became the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom.

The city reached its peak during the 1st century AD, when it was ruled by King Ashoka of India. Ashoka was a devout Buddhist, and he sponsored the construction of many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Anuradhapura. He also sent a Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka, led by his son Mahinda, which helped to spread Buddhism throughout the island.

It continued to be a major center of Buddhism and culture for many centuries. However, it began to decline in the 9th century AD, due to a series of invasions and natural disasters. The city was finally abandoned in the 11th century AD, when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa.

Ruins 

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Today, It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins of the ancient city are spread over an area of over 16 square kilometers. The most impressive ruins include:

  • The Maha Viharaya: This is the largest and most important Buddhist temple in Anuradhapura. It was founded in the 3rd century BC, and it has been rebuilt many times over the centuries. The Maha Viharaya is home to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest living tree in the world.
  • The Ruwanwelisaya: The Ruwanwelisaya is a Buddhist stupa located in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka.
  • The Ruwanwelisaya was built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC. It is said to contain a relic of the Buddha’s hair. The stupa is 103 meters (338 feet) high and has a base diameter of 290 meters (951 feet). It is made of bricks and is covered in gold leaf.

The Ruwanwelisaya has been damaged by several earthquakes and invasions over the centuries, but it has been restored each time. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

The Ruwanwelisaya is a symbol of the power and influence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a reminder of the great Buddhist civilization that flourished in Anuradhapura for over 1,000 years.

  • The Jethawanaramaya: The Jetavanaramaya is a Buddhist stupa located in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is the largest stupa in Sri Lanka and one of the largest in the world.

The Jetavanaramaya was built by King Mahasena of Anuradhapura (273–301) in the 3rd century AD. It is said to have been built to rival the Mahaviharaya, the main Buddhist temple in Anuradhapura.

The Jetavanaramaya is a massive structure. It is 122 meters (400 feet) high and has a base diameter of 394 meters (1,300 feet). It is made of millions of bricks and is said to have taken 16 years to build.

The Jetavanaramaya was damaged by an earthquake in the 13th century and was further damaged by treasure hunters in the 19th century. However, it has been restored and is now a popular tourist destination.

The Jetavanaramaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most important Buddhist monuments in the world. It is a reminder of the great power and influence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka during the Anuradhapura period.

  • The Abhayagiriya:Abhayagiriya is a Buddhist monastery complex located in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is one of the largest and most important monasteries in the ancient city, and it was once home to over 10,000 monks.The monastery was founded in the 1st century BC by King Vattagamani Abhaya. It quickly became a major center of Buddhism, and it was home to a number of important Buddhist scholars and teachers.

    The monastery was destroyed by the Cholas in the 11th century AD, but it has been partially restored. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.

    The monastery complex is spread over an area of 1.6 square kilometers. The most important ruins include the:

    • Great Stupa: This is the largest stupa in Abhayagiriya, and it is said to contain the relics of the Buddha.
    • Mahaviharaya: This is the main temple in Abhayagiriya, and it is said to have been built by King Vattagamani Abhaya.
    • Jetavana Monastery: This is a smaller monastery that was once home to over 1,000 monks.
    • Caves: There are a number of caves at Abhayagiriya that were used by the monks for meditation and study.
    • Water Tank: This large water tank was used to provide water for the monastery complex.

    Abhayagiriya is a beautiful and peaceful place that is steeped in history and culture. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

  • The Mihintale:The Mihintale is a hilltop monastery located about 12 kilometers from Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is said that the Buddha’s son, Mahinda, first preached Buddhism in Sri Lanka at Mihintale. The monastery is home to a number of temples and shrines, as well as beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.According to legend, Mahinda met the Sinhalese king Devanampiya Tissa at Mihintale in 247 BC. The king was so impressed by Mahinda’s teachings that he converted to Buddhism and made it the state religion of Sri Lanka. Mihintale quickly became a major center of Buddhism, and it is still an important pilgrimage site today.

    The monastery complex at Mihintale is spread out over a large area. The most important sites include the Maha Stupa, Thuparama Vihara, Refectory, Caves, and Water Tank.

    The Maha Stupa is the largest stupa at Mihintale, and it is said to contain the relics of Mahinda.

    The Thuparama Vihara is the oldest Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, and it is said to have been built by King Devanampiya Tissa.

    The Refectory is a large hall where the monks would eat their meals.

    There are a number of caves at Mihintale that were used by the monks for meditation and study.

    The Water Tank is a large water tank that was used to provide water for the monastery complex.

    The Mihintale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for anyone interested in Buddhist history and culture. It is a beautiful and peaceful place where you can learn about the origins of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

    Here are some additional details about the Mihintale:

    • The Maha Stupa is a massive dome-shaped structure that is over 50 meters high. It is said to have been built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC.
    • The Thuparama Vihara is a smaller temple that is believed to have been built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC. It is said to house the relics of the Buddha’s right collarbone.
    • The Refectory is a large hall that can accommodate up to 1,000 monks. It was built in the 2nd century BC and is believed to have been used by the monks to eat their meals.
    • The Caves are a series of natural caves that were used by the monks for meditation and study. There are over 50 caves at Mihintale, and some of them are still in use today.
    • The Water Tank is a large reservoir that was built in the 3rd century BC. It was used to provide water for the monastery complex and the surrounding villages.

    The Mihintale is a beautiful and peaceful place that is steeped in history and culture. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

How to Visit 

Anuradhapura is a popular tourist destination, and it is easily accessible from Colombo. There are a number of hotels and guesthouses in Anuradhapura, and there are also a number of tour operators that offer day trips and overnight tours of the ancient city.

The best time to visit Anuradhapura is during the dry season, which is from December to April. However, the city can be visited year-round.

Tips for Visiting 

  • Wear comfortable shoes, as you will be doing a lot of walking.
  • Bring sunscreen and a hat, as the sun can be strong.
  • Bring water and snacks, as there are few restaurants in the ancient city.
  • Be respectful of the religious sites.
  • Take your time and enjoy exploring this fascinating ancient city.