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A rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders

Founded around 5th Century BC, Anuradhapura was the greatest monastic city of the ancient world and the heart of Sri Lankan civilisation for over a millennium. In its heyday, tens of thousands of people lived in a city of royal palaces, monasteries, temples, extensive gardens and large granite bathing pools.

The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. Its flourishing Buddhist culture and architectural achievements made it famous across Asia, while even today the sheer scale of its surviving ruins and stupas is breathtaking. The city lies 205 km north of the current capital Colombo in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.

It is believed that from the 4th century BC, it was the capital of the Sinhalese 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. Anuradhapura was founded by the third king of the Vijaya dynasty, Pandukabhaya. It was fought over and finally abandoned in 1073 when the capital was transferred to Polonnaruwa. From then on the jungle enveloped the palaces, monasteries and stupas, which slowly began to crumble.

The ancient city, considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is today surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over sixteen square miles (40 km²).

Don't Miss

  • The sacred Sri Maha Bodhi
  • The Ruwanweliseya’s carved elephants
  • Thuparama, the oldest stupa
  • The Jetavanarama monastery and stupa
  • The Abhayagiri Monastery Complex

Sights in Anuradhapura


The Thuparama is the oldest stupa in Anuradhapura. It may be small, but it is very sacred to Buddhists since it is believed to enshrine the right collarbone of the Buddha and is considered to be the first dagaba built in Sri Lanka following the introduction of Buddhism.


A gigantic white dome denotes the Ruwanweliseya. Considered a marvel for its architectural qualities, the stupa is raised above ground level on a huge, stone-flagged terrace, bound by a high wall adorned with an imposing army of near life-size sculpted elephants.


This mountain peak and temple complex, 13km east of Anuradhapura, is the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is the best sunset point in the Anuradhapura region.


Sandakada pahana, also known as Moon-stone, is a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka. It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab.


Kuttam Pokuna or twin ponds are a hydrologic engineering marvel of ancient Anuradhapura. These swimming-pool-like ponds were likely used by monks for bathing.


The world’s most revered tree, the Sri Maha Bodhi was grown from a sapling of the original bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment in Bodhgaya in India. It is one of the oldest trees in the world and has been tended devotedly for 23 centuries.


The vast Jetavanarama monastery and stupa is the largest stupa in Anuradhapura. The stupa was the centrepiece of the great Jetavanarama monastery and extensive monastic remains litter the surrounding parkland – including a finely preserved bathing pool.


On the north side of the ancient city lies the vast Abhayagiri Monastery, founded by King Vattagamini. The main ruins are centred on the Abhayagiri stupa.


The Samadhi Statue is a statue situated at Mahamevnawa Park. The Buddha is depicted in the position of the Dhyana Mudra the posture of meditation, also called Nirvana.


Lovamahapaya, also known as the Brazen Palace because the roof was covered with bronze tiles was a massive nine storied building.

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