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Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

Cities covered:

  • Anuradhapura

  • Galle

  • Polonnaruwa

  • Dambulla cave temple

  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve

  • Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

  • Temple of the Tooth

  • Sigiriya

Location of World Heritage Sites within Sri Lanka:

  • The ancient city of Polonnaruwa (1982).

  • The ancient city of Sigiriya (1982).

  • The Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991).

  • The old town of Galle and its fortifications (1988).

  • The sacred city of Anuradhapura (1982).

  • The sacred city of Kandy (1988).

  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988).

  • Outside view of the Temple.

Kandy

Kandy is known for the Sri Dalada Maligawa or The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which was built within the royal palace complex that houses the tooth relic of Buddha, which is venerated by Buddhists. The relic has played an important role in local politics since ancient times, as it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country; something which caused the ancient kings to protect it with great effort.

Kandy was the capital of the Sinhalese Kings from 1592 to 1815, fortified by the terrain of the mountains and difficult approach. The city is a world heritage site declared by UNESCO, in part due to the tooth relic temple.

On Wednesdays there is a symbolic bathing of the Sacred Relic with an herbal preparation made from scented water and flagrant flowers, called Nanumura Mangallaya. This holy water is believed to contain healing powers and is distributed among those present there. As an important attraction, the temple has sustained damage from multiple bombings by terrorists in the past, but it has been fully restored each time.

Sigiriya

Sigiriya, considered by some as the eighth wonder of the world, is known for an ancient castle used by King Kashyapa during the 5th century AD. The site houses the remains of an upper Sky Palace situated on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate, the Mirror Wall and the Sigiriya Frescoes. The lower palace clings to the slopes below the rock, while the moats, walls, and gardens extend for some hundred meters out from the base of the rock.

The site is both a palace and fortress, and its remains are preserved enough to provide visitors with a stunning insight into the ingenuity and creativity of its builders. The upper palace on the top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock that still retain water. The moats and walls that surround the lower palace still retain their beauty.

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka, which lasted for the longest period as a capital in the country. It is important to locals for its religious, historical, and cultural significance as well as for being world-famous for its well preserved ruins of the Great Sri Lankan Civilization, which was built upon this city and considered one of the greatest civilizations of Asia and in the world.

The city is now a UNESCO heritage site, and lies 205km (127mi) north of the current capital Colombo in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, on the banks of the historic Malwathu Oya.

Founded in 4th century BC, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom till the beginning of the 11th century AC. During this period, it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. It was also a wealthy city, which created a unique culture and a great civilization. Today, this ancient city, which is sacred to the Buddhist world for its surrounding monasteries, covers an area of over sixteen square miles (40km²), and is one of the world's major archaeological sites.

Galle

Galle is a town situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. It was known as Gimhathiththa (although Ibn Batuta in the 14th century refers to it as Qali) before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, and served as the main port on the island. Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, before the arrival of the British, who developed the harbor at Colombo.

On 26 December 2004 the city was devastated by the massive Boxing Day tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that occurred a thousand miles away, off the coast of Indonesia. Thousands were killed in the city alone. However, since then, massive developmental initiatives have been undertaken to restore the charm of this city.

Polonnaruwa

The second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 CE to reunite the country once more under a local leader. While Vijayabahu's victory and shifting of Kingdoms to the more strategic Polonnaruwa is considered significant, the real 'Polonnaruwa Hero' of the history books is actually his grandson, Parakramabahu I.

The city was also called as Jananathamangalam during the short Chola reign. However, with the exception of his immediate successor, Nissankamalla I, all other monarchs of Polonnaruwa were slightly weak-willed and rather prone to picking fights within their own court. This eventually led to the passing of power into the hands of a Pandyan King following the Arya Chakrawarthi invasion of Sri Lanka in 1284. The capital was then shifted to Dambadeniya.

Today, the ancient city remains one of the best planned archaeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the kingdom's first rulers.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave temple is a world heritage site (1991) in Sri Lanka, situated in the central part of the country. The site is situated 148 km (92 mi) east of Colombo and 72 km (45 mi) north of Kandy. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m (525 ft.) over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings that are mostly related to Lord Buddha and his life. There are total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings, and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. The later 4 include two statues of Hindu gods, Lord Vishnu and Lord Ganesh. The murals covers an area of 2,100 square meters. Depictions in the walls of the caves include Buddha's temptation by Mara (demon) and Buddha's first sermon.

Sinharaja Forest

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests eco-region, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1989. The reserve's name translates as Kingdom of the Lion.

The reserve is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily spotted as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are no elephants, and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The most common larger mammal is the endemic Purple-faced Langur.

Go ahead, plan your trip to these wonderful and spectacular heritage sites across Sri Lanka!

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