MUST VISIT CULTURAL SITES OF SRI LANKA
The incredible and breathtakingly wondrous cultural sites of Sri Lanka with their well-preserved stupas, palaces, monuments, sculptures, water gardens, and more will take you on a journey through the rich cultural, religious, and political history of the country. A journey through these sites will give you a peek into the documented history of over 3,000 years of Sri Lanka, leaving you wonderstruck by the imagination and innovation of the ancient civilizations.
While there are majestic cultural heritage sites dotted all over the island, the "Cultural Triangle" has an accumulation of prominent sites that meditate the legacies of primary ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka and the evolution of Buddhism. This article will give you a brief on the marvel that awaits you in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, expanded in the areas of Anuradhapura, Pollonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Kandy.
Established in the 4th century B.C., the ancient city of Anuradhapura holds a rich cultural and political significance. With majestic Stupas standing tall, well-preserved ruins and sculptures of Sri Lanka's first kingdom, splendid walkways and garden ruins, and monks and pilgrims with hearts overflowing with devotion, Anuradhapura is considered the heart of cultural significance of Sri Lanka.
The presence of “Sri Maha Bodhi”, the sacred fig tree, one of Sri Lanka's most visited Buddhist shrines, has been drawing many pilgrims, locals, and tourists to the city for centuries. As per the legend, a cutting brought from India’s “Budh Gaya”, the tree under which Buddha is known to have attained enlightenment, was planted by King Tissa and is now the oldest documented tree in the world. Named a UNESCO cultural heritage site for its historic wealth and cultural significance, Anuradhapura will leave you amazed by the archaeological and architectural heritage and humbled by the simplicity and spirituality of the religious shrines.
Must visit places in Anuradhapura: Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwanvelisaya, Jetavanaramaya, Abayagiriya, Aukana Statue, Brazen Palace, Kuttam Pokuna pond, Samadhi Statue, Isurumuniya.
The city of ruins of the medieval capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa will take you through artifacts of palaces, tombs, parks, gardens, monuments, and stupas which are a true testament to the architectural intelligence of the ancient rulers of Sri Lanka. With the presence of ruins of Brahamic culture influenced structures built by Cholas and Buddhist culture influenced structures built by the Buddhist kings ruled from 11th to 13th century B.C., Polonnaruwa has a beautiful blend of rich yet opposing cultures.
As you walk through long walkways leading up to well-preserved ruins of palaces, monasteries, and tombs surrounded by nature, you will marvel at the wealth of history of political alliances, as well as the unrest this ancient city has experienced. Named a UNESCO cultural heritage site, Polonnaruwa is a real treat for a curious mind.
Must visit places: Royal palace of king Parakramabahu, Nissanka Latha Manadapya, Gal Viharaya, Watadageya, Lankathilaka and Sathmahal Prasada, statue of king Parakramabahu, and the gigantic tank “Parakhramabahu Samudhrya”.
Expressed as the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya is an example of the advancement of ancient urban planning and is a nearly 1200 step climb through history. Walking through stunning walkways, landscaped gardens, courtyards, and ponds to the stairway entrance that leads up to the ruins of King Kashyapa’s palace at the summit you will continue to be stunned. The gigantic Lion’s mouth carved on the rock, faded frescos of women “Apsaras”, graffiti, and the mirror wall shows the unlimited artistic talent of ancient Sri Lankans and will keep you on your toes with gasps of marvel all along.
Named a UNESCO cultural heritage site, Sigiriya is a masterpiece of architectural advancements with astounding and unheard technologies used to build waterways to the summit and stone structures on the summit. Some of which still to this day remain a mystery.
Sigiriya beaming with pride, illuminated by the golden rays of the sunrise amidst dense green forests, the 360-degree view at the summit with the ruins of the palace and fortress will surely leave a mark on your heart.
With a series of five caves, beautified with over 1,500 rock ceiling murals, built at the base of a 150-meter rock, this is the largest and the best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. The five cave temples were initially built by Kind Valagamba, in gratitude for providing him with shelter and protection for 12 long years from South Indian invaders. Later inhabited by Buddhist monks, the cave temples were decorated, painted, and renovated on multiple occasions by various kings over 20 centuries. With over 150 Buddha statues, gold plating decorations, and ceiling murals, the golden rock cave temple in Dambulla was named a UNESCO heritage site in 1991. This vivid goldern temple’s historic and religious significance is kept intact to date.
Kandy - Temple of Tooth Relic
Housing one of the only two surviving tooth relics of Buddha, “Dalada Maligawa” or the "Temple of the Tooth Relic" in Kandy, is considered the most sacred place by the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Attracted and venerated by pilgrims and explorers from around the world, the sacred tooth relic lies in the “Handun Kunama”, a chamber engraved with gemstones and protected by seven golden caskets.
The sacred tooth relic is transported in the streets of Kandy, by a glorified and vivaciously dressed tusker carrying the golden casket under the skies illuminated by the full moon and the streets dazzled by blazing torches, during the annual Kandy Esela Perehera. Named a world heritage site by UNESCO, Dalada Maligawa is an exquisite work of art and a testament to the historical significance of the imperial rule of King Vimaladarmasuriya 1 and others that followed.
Besides the above cultural heritage sites located within the cultural triangle, there are many more enduring culturally and historically significant places in Sri Lanka. But, it is hard to fit them all in one. However, the above is a start, or should we say, they are the mustvisit cultural sites of Sri Lanka.