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The Ancient City Of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Illa Breen



Welcome to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Sri Lanka’s most significant historical and cultural destinations. Nestled in the North Central Province of the island, Anuradhapura proudly showcases the rich heritage and architectural marvels of ancient Sri Lanka. With a history dating back to the 4th century BC, this sacred city stands as a testimony to the island’s glorious past and the grandeur of its ancient civilization.


Anuradhapura served as the political and religious capital of Sri Lanka for over a millennium, until it was abandoned in the 10th century AD. The city was once a thriving metropolis, renowned for its advanced urban planning, hydraulic systems, and grandiose structures. Today, it is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders that delight history buffs and spiritual seekers alike.


The ruins of Anuradhapura tell the tales of a bygone era, where mighty kings ruled and Buddhism flourished. From majestic stupas to intricately carved stone pillars, the architectural prowess of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmen is evident in every structure. The city’s religious sites, including Buddhist monasteries, sacred temples, and serene gardens, offer a tranquil sanctuary for mindfulness and contemplation.


As you explore Anuradhapura, you will be captivated by the sense of serenity that emanates from these ancient ruins. The peaceful ambiance, coupled with the striking beauty of the surroundings, creates an awe-inspiring experience. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a spiritual seeker, Anuradhapura offers something to enthrall and enchant every visitor.


This article aims to be your comprehensive guide to Anuradhapura, delving into its rich history, cultural significance, architectural highlights, religious sites, and much more. Join us on this virtual journey to the heart of ancient Sri Lanka as we uncover the wonders of the city of Anuradhapura.


History of Anuradhapura

The history of Anuradhapura dates back over 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. According to ancient texts, Anuradhapura was founded by King Pandukabhaya in the 4th century BC and became the capital of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.


Under the reign of subsequent kings, Anuradhapura flourished, becoming a center of political, economic, and religious power in ancient Sri Lanka. The city saw a remarkable period of prosperity and expansion, with massive hydraulic networks, such as artificial lakes and reservoirs called “tanks,” being constructed to support agriculture.


During its glorious period, Anuradhapura was home to numerous Buddhist monasteries and became an international center for Buddhist pilgrimage. The arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC under the patronage of King Devanampiya Tissa marked a significant turning point in the history of Anuradhapura. The city became a bastion of Buddhist philosophy and teachings, attracting scholars and devout followers from across the globe.


However, with the rise of South Indian invasions and internal conflicts, the golden era of Anuradhapura began to decline. The city faced numerous invasions and plundering, eventually leading to its abandonment in the 10th century AD. The capital was later shifted to Polonnaruwa, leaving Anuradhapura as a forgotten ancient city.


It was not until the early 19th century that British archaeologists rediscovered the ruins of Anuradhapura. Since then, extensive preservation and restoration efforts have been undertaken, allowing visitors to witness the magnificence of this ancient city.


Today, Anuradhapura stands as a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. The meticulously preserved ruins, ancient structures, and sacred sites offer a glimpse into the grandeur and sophistication of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Anuradhapura’s historical significance and architectural marvels have earned it the prestigious recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting tourists and history enthusiasts from around the world.


Cultural Significance of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura holds immense cultural significance in Sri Lanka, as it is considered the cradle of ancient Sinhalese civilization and Buddhism on the island. The city’s historical and religious importance has shaped the cultural identity of the country, leaving a lasting impact on its traditions, beliefs, and architectural styles.


Being the capital for many centuries, Anuradhapura served as the center of power, where important decisions were made, and kingdoms were ruled. Its political significance is reflected in the grandeur of its structures, showcasing the architectural prowess of ancient Sri Lankan engineers and artisans.


The city is also renowned for its religious significance. Anuradhapura is home to the sacred Bodhi tree, believed to have grown from a cutting of the original Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The sacred Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura is the oldest recorded living tree in the world and is a revered site for Buddhist pilgrims.


Throughout its history, Anuradhapura was a flourishing center of Buddhist learning and practice. It attracted renowned scholars and monastic communities, contributing to the spread of Buddhism across the region. The city’s monasteries and temples served as havens for meditation, education, and religious ceremonies, shaping the spiritual fabric of Sri Lanka.


The influence of Anuradhapura’s cultural heritage extends beyond its historical and religious significance. It has greatly influenced Sri Lankan art, architecture, and sculpture. The intricate carvings and motifs found in the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura are exquisite examples of the island’s artistic traditions.


The city’s well-preserved archaeological sites and ancient structures serve as a living museum, providing insights into the daily lives, customs, and beliefs of the ancient inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Visitors can marvel at the massive stupas, intricately carved stone pillars, and ancient irrigation systems that reflect the advancements of ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


Anuradhapura is not only a cultural treasure but also a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world. The city attracts devotees who come to pay their respects and seek spiritual solace at the sacred sites and temples that hold deep religious significance.


Overall, the cultural significance of Anuradhapura cannot be overstated. It stands as a symbol of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and showcases the deep-rooted connection between religion, history, and identity. A visit to Anuradhapura is an opportunity to immerse oneself in the vibrant cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka and experience the profound spiritual and historical legacy of this ancient city.


Architectural Highlights in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is renowned for its impressive architectural wonders, showcasing the ingenuity and craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan builders. The city is home to numerous structures that have withstood the test of time, providing a glimpse into the grandeur and sophistication of the ancient civilization.


One of the most iconic architectural highlights in Anuradhapura is the Jetavanaramaya, a massive stupa that once stood as one of the tallest structures in the ancient world. Built by King Mahasena in the 3rd century AD, this impressive monument stands at a staggering height of 122 meters and is adorned with intricate carvings and sculptures.


The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is another remarkable architectural feat. Constructed by King Dutugemunu over 2,000 years ago, this stupa is revered as a sacred Buddhist site. Its elegant shape and intricate embellishments make it a breathtaking sight to behold.


The Abhayagiri Dagoba, built by King Valagamba, is a sprawling complex that served as a major monastic institution during ancient times. Standing at a height of 75 meters, this stupa is adorned with beautiful moonstones, guard stones, and sculptures, showcasing the artistic prowess of the era.


The Thuparamaya Stupa holds great religious and historical significance. It is believed to enshrine the right collarbone of Lord Buddha, making it one of the most venerated Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka. The stupa’s design features a hemispherical shape with elaborate carvings, exemplifying the architectural style of the time.


Among the architectural marvels in Anuradhapura is the Lovamahapaya (Brazen Palace). This colossal structure once housed thousands of monks and scholars and featured a nine-story building with over a thousand rooms. Though now in ruins, it offers insights into the advanced architectural techniques employed during its construction.


The Isurumuniya Vihara presents a unique architectural style with its rock-cut temple and its beautiful carvings, notably the famous “Isurumuniya Lovers” carving. This tranquil temple is nestled amidst serene surroundings, providing a peaceful atmosphere for meditation and reflection.


Anuradhapura’s architecture extends beyond stupas and temples. The city boasts impressive examples of ancient irrigation systems, such as the Tissa Wewa reservoir and the Twin Ponds (Kuttam Pokuna). These hydraulic marvels showcase the ancient engineering techniques employed to supply water for agricultural purposes.


Exploring the architectural highlights of Anuradhapura is a journey that takes visitors back in time, offering a glimpse into the remarkable achievements of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. The intricate carvings, towering stupas, and elaborate structures stand as a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the craftsmen of yesteryears.


Religious Sites in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, with its rich religious heritage, is home to numerous sacred sites that hold deep spiritual significance. These religious sites draw pilgrims and tourists from around the world, seeking solace, enlightenment, and a connection with the ancient roots of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.


One of the most revered religious sites in Anuradhapura is the Sri Maha Bodhi, which stands as the oldest recorded living tree in the world. This sacred fig tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the original Bodhi tree where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. It has been venerated for over 2,000 years, making it a significant pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.


The sacred city of Anuradhapura is also home to magnificent stupas (dagobas) that serve as important religious landmarks. The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, one of the most majestic stupas in Sri Lanka, is believed to house relics of Lord Buddha and attracts devotees who offer their prayers and seek blessings.


Another notable stupa is the Abhayagiri Dagoba, which was once a prestigious monastic complex. Its impressive size and architectural grandeur leave visitors in awe, and the serene atmosphere provides a conducive environment for meditation and reflection.


The Thuparamaya Stupa is highly revered as it enshrines the right collarbone of Lord Buddha. Pilgrims flock to this sacred site to pay their respects and participate in religious rituals. The stupa’s fine architecture and intricate carvings make it a fascinating sight to behold.


The Isurumuniya Vihara, set amidst tranquil surroundings, is a rock temple famous for its rock-cut shrine and beautiful carvings. The temple provides a serene ambiance for meditation and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.


Within the ancient city, there are also several sacred temples that hold religious significance. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya Raja Maha Viharaya, located near the Sri Maha Bodhi, is a place of worship where devotees gather to offer prayers and engage in religious ceremonies.


The Ratnaprasada (Gem Palace) is a uniquely designed temple known for its exquisite stone carvings. It served as a place of meditation and spiritual learning, attracting monks and scholars during ancient times.


Visiting these religious sites in Anuradhapura allows one to experience the spiritual heritage and connect with the profound teachings of Buddhism. The serene atmosphere, combined with the rich architectural and historical significance, makes Anuradhapura a must-visit destination for those seeking a deeper understanding of Buddhist traditions and a sense of peace.


Buddhist Monasteries in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, with its rich Buddhist heritage, was not only a political and religious capital but also a hub for monastic communities. The city was home to numerous Buddhist monasteries that played a crucial role in the propagation and preservation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.


One of the most important monasteries in Anuradhapura is the Abhayagiri Monastery, which thrived as a renowned center for Buddhist learning and meditation. Established in the 2nd century BC, it attracted scholars and monks from various parts of the world who gathered to study and propagate the teachings of Buddhism.


The Jetavana Monastery, founded by King Mahasena, is another prominent monastic complex in Anuradhapura. This vast monastery once housed thousands of monks and consisted of numerous buildings and meditation halls. The ruins of its towering stupa, the Jetavanaramaya, still remain as a reminder of its former splendor.


The Mihintale Monastery, located just outside of Anuradhapura, holds special significance in Buddhist history. It is believed to be the site where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashoka’s son, Mahinda. The monastery is a pilgrimage site, and devotees climb the steps leading to the rock summit to pay homage to the sacred ruins and statues.


The Ritigala Monastery, situated in the Ritigala Nature Reserve, is an ancient forest monastery. It was known for its secluded location and peaceful ambiance, making it an ideal place for monks seeking solitude and deep meditation. The ruins of Ritigala Monastery are a testament to the spiritual practices that took place within its tranquil surroundings.


Other notable monasteries in Anuradhapura include the Isurumuniya Monastery, which is associated with the rock temple of Isurumuniya, and the Vessagiri Monastery, renowned for its rock-cut inscriptions and meditation platforms.


Visiting these Buddhist monasteries allows one to experience the spiritual essence of Anuradhapura and gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism’s influence on Sri Lankan culture and society. The serene surroundings and ancient ruins provide a glimpse into the monastic life of the past and offer a tranquil sanctuary for reflection and contemplation.


Exploring the monastic complexes in Anuradhapura is a journey that takes visitors back in time, immersing them in the rich spiritual heritage of the ancient city. Whether seeking spiritual enlightenment or an appreciation for the monastic traditions, these Buddhist monasteries offer a profound and meaningful experience.


Gardens and Parks in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura not only boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage but also offers a variety of beautiful gardens and parks that showcase the natural beauty of the region. These serene and picturesque landscapes provide visitors with the perfect setting to relax, immerse themselves in nature, and appreciate the tranquility of the ancient city.


One of the must-visit green spaces in Anuradhapura is the tranquil Nuwara Wewa lake. This expansive artificial reservoir offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and is an ideal spot for a peaceful stroll or a leisurely boat ride. The lake is adorned with lotus flowers, adding to its natural allure.


The Royal Pleasure Gardens, known as the Ranmasu Uyana, is a historic park that was once reserved exclusively for the royal family. This garden features beautiful ponds, pavilions, and terraced platforms. It also houses the well-known Ranmasu Uyana bathing pond, famous for its intricate carvings and peaceful ambiance.


The picturesque Tissawewa Reservoir is another delightful spot in Anuradhapura. Encircled by lush greenery and ancient monuments, this scenic reservoir offers stunning sunset vistas. Visitors can unwind on its banks or indulge in a boat ride to fully appreciate the natural beauty of the surroundings.


Anuradhapura also houses the Isurumuniya Rock Temple, which is set in a beautiful garden. The temple is known for its rock-cut sculptures and provides a serene atmosphere for meditation and reflection. The peaceful garden grounds enhance the spiritual ambiance of the temple.


The Thanthirimale Forest Monastery, located outside of Anuradhapura, is a unique destination that combines serene natural surroundings with spiritual significance. This ancient monastery, situated amidst a dense forest, offers a peaceful retreat for meditation and exploration.


The Wilpattu National Park, located near Anuradhapura, is a wildlife lover’s paradise. This sprawling park is known for its diverse flora and fauna, including elephants, leopards, and endemic bird species. Exploring the park on a safari allows visitors to immerse themselves in nature and witness the beauty of Sri Lanka’s wildlife.


These gardens and parks in Anuradhapura offer a serene escape from the bustling city and provide opportunities for relaxation, exploration, and connection with nature. Whether it’s strolling by a tranquil lake, discovering hidden temples in lush gardens, or venturing into the wilderness of a national park, Anuradhapura’s natural landscapes offer a refreshing and rejuvenating experience.


Museums and Artifacts in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, with its rich historical and cultural heritage, is home to several museums and collections that offer a deeper understanding of the ancient city’s fascinating past. These museums provide a glimpse into the lives of the people who inhabited Anuradhapura and showcase the remarkable artifacts that have been unearthed from its ancient ruins.


The Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. This museum houses a wide range of artifacts, including statues, sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry, dating back to different periods of Anuradhapura’s history. The displays provide valuable insights into the ancient civilization that thrived in this city.


The Folk Museum, located within the premises of the ancient city, showcases the traditions, customs, and everyday life of the people of Anuradhapura. Here, visitors can explore traditional artifacts used in agriculture, household items, musical instruments, and intricately designed traditional costumes.


The Abhayagiri Museum, situated adjacent to the ancient Abhayagiri Monastery, displays a diverse collection of artifacts discovered during archaeological excavations in the area. The museum showcases religious relics, stone carvings, and other archaeological finds, shedding light on the history and cultural importance of the monastery.


For those interested in ancient irrigation systems and hydraulic engineering, a visit to the Archaeological Museum at Nigha Vihara is highly recommended. This museum exhibits models and artifacts related to ancient irrigation networks, showcasing the advanced engineering techniques employed by the ancient inhabitants of Anuradhapura.


Another fascinating museum is the Rathna Prasada Museum, located within the sacred premises of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa. This museum houses a collection of artifacts, including intricate metalwork, jewelry, and relics found during excavations around the stupa.


Visiting these museums allows visitors to delve deeper into the rich history and cultural significance of Anuradhapura. The artifacts on display offer a tangible connection to the ancient civilization, enabling visitors to appreciate the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic achievements of the people who lived in this remarkable city.


Exploring these museums and perusing the artifacts provides a unique opportunity to unravel the mysteries of Anuradhapura’s past and gain a deeper appreciation for its cultural heritage. Each museum offers a different perspective on the ancient city, making for an enriching and educational experience for visitors.


Festivals and Events in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, with its rich cultural and religious heritage, is a city that comes alive with vibrant festivals and events throughout the year. These celebrations provide a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the traditional festivities and experience the lively spirit of the ancient city.


One of the most significant festivals in Anuradhapura is the Poson Poya, which commemorates the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Celebrated in June, this festival sees devotees flocking to the sacred sites in Anuradhapura, particularly the Mihintale Monastery, to participate in religious rituals, listen to sermons, and engage in acts of merit.


The Esala Perahera, celebrated in July or August, is a grand procession held in honor of Lord Buddha’s tooth relic. The procession features beautifully adorned elephants, traditional dancers, drummers, and fire performers, parading through the streets of Anuradhapura. The event showcases the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka and attracts both locals and tourists.


Duruthu Perahera is another notable festival celebrated in Anuradhapura in January. This procession commemorates the first visit of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka and includes religious ceremonies, traditional dances, and colorful processions. The festival creates a lively atmosphere, with locals and visitors coming together to witness the cultural splendor of the city.


During Vesak Poya, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Lord Buddha, Anuradhapura is adorned with colorful illuminations and decorations. Buddhist temples and sacred sites in the city are beautifully lit, and devotees engage in acts of charity and religious observances.


The Anuradhapura Kingdom Festival, held annually in October, showcases the historical and cultural heritage of the city. This festival features cultural performances, traditional games, and exhibitions highlighting the ancient traditions and customs of Anuradhapura.


These festivals and events in Anuradhapura offer a unique opportunity to witness the vibrant traditions and cultural practices of Sri Lanka. By participating in these celebrations, visitors can immerse themselves in the cultural richness of the city and create lasting memories of their time in Anuradhapura.


It is important to note that festival dates may vary each year, so it is advisable to check the local calendar or consult with reliable sources for the most accurate information regarding specific festival dates and schedules.


Modern-day Anuradhapura

Although Anuradhapura is known for its rich ancient history, it is also a vibrant modern-day city that has evolved to meet the needs of its residents and visitors. Today, Anuradhapura strikes a perfect balance between preserving its cultural heritage and embracing modern development.


The city has witnessed significant infrastructure improvements, such as upgraded roads, transportation systems, and accommodation options, making it more accessible for tourists. There are numerous hotels, guesthouses, and resorts that cater to a range of budgets, ensuring a comfortable stay for visitors.


Anuradhapura has also witnessed the establishment of modern amenities and facilities while carefully preserving its cultural and historical sites. Visitors can enjoy a variety of restaurants, cafes, and street food stalls offering a wide range of delicious local cuisine.


For those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, Anuradhapura boasts wellness centers, spas, and ayurvedic treatment centers where visitors can indulge in traditional therapies and massages to unwind and revitalize their bodies and minds.


The city has a bustling market scene where visitors can explore and purchase locally made handicrafts, artwork, textiles, and traditional souvenirs. Shopping in Anuradhapura offers a glimpse into the local culture and provides an opportunity to support local artisans and businesses.


Modern-day Anuradhapura also celebrates the cultural heritage of the city through various cultural festivals and events. These events showcase traditional music, dance performances, and rituals, providing visitors with an immersive experience of the vibrant local culture.


Anuradhapura’s modern-day vibrancy is not limited to its amenities and infrastructure. The city is also a center for education and learning. It is home to several educational institutions, including universities and vocational training centers, catering to students from across the island.


Additionally, communities in Anuradhapura engage in sustainable tourism practices to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the city. There is a growing emphasis on responsible tourism, promoting environmental conservation, and supporting the local communities.


Visitors to modern-day Anuradhapura can explore the ancient ruins, visit sacred sites, and engage in spiritual practices, all while enjoying modern comforts and amenities. The city offers a unique blend of rich history, natural beauty, and contemporary conveniences that make it a memorable destination for travelers.


Whether you are exploring the historical sites, immersing yourself in local culture, or enjoying the modern attractions, Anuradhapura provides an unforgettable experience that seamlessly combines the past and the present.



Anuradhapura stands as an enchanting testament to Sri Lanka’s rich history, culture, and spiritual heritage. This ancient city, with its grand stupas, intricate carvings, and sacred sites, offers a captivating journey through time. From the towering Jetavanaramaya Stupa to the serene Mihintale Monastery, every step in Anuradhapura reveals the remarkable achievements of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


The city not only showcases architectural marvels but also holds immense cultural and religious significance. Anuradhapura’s religious sites, such as the Sri Maha Bodhi and Thuparamaya Stupa, attract countless devotees and serve as a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from around the world.


As you traverse the gardens, parks, and museums, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty and historical artifacts that grace this sacred city. The museums of Anuradhapura display ancient relics and artifacts, allowing you to understand the lives of the people who once inhabited this extraordinary place.


Throughout the year, Anuradhapura comes alive with festivals and events that celebrate its rich cultural heritage. From the vibrant Esala Perahera to the serene Vesak Poya, these festivals offer an opportunity to witness the customs, traditions, and spirituality that form an integral part of Anuradhapura’s identity.


While Anuradhapura embraces modern development, it successfully maintains a harmonious balance between past and present. The city’s infrastructure, amenities, and initiatives promote responsible tourism, ensuring the preservation of its cultural and natural treasures for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.


In conclusion, a visit to Anuradhapura is a journey into the heart of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization, where history, culture, and spirituality blend seamlessly. From the awe-inspiring architectural wonders to the serene gardens and bustling markets, every corner of this city tells a story of a glorious past and a vibrant present. Anuradhapura invites you to immerse yourself in its rich heritage, explore its majestic ruins, and experience the profound spirituality that pervades its sacred sites. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a spiritual seeker, or simply a curious traveler, Anuradhapura promises an unforgettable experience that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.