Sacred City of Anuradhapura

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Nestled within the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, approximately 220 kilometres north of Colombo, lies the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Steeped in history and cultural significance, this ancient city has held a prominent place in Sri Lankan heritage for over two millennia. Anuradhapura served as the capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC until the early 11th century AD, hosting a succession of 130 royal rulers. Its rich history and profound religious importance make it a must-visit destination for those seeking to glimpse into Sri Lanka’s past.

Historical Significance

Founding and Role as an Ancient Capital Anuradhapura’s roots trace back to the 6th century BC when it was established as a village settlement, named after a minister named Anuradha. Its ascent to prominence began in the 4th century BC when King Pandukabhaya declared it the capital of Sri Lanka. The city played a pivotal role in the spread of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC when Arhath Mahinda Thero, the son of Emperor Asoka in India, introduced the religion to the island. This marked the onset of a flourishing civilization deeply rooted in Buddhism.

Cultural Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage Site Anuradhapura’s cultural significance is recognized globally, as it holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It serves as a living testament to the enduring influence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Pilgrims and tourists alike flock to this historic city to explore its 40-square-kilometre expanse, which includes numerous monasteries and ancient relics.

Landmarks and Monuments

Ruwanwelisaya Among the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Ruwanwelisaya, a stupa constructed in the 3rd century BC. It once soared to a height of 400 feet, ranking as the third tallest structure in the world at the time. Today, as a brick monument, it still holds the distinction of being the world’s tallest stupa.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

Central to Anuradhapura is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, an offshoot of the very tree under which the Buddha attained nirvana. Planted in 249 BC, it is the world’s oldest recorded tree.

Abhayagiri Monastery

The Abhayagiri Monastery, founded in the 2nd century BC, was a thriving centre of Buddhist learning and housed over 10,000 Buddhist monks at its zenith. Its grandeur remains awe-inspiring.

Anuradhapura Today

Modern City Layout

The modern city of Anuradhapura encompasses star-class hotels, small homestay units, and diverse accommodation options to cater to all types of travellers. To explore the city’s treasures, many visitors opt for tuk-tuk rides, three-wheelers, or bicycle rentals.

Local Culture and Lifestyle

Anuradhapura’s local culture retains deep-rooted ties to its historical and religious heritage. Residents maintain traditional practices and engage in a serene, spiritually oriented-lifestyle.

Tourism and Visitor Attractions

The city attracts travellers from across the globe, eager to immerse themselves in the rich history and tranquil ambience of Anuradhapura. Visitors can explore its myriad temples, stupas, and historical sites.

Travel and Accommodation

Anuradhapura can be reached through various routes from Colombo, with the Kurunegala-Dambulla route being the most commonly used. The journey offers scenic views, passing through places like Wilpattu National Park.

The city offers a range of accommodation options, from luxurious hotels to cosy guesthouses. Many lodges provide bicycles for daily hire, making it convenient to explore the city’s treasures.

Tips for Visitors

Best Time to Visit

The best time to explore Anuradhapura is during the dry season, typically from May to September when the weather is pleasant for outdoor activities.

Dress Code and Cultural Etiquette

When visiting sacred sites, it’s essential to dress modestly and respectfully. It’s customary to remove shoes and headwear before entering temples.

Must-Try Local Dishes

Savouring traditional Sri Lankan cuisine is a treat for the senses. Local dishes like rice and curry, hoppers, and kottu roti are must-tries. Explore local eateries to savour the authentic flavours.

Preservation and Conservation

Efforts to protect Anuradhapura’s historical sites are ongoing, with various organizations and the government working together to preserve its cultural heritage. Challenges include managing the impact of tourism while ensuring the city’s historical treasures remain accessible to future generations. Community involvement and responsible tourism practices play a pivotal role in this endeavour.

Nearby Attractions

While in Anuradhapura, visitors can explore nearby attractions such as Mihintale, a sacred mountain that played a pivotal role in the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka or venture further to the renowned Wilpattu National Park to experience the island’s rich biodiversity.

Anuradhapura, with its timeless allure, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism and the vibrant history of Sri Lanka. This historic city invites travellers to immerse themselves in its rich past, serene present, and promising future.

Beyond the borders of Anuradhapura, a treasure trove of cultural and natural wonders awaits:


A short distance from Anuradhapura, Mihintale is a sacred mountain known as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was at Mihintale that the historic meeting between King Devanampiyatissa and Arhath Mahinda Thero took place, marking the formal introduction of Buddhism to the island. Visitors can climb the grand staircase leading to the summit, where they will encounter numerous ancient shrines, stupas, and awe-inspiring vistas.

Wilpattu National Park

For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Wilpattu National Park is a must. Just a scenic drive from Anuradhapura, this pristine wilderness is home to diverse wildlife, including leopards, elephants, sloth bears, and numerous bird species. A jeep safari through the park offers a chance to witness these creatures in their natural habitat while revelling in the park’s serene beauty.


Anuradhapura, the city of the God Kings, embodies the rich tapestry of Sri Lanka’s history, culture, and spirituality. Its significance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a centre of Buddhism in Southeast Asia underscores its global importance. As you explore its ancient temples, towering stupas, and lush surroundings, you’ll embark on a journey through time and find solace in the timeless tranquillity of this remarkable city.

Whether you seek spiritual enlightenment, cultural immersion, or simply a glimpse into the past, Anuradhapura invites you to embrace its legacy and experience the enduring charm of Sri Lanka’s ancient heartland.

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