Sri Lanka Cultural and Heritage Sites, Sri Lanka’s history dates back to more than 2500 years. These ancient cities and their glorious remains that are temples, fortresses, statues and irrigation feats still have the ability to make people gaze at them with reverence. Ancient sites are considered to be archaeological gold mines because they are evidence to a very rich civilization. Most of the places are declared as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO.
Anuradhapura is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of North Central Province, Sri Lanka and the capital of Anuradhapura District. Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It was the third capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara.
The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. The city lies 205 km (127 mi) north of the current capital Colombo in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. 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 fourth century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD it was the capital of the Sinhalese. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. The ancient city, considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is today surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over sixteen square miles (40 km²).
As the second most ancient of Sri Lankas kingdoms, 800 years ago Polonnaruwa was a thriving commercial and religious centre. The ancient city served as a base for Kings to rule the central plains of Sri Lanka whilst market men haggled for rare goods and the pious preyed at any one of the many temples. The ancient city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.
Polonnaruwa is a testament to the discipline and greatness of the country’s mediaeval rulers and considered the best planned Archaeological relic sites in the country. The main attractions include a number of dagobas and other ruins dating back almost 1000 years. The draw card here however is Gal Vihara, a rock temple part of the Parakramabahu northern monastery. Polonnaruwa was declared the capital city of Sri Lanka by King Vijayabahu I who ruled from 1017AD to 1235AD. Polonnaruwa was flourishing self-sustained city with a superb irrigation system.
This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site. It was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988.
Kandy is very popular due to the annual procession known as the Esala Perahera, in which one of the inner caskets used for covering the tooth relic of Buddha is taken in a grand procession through the streets of the city. This casket is taken on a royal tusker. The procession includes traditional dancers and drummers, flag bearers of the provinces of the old Kandyan kingdom, the Nilames (lay custodians of temples ) wearing their traditional dresses, torch bearers and also the grandly attired elephant. This ceremony which is annually held in the months of July or August, attracts large crowds from all parts of the country and also many foreign tourists.
Sigiriya or Sinhagiri is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.
The Sigiriya site contains the ruins of an upper palace located on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and the mirror wall with its frescoes, the lower palaces located behind the lavish lower gardens, and moats and ramparts which protected the citadel. The site was both a palace and a fortress. The upper palace on the top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock. The moats and walls that surround the lower palace are exquisitely beautiful.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka situated in the central part of the country declare as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains.There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. The latter include Vishnu and the Ganesha. The murals cover an area of 2,100 square metres (23,000 sq ft). Depictions on the walls of the caves include the temptation by the demon Mara, and Buddha’s first sermon.
Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in this area, at Ibbankatuwa near the Dambulla cave complexes.
Galle Fort, in the Bay of Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. It is a historical, archaeological and architectural heritage monument, which even after more than 423 years maintains a polished appearance, due to extensive reconstruction work done by Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.
The fort has a colourful history, and today has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. The Sri Lankan government and many Dutch people who still own some of the properties inside the fort are looking at making this one of the modern wonders of the world. The heritage value of the fort has been recognized by the UNESCO and the site has been inscribed as a cultural heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site under criteria iv, for its unique exposition of “an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries.”