The first capital of Sri Lanka and remained so until 10th Century AD, lasting over 1400 years and having ruled by 123 Kings. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Anuradhapura is an archaeologist's delight and contains several monuments of historical importance. In its time, this was a great city of all and, its ruins today display infinite details of rare beauty. The city is considered very sacred by the Buddhist and is surrounded by the largest Dagobas; mighty masses of masonry second only to the pyramids of Egypt and, Monasteries, covering an area of some 20 square miles (52 km²). Buddhism was the only aspect of existence considered worthy of permanence and therefore it was only those structures devoted to the Buddha’s honor, which was given to the perennial medium of stone. The city had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world, with many of the great reservoir tanks still surviving today.
Anuradhapura today is a must see Buddhist pilgrimage site and has eight great places of veneration (Atamasthana) where devotees are obliged to worship. These are the Sirimaha Bodhi, Ruwanweli Seya, Jetawanarama dagoba, Thuparama dagoba, Lovamahapaya, Abhayagiri dagoba, Lankarama dagoba, & Mirisaveti Stupa. The best time to visit this ancient city is during Poson Poya in June. This celebrates the advent of the Buddhist religion on the island. Be prepared to endure a huge influx of pilgrims that fill the city. Places not to be missed in Anuradhapura;
Sri Maha Bodhi Tree: No spot in Anuradhapura is more sacred that this and the worship of the Bo tree have continued unbroken for over 24 centuries. In fact, this is the oldest documented tree on earth. The right branch of the Bo tree in Bodhi Gaya, India beneath which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC by princess Sanghamitta, the daughter of King Asoka. Today, iron clutches support the venerable boughs of this holy tree. It stands upon a special platform, a bodhigara, encircled by gold plated railings.
Among the many Dagoba’s built, must see is Thuparma Dagoba, the first dagoba to be built in Anuradhapura during 3rd century BC, enshrining the right collarbone of the Buddha, his alms bowl and other relics. Ruwanweliseya, the Great Stupa built raised in 2nd century BC by King Dutugemunu is popularly regarded as the greatest of the dagobas in Anuradhapura. The giant Jetawanarama Dagoba was built in the 3rd century AD which is an enormous brick structure standing in the centre of a large monastic complex measuring 3.2 hectares. It is rated as the largest and tallest brick built monument in the world. It was originally more than 400 feet high, it’s base 370 feet in diameter, stands upon a brick foundation of 26 feet in thickness. It is larger than all but two of the Pyramids in Egypt.
IIsurumuniya is a picturesque rock temple built in the 3rd century BC. The temple is beautified by the pool in front of it and embroidered by Anuradhapura’s famous rock carvings with the most well known being the “The Lovers”.
Mihintale, the mountain of Mahinda is situated about 13km away from Anuradhapura. The site is where Buddhism was first overwhelmed by the people of Sri Lanka in the year 247 BC. Mihintale, Persons who wish to reach the dagoba at the summit of this sacred mountain must climb 1840 granite steps. At the pinnacle of the hill, clearly visible from all surrounding points is the Maha Seya said to enshrine a single hair of the Buddha.
Aukana Buddha- beyond doubt, this is the most magnificent and undamaged ancient image in the island. This famous 12 meter tall granite status of Buddha is located 51 km southeast of Anuradhapura. Sculptured out of solid rock in the standing posture on a lotus pedestal, the statue was built during the reign of King Dhatusena in the 5th century AD. Aukana means “sun-eating” and the statue is best viewed at the rising of the sun.Places of Interest