Located 205km from Colombo, the city of Anuradhapura was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, and for good reason indeed. The city of Anuradhapura is believed to have been the capital of the Sinhalese from the 4th century B.C. all the way to the 11th century A.D. As the cradle of Sri Lankan civilization with a rich history that spans thousands of years, Anuradhapura has been the bastion from which kings of ancient times gone by ruled over their subjects.
Anuradhapura is also considered to be the center of Theravada Buddhism, and is dotted with monasteries. Little wonder that this city is considered sacred to the Buddhist world.
This beautiful city is full of well preserved historic ruins from ancient of times, and there is just so much to see in this large city. Here are some of the most famous:
1. Sri Maha Bodhi
The Sri Maha Bodhi is one of Anuradhapura’s most famous and sacred sites. Here lies an ancient and sacred fig tree which was planted in 288 BC and is more than 2000 years old.
This makes it the oldest living tree in the world with a known planting date, and it is also said to have been grown from a seed of the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha was enlightened. It’s historical and religious significance attracts both curious visitors and Buddhist devotees alike. The tree is placed on an elevated platform and surrounded by railings. This wall around it was built in the past to protect it from damage by wild elephants.
The Ruwanwelisaya is a marvellous architectural feat, and a stunning one at that. This giant stupa was commissioned during the reign of King Dutugamunu. It now stands at an impressive height of about 105m, and has a diameter of 92m and a circumference of 292m.
The design of the Ruwanwelisaya is highly influenced by Buddhist teachings, and the dome represents the vastness of the Buddhist doctrine, while the four facets above the dome represent the Four Noble Truths which teach that 1) Ordinary existence is suffering 2) Suffering finds it root cause in desire and ignorance 3) Suffering can be transcended 4) This transcendence can be achieved through the Noble Eightfold Middle Path, which is depicted by the concentric rings on the Ruwanwelisaya. The tip of the dome represents the ultimate goal of Enlightenment.
Besides its deep religious significance, the Ruwanwelisaya attracts plenty of visitors simply because of its outstanding beauty, with its unique shape and breathtaking milky white exterior.
When in Anuradhapura, do not miss the mountain peaks of Mihintale, located some 13km away from Anuradhapura. It is of great religious and historical significance, for it is here that Buddhism was brought to Sinhalese culture. There are 3 peaks here, with temples and ancient ruins strewn amongst them. Visiting Mihintale involves a fair bit of climbing, but if nothing else, the view from the top of the peaks make the climb worth it, as visitors can gaze out for miles around and even spot some of the stupas in Anuradhapura. Go early to avoid the heat of the day. Besides this spectacular viewpoint, other attractions include the ruins of a hospital, as well as a natural black water pond, and ruins of relics and shrines.
4. Kuttam Pokuna Twin Bathing Pools
The Kuttam Pokuna Twin Bathing pools are a testament to the architectural prowess and superior hydraulical engineering of ancient Sri Lankans. Although said to be twins, the pools are actually of different sizes. Nevertheless, they are absolutely beautiful and were used by monks for the purpose of bathing.
The intricate carvings and little sculptures are marvellous to behold, especially when considering that these were fashioned in ancient times.
5. Wilpattu National Park
In the vicinity would be the Vilpathnu National Park, some 30km from Anuradhapura. Opportunities abound to spot the diversity of wildlife in Sri Lanka, including the elephant and leopard as well as plenty of deer and buffaloes. The national park remains pristine and features unique natural white sand rimmed lakes.
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