Anuradhapura is sprawling complex of ruins of architectural wonders. As you wander around the giant dagobas and soaring brick towers, you’re sure to wonder how the architects managed to design such huge monuments back in those times. Visiting Sri Lanka without seeing the treasures of Anuradhapura would be like visiting Cambodia without going to Angkor Wat.
Why should I go to Anuradhapura?
Anuradhapura’s crumbling temples were constructed during the time when Anuradhapura’s Sinhalese kings ruled over Sri Lanka. This was between the fourth century BC until the 11th century AD.
Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the centre of Theravada Buddhism for centuries. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Where is Anuradhapura?
Anuradhapura is 205 km (127 miles) north of Colombo. Its located in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, on the banks of the Malvathu River.
What will I see?
Many of Anuradhapura’s ancient sites are still used as holy places and temples. When visiting Anuradhapura, you’re likely to catch some action at a local temple ceremony or school children on a study excursion or local women who are shy but willing to pose for photos.
Besides the dagobas, which is what the Sinhalese call a Buddhist stupa, an aura of mystery shrouds the sprawling complex. The mound-like structure of the dagobas house relics used for meditation by Buddhist monks.
Three things I shouldn’t miss
The top three attractions at Anuradhapura are the Archaeological Museum, Sri Maha Bodhi and Abhayagiri Dagoba.
The Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum has a collection of artwork, carvings and historical items such as a restored relic chamber unearthed during the excavation of the Kantaka Chetiya dagoba in Mihintale.
The museum’s grounds beautiful stone squat-style toilets carved by monks and other fascinating sculptures on the grounds.
Sri Maha Bodhi tree
Don’t miss the Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred bodhi tree that is Anuradhapura’s central spiritual focus.
The 2000-year-old tree is possibly the oldest Bodhi tree in the world and planted from a cutting from Bodhgaya in India.
Besides being a holy tree, the tree also has a fascinating story. Princess Sangamitta, the sister of Mahinda (who introduced the Buddha’s teachings to Sri Lanka), brought the cutting from India.
Thousands of devotees gather around the tree, especially on full-moon days and weekends.
Just the thought of the 75m (it was originally 100m) tall Abhayagiri Dagoba being built during the 1st century BC is enough to take your breath away. This gigantic dagoba was once the focus of a huge monastery and a wonder of the ancient world.
In Sri Lanka, Abhayagiri Dagoba is as impressive as the pyramids of Giza. (and nearby Jetavanarama).
Look for the carving of the elephant pulling up a tree and the slab with Buddha’s footprint on the northern side.
Christina Pfeiffer visited Anuradhapura as a guest of Bunnik Tours.
Discover Sri Lanka
The best way to explore Sri Lanka is on a road trip. Driving around the country is safe and fun.
The roads are reasonably good and there are restaurants and rest houses with clean western-style toilets.
Sri Lanka is nowhere near as chaotic as India so if you have been to India, you’ll be surprised at how orderly Sri Lanka appears to be.