UNESCO World Heritage Sites Anuradhapura (අනුරාධපුරය), Sri Lanka

World / Asia / Sri Lanka


Elephant wall at Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura
Elephant wall at Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura (28 August 2005)
© Timothy Tye using this photo

The sacred city of Anuradhapura (Sinhala: ; Tamil: அனுராதபுரம்) is the first historical capital of Sri Lanka. Today recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura was established in the 5th century BC. It is located 203 km northeast of Colombo, in the arid northern plains. Anuradhapura was considered the greatest monastic city of the ancient world. At its peak, it had dozens of monasteries housing thousands of monks. I had the privilege of this ancient city with members of AsiaExplorers on an AsiaExplorers Scenic Tour.

Approaching the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
Approaching the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (28 August 2005)
© Timothy Tye using this photo

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

Location: N8 20 E80 23
Inscription Year: 1982
Type of Site: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: II, III, VI

Anuradhapura was a royal capital from which a succession of 113 kings reigned here. It was made the capital by King Pandukabhaya who reigned from about 437 BC to 367 BC. Their patronage saw the blossoming of the arts, producing magnificent palaces, sculptures, ornate pleasure gardens, and huge dagobas, the Sri Lankan bubble-shaped stupas that protected the most sacred relics of Buddhism.

Devotees wrapping the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
Devotees wrapping the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (28 August 2005)
© Timothy Tye using this photo

The people of ancient Anuradhapura enjoyed freedom of worship. The kings of ancient Lanka in Anuradhapura built hospitals for people as well as veterinary hospitals for animals. But the most impressive civil engineering feat in Anuradhapura was for irrigation. These are the man-made reservoirs built to preserve the waters of the monsoon rain. They put in place a sluice system to ensure the rice fields receive enough water and are productive.

Ancient Anuradhapura traded with faraway civilisations. The discovery of Roman coins showed that Lanka was active in trading - and was probably an early tourist destination as well, visited by among others, Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India, and in the early 5th century, Fa Hien, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim.

Pilgrims encircling the massive Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
Pilgrims encircling the massive Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (28 August 2005)
© Timothy Tye using this photo

Anuradhapura derived its name from Anuradha, the name of one of the chief minister during King Vijaya's time, who founded the city around 500BC during the reign of King Pandukabhaya. By 161BC, the whole island was the control of King Dutugemunu with Anuradhapura as the capital. Anuradhapura was only abandoned in 1073 when Polonnaruwa became the new capital.

Map of Tourist Attractions in Anuradhapura

View Sights in Anuradhapura in a larger map

Major Tourist Attractions in Anuradhapura

Abhayagiri Giant Pond

The largest pond in Anuradhapura.

Abhayagiri Vihara

The ruins of an ancient monastery which once housed over 5000 monks.

Dakkhina Stupa

2nd century BC stupa built over the cremated ashes of King Dutugemunu.

Jetavana Dagoba

The tallest brick structure in the world.

Kuttam Pokuna

Bathing pool of the monks of Abhayagiri Monastery.

Lankarama Dagoba

A restored ancient shrine near the Thuparama Dagoba.

Ruwanweliseya Dagoba

The most important stupa and also second tallest in Anuradhapura.

Sri Maha Bodhi

The temple of the oldest planted tree in the world.

Thuparama Dagoba

The stupa that enshrines Buddha's collar-bone relic.

Comprehensive List of Sights in Anuradhapura

  1. Abhayagiri Giant Pond
  2. Abhayagiri Museum
  3. Abhayagiri Vihara
  4. Anuradhapura Museum
  5. Basawakkulama
  6. Dakkhina Stupa
  7. Dalada Maligama
  8. Isurumuniya
  9. Jetavana Dagoba
  10. King Mahasen's Palace
  11. Kuttam Pokuna
  12. Lankarama Dagoba
  13. Loha Pasada
  14. Mahapali Refectory
  15. Mirisaweti
  16. Nakha Vihara
  17. Northern Bath
  18. Nuwara Wewa
  19. Ratnaprasada
  20. Royal Pleasure Gardens
  21. Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
  22. Samadhi Buddha
  23. Sri Maha Bodhi
  24. Tissa Wewa
  25. Thuparama Dagoba
  26. Vessagiriya Ruins and Caves
  27. Vijayabahu I's Palace
  28. Western Monasteries

Visiting Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is about four to five hours by road from Colombo. You can in fact take a bus or a train from Colombo. Within Anuradhapura, you can hire an auto-rickshaw to take you around and visit the ancient ruins.

Return to Sri Lanka Budget Travel Guide.

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