The historic city of Anuradhapura is an essential stop on any tour of Sri Lanka. This city, located around 205 kms north of Colombo, is one of eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Anuradhapura currently serves as the capital city of the North Central Province, and is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Its vast network of ancient Buddhist temples, monasteries and places of worship which cover over 40 sq kms has made it a sacred site to Buddhists around the world.
Located on the banks of a river, Anuradhapura is now a picturesque ruined city, filled with mystery and steeped in a rich Buddhist culture. Tour groups and pilgrims alike visit this city, and this diverse and versatile city caters to a locals and visitors alike. The ancient city lies adjacent to the modern, and ruined buildings, ancient temples, cobbled streets, and even crumbling fort walls are spread out and interspersed with all signs of modern life in this bustling and thriving city.
History of Anuradhapura
Sri Lanka’s historical chronicle, the Mahavamsa, records that Anuradhapura first became the capital of ancient Lanka in 4th Century BC, during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. The King is attributed with designing the city, developing a core town and even surrounding suburbs based on a highly complex plan.
Anuradhapura came into prominence after Buddhism was introduced to the island in the 3rd Century BC during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa. He built the country’s first stupa here, the Thuparama, which is said to house a relic of the Buddha, his right collarbone. King Tissa also arranged for the planting of the sacred Bo sapling brought to the country by Princess Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka of India. This is today the venerated Sri Maha Bodhi, which is considered the oldest living tree in the world.
King Devanampiya Tissa was also one of the first Kings to build irrigation tanks to develop inland agriculture, especially the growing of rice. He is credited with building the Tissa wewa (also known as Tisa wewa), which covers an area of approximately 550 acres and the embankment alone is measured at around 2 miles long. This man-made lake continues to be a major irrigation tank even today, and has become an essential resource to rice farmers in the area.
This ancient capital city fell many times to invading armies from India, but was famously recaptured and established as the pinnacle of the country’s development and culture by King Dutugemunu in the 2ndCentury BC. During his reign in Anuradhapura, he embarked on a massive construction project which created many of the magnificent monuments which are visible even today, chief amongst them the Ruwanweliseya stupa (built to house the begging bowl of Lord Buddha), the Mirisavetiya temple and the Lohapasada or Brazen Temple.
There were many among King Dutugemunu’s successors who added on to the city through construction of religious buildings, gardens and parks as well as irrigation tanks. The city became not only the centre of commerce and religion, but a place of learning and cultural expression.
King Valagamba, who reigned towards the end of the 3rd Century BC, built the 230ft high Abhayagiri stupa, while King Mahasena is credited with having built 16 irrigation tanks which created a thriving agricultural community in Anuradhapura and its environs. King Mahasena also built Sri Lanka’s tallest stupa, the Jethavanaramaya, which at 400 ft is one of the highest stupas in the world, as well as one of the oldest brick buildings of the ancient world.
Anuradhapura continued to be the seat of power from the 4th Century BC to 11th Century AD. During this period, there were intermittent invasions by armies from India, but it remained the stronghold of the King of Lanka until King Vjayabahu I declared Polonnaruwa the capital city in 1070.