Anuradhapura - The Golden Era of the Great Hydro Civilization of Ancient Sri Lanka

My trip to Anuradhapura this time was on the 29th of Dec 2011. In this blog article I talk about one of the greatest and grandest cities of its time in the region. (to be updated soon, in more detail)

How to get there

Location of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is located around 200KM North of the Capital Colombo, and is around 4-5hours drive, along the A9, via Dambulla, or the same amount of time via Puttalum. Both roads have recently undergone re-surfacing works as such the journey is much smoother than it used to be. It is advice able to take the Colombo - Kurunegala - Dambulla - Anuradhapura route on the way there, and the Anuradhapura - Puttalum - Negombo - Colombo route back. Which means you get to see different scenery.

Colombo - Kurunegala - Dambulla - Anuradhapura

About the City and where to stay

The Anuradhapura city area is divided into two, the new town and the ancient city. The ancient city area is a unesco world heritage site, it is one of the eight such sights that the tiny island nation holds host to. For more details on the other such sites read more here

The map below shows the city area, surrounded by three ancient tanks.

Ancient history

Anuradhapura, also know as Raja Rata in Sinhala or the land of the kings was said to have been founded as the capital of ancient Sri Lanka in the 5th Century BC. However there is archeological evidence that suggest civilisation dating as far back as 10 Century BC. The city would remain the capital of the island until the 11th Century AD, when invaders from southern india raised the city to the ground.

Anuradhapura is said to one of the most complexed irrigation and water systems in the ancient world, and is home to two of the ancient worlds tallest structures. Anuradhapura is known as the holy city or a sacred city, because of the many ancient buddhist monuments, and as such is popular destination of Buddhist pilgrimage.

In its glory days Anuradhapura used to be a model capital of south Asia, with great wealth, power and prosperity, and is commonly accepted as the golden ages of ancient Sri Lanka. The city had established trade with other great civilisations of the time, including the Chinese, Greek, Romans, Indians and so on. Evidence of this can be seen in the Anuradhapura Museum.

Chinese Buddhist traveller monk Fa-Hsien, who came in search of Buddhist text to the city of Anurdhapura, had in great detail recorded its splendour. Fa-Hsien wrote of  two major segments in ancient Anuradhapurian society, wealthy merchants of Indian, Mediterranean & Persian origin and Sinhalese nobles living in luxurious houses and scores of farmers and Buddhist monks.

Anuradhapura is ranked on par with the likes of great ancient cities such as Babylon, in its colossal proportions, with its four walls each around 26 km long, enclosing an area of 663SQKM. The below video summarises what I have said thus far. Credit goes to the original poster.

I have also found this great series of video produced by one Mr Erickson Tissera, credit goes to the original poster. These two videos gives the audience a very in-depth understanding of ancient city, and is thus highly recommended to watch.

Key Facts

Anuradhapura is home to

  1. Three of the grandest and greatest stupas (Buddhist monumnets) of their time. Second only in hight to 2 of the great pyramids of Egypt. Jethavanaramaya, Abhayagiriya and Ruwanvaliseya .
  2. The greatest and most complex hydro and irrigation systems in the world for its time, and earning Sri Lanka's ancient civilisation is title of "Hydro Civilisation"
  3. The oldest recorded tree in the world
  4. Many ancient man made rainwater reservoirs of grand scales that serve inhabitants and farmer to this day.
  5. Perfect stone carvings and stone statues 
  6. Worlds first animal hospital and the worlds first human hospitals
  7. Sewage systems that had complex filtration systems to purify waste water

What to see

There are several points of significance here in the ancient city, and that make Sri Lanka special. I found a good map here - that shows you all the sites to visit. Please note that Google Maps and Nokia Maps both have very detailed maps of Anuradhapura too.

  1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree -

    This is the worlds oldest recorded tree, which has been in anuradhapura since the establishment of buddhism in the country some 2300 years ago. For more detailed information on this Visit the official site for the sacred tree.

    Entrance to the enclosed area where the Sacred Tree is

    A Branch of the Sacred Tree
    Golden Supports for the Branches of the Sacred Tree

  2. Ruwanveliseya Dagaba
    The Stupa and guard stones

    Carvings of Lions at the stupa
    Elephant Carvings on the bottom ring on the stupa

    Ruwanveliseya Dagaba Stupa
  3. The Thuparama Dagaba

  4. Jetavana Dagaba and Monastery

  5. Abhayagiri Monastery & Dagaba

  6. Samadhi Buddha

  7. Kuttam Pokuna

  8. Lovamahapaya

  9. Isurumuniya

  10. Mihintale

  11. The Asoo Atariyan Buddha statue & Len Vihariya

  12. The Archaeolgy Museum

  13. Elephant Pond

  14. Moonstones
Useful links for further reading

to be updated soon