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Anuradhapura, is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, world famous for its well preserved ruins of the Great Sri Lankan Civilization. The Civilization which was built upon this city was one of the greatest civilizations of Asia and in the world. The city is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Anuradhapura lies 205 km north of Colombo in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya.

Anuradhapura is an archeological delight as it contains monuments and structures of historical importance. The city is the abode of the largest Dagobas in the country and is considered as sacred by the Buddhist.

Tour of Anuradhapura

We can offer 2 - 5 days tours of Anuradhapura from Colombo shortest tour will be 2 days Anuradhapura Excursion from Colombo. Contact us for tour suggestion and planning of your tour

Various places of attraction near Anuradhapura

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
Thuparna Dagoba
Ruvanveli Dagoba
Jetavana Dagoba
Abhayagiri Dagoba
Samadhi Buddha
Awkana and
Kuttam Pokuna

History of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was founded by King Pandukhabaya in 437BC. It was the royal seat of more than 250 Buddhist and Hindu kings. Anuradhapura lies in close proximity to the southern India.

Founded in the 4th century BC it was the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom till the beginning of the 11th century AD. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. It was also a wealthy city which created a unique culture and a great civilization. Today this ancient city of Sri Lanka, considered sacred to the Buddhist world is surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over sixteen square miles (40 km?). It is widely considered one of the world's major archaeological sites. This city is significant in Hinduism too. Legend has it that it was the fabled capital of the Asura King Ravana in the Ramayana.

Protohistoric Iron Age

Although according to historical records the city was founded in the 5th century BC, the archaeological data put the date as far back as the 10th century BC. very little evidence was available about the period before the 5th century BC (i.e. the protohistoric period), though excavations have revealed information about the earlier inhabitants of the city.

Further excavations in Anuradhapura have uncovered information about the existence of a protohistoric habitation of humans in the citadel. The protohistoric Iron Age which spans from 900 - 600 BC, marked the appearance of iron technology, pottery, the horse, domestic cattle and paddy cultivation. In the time period 700 -600 BC the settlement in Anuradhapura had grown over an area of at least 50 ha. The city was strategically situated of major ports northwest and northeast, it was surrounded by irrigable and fertile land. The city was also buried deep in the jungle providing natural defence from invaders.

Lower Early Historic period

The Lower Early Historic period spanning from 500 - 250 BC, is studied on the lines of the chronicles. During this time King Pandukabhaya formally planned the city, with gates, quarters for traders etc. The city at the time would have covered an area of 1 square kilometre which makes it one of the largest in the continent at the time.


The layout of Anuradhapura as described in the Mahavamsa:

"He laid out four suburbs as well as the Abhaya-tank, the common cemetery, the place of execution, and the chapel of the Queens of the West, the banyan-tree of Vessavana and the Palmyra-palm of the Demon of Maladies, the ground set apart for the Yonas and the house of the Great Sacrifice; all these he laid out near the west gate." Mahavamsa X, trans. Wilhelm Geiger
"A hermitage was made for many ascetics; eastward of that same cemetery the ruler built a house for the nigantha Jotiya.(...) On the further side of Jotiya's house and on this side of the Gamani tank he likewise built a monastery for wandering mendicant monks, and a dwelling for the ajivakas and a residence for the brahmans, and in this place and that he built a lying-in shelter and a hall for those recovering from sickness." Mahavamsa X, trans. Wilhelm Geiger
It is said that King Pandukabhaya made it his capital in the 4th century BC, and that he also laid out the town and its suburbs according to a well organised plan. He constructed a reservoir named Abhayavapi. He established shrines for yakkhas such as Kalawela and Cittaraja. He housed the Yaksini-Cetiya in the form of a mare within the royal precincts and offerings were made to all these demi-gods every year. He chose the sites for the cemetery and for the place of execution, the Chapel of the Western Queen, the Pacchimarajini, the Vessavana Banyan Tree, the Palm of the Vyadhadeva, the Yona Quarter and the House of the Great Sacrifice. The slaves or Candalas were assigned their duties and a village was set apart for them. They build dwellings for Niganthas, for wandering ascetics and for Ajivakas and Brahmanas. He established, the village boundaries. The tradition that King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura the capital city of Sri Lanka as early as the fourth century BC had been very important.

The administrative and sanitary arrangements be made for the city and the shrines he provided indicate that over the years the city developed according to an original master plan. His son Mutasiva, succeeded to the throne. During his reign of sixty years, he maintained Anuradhapura as his capital and further laid out the Mahameghavana Garden which was to play an important role in the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was in the period of his successor, his son Devanam piya Tissa, that Buddhism was first introduced this island 236 years after the passing away of the Buddha. Emperor Ashoka in India was a contemporary of Devanam piya Tissa. Historically this period is considered to extend from 250 to 210 BC. This is the point at which a kingship began and a civilization developed based on one of the greatest religions of South Asia, Buddhism.

Hinduism and Anuradhapura

The capital of the Asura King Ravana in the Hindu epic Ramayana (The Epic of Lord Rama) is said to be situated in Anuradhapura. The capital was burnt down by legendary Rama devotee Lord Hanuman before the epic war. A popular legend among the Hindus says that a layer of ash is still to be found anywhere that you dig in Anuradhapura.

Buddhism and Anuradhapura

With the introduction of Buddhism, the city gained more prominence and the great building era began. The Mahavamsa states that King Kutakannatissa built the first city wall to a height of seven cubits with a moat in front of the wall. This fortification was further enlarged by raising the wall a further 11 cubits to 18 cubits by King Vasabha. The king also added fortified gatehouses at the entrances of which the ruins can be seen to date. The Mahavamsa also states that soothsayers and architects were consulted in the construction.

Fa-Hsien the Chinese pilgrim who visited the city was impressed by the city and its planning. Fa-Hsien mentioned that there were two major segments of people living in the city, one segment being merchants whose houses were richly adorned. Studying some other chronicles gives light to the merchants which who were living in the city. It is noted that some of these merchants were of foreign origins. ie south Indian, Mediterraneans and Persians. The other segment consisted of city dwellers whose income came through agricultural production.

The Mahavamsa states that King Devanam piya Tissa recognized the importance of establishing Sima or Concecrated boundaries for the Uposatha and other acts of the Sangha. The king expresses his view that he himself and the inhabitants could live within the vision of Lord Buddha. King Devanmpiya Tissa then marked the boundaries of a specified area, the work commenced to build edifices in the Mahamegha Gardens.

The great building era

The Ruwanveli Saya Stupa in AnuradhapuraThe great building era was when vast monastery complexes and some of the tallest buildings in the ancient world were built. The Jetavanaramaya dagoba of the city is still the highest brick structure in the world.

The Maha Vihara was centered around the orthodox Theravadins. This was founded by King Devanampiya Tissa in 249 BC. The heterdox Mahayanists founded the Abhayagiri Vihara. King Mahasena (275-310 BC) built the Jetavanaramaya located in between the Maha Vihara and the Abhayagiri Monasteries.

In the suburbs of the city major monasteries with their gigantic stupas were constructed, The Maha Thupa, the Bodhi Tree and Thuparama of the Maha Vihara stood to the south of the city. The Abhayagiri to the north, the Pubbarama to the east, the Tanovana to the north-west and the Jetavanaramaya to the south-east.

The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to the city in the reign of King Kirtisri Meghavana. The relic was deposited in a building named Dhammacakka. Since then annually it was carried in a procession to the Abhayagiri monastery after which an exposition was held.

The growth of Anuradhapura

The city's popularity grew both as a ritual centre and as the administrative centre, a large population was attracted to the city for permanent settlement. Thus the living facilities were improved to accommodate the expanding population. King Vasabha constructed many ponds which were fed by a network of subterranean channels which were constructed to supply water to the city. Tissa and Abhayavapi tanks were built, the Nuwara weva was built and the Malwatu Oya was dammed to build the Maccaduwa wewa which was 4408 acres (17.84 km?) in size.

Parks were also provided in the city. The Ranmasu Uyana below the bund of Tissavapi or Tisa weva was one such, but it was strictly reserved for the members of the royal family. Health care and education were two other aspects to which the authorities paid attention. There were several hospitals in the city. In the forth century King Upatissa II provided quarters and homes for the crippled and the blind. King Buddhadasa (337-365 AD), himself a physician of great repute, appointed a physician to be in charge of every ten villages. For the maintenance of these physicians, one tenth of the income from the fields was set apart. He also set up refuges for the sick in every village. Physicians were also appointed to look after the animals. Kassapa V (914-923 AD) founded a hospital close to the southern gate of Anuradhapura. General Sena in the tenth century is believed to have built a hospital close to the ceremonial street (Managala Veediya). The history of medical care began early, for in the fourth century BC King Pandukhabaya, in the course of sanitizing the town constructed a hospital. A large workforce was entrusted with the task of keeping the city clean.

Large lakes were also constructed by the city's rulers to irrigate paddy lands and also to supply water to the city. Nuwara wewa and Tissa wewa are among the best known lakes in the city.

The great city

Anuradhapura attained its highest magnificence about the commencement of the Christian era. In its prime it ranked beside Nineveh and Babylon in its colossal proportions?its four walls, each 16 miles (26 km) long, enclosing an area of 256 square miles (663 km?) ?in the number of its inhabitants, and the splendour of its shrines and public edifices. The city also had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world, situated in the dry zone of the country the administration built many tanks to irrigate the land. Most of these tanks still survive. To date, it is believed that some of these tanks are the oldest surviving reservoirs in the world today.

The city falls

Ancient Capitals of Sri Lanka


The city suffered much during the earlier South Indian invasions, and was finally abandoned by AD 1017.

The city was the capital of the country continuously from the 5th century BC to AD 1017. Its decline began with continuous wars with the invading South Indians which made the kingdom economically poor. The city was sacked by a Chola invasion forces in 1017 and the governing capital was shifted to the relative safety of Polonnaruwa. The destruction caused to the city and its complex irrigation system was so great that the city was totally abandoned, and fell into decay for nearly a thousand years

It was not until the 19th century that the jungle was cleared away, the ruins laid bare, and some measure of prosperity brought back to the surrounding country by the restoration of hundreds of village tanks by the British.

In ruins

The ruins consist of three classes of buildings, dagobas, monastic buildings, and pokunas. The dagobas are bell-shaped masses of masonry, varying from a few feet to over 1100 ft (340 m) in circumference. Some of them contain enough masonry to build a town for twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Remains of the monastic buildings are to be found in every direction in the shape of raised stone platforms, foundations and stone pillars. The most famous is the Brazen Palace erected by King Dutugamunu about 164 BC. The pokunas are bathing-tanks or tanks for the supply of drinking water, which are scattered everywhere through the jungle. The city also contains a sacred Bo-Tree, which is said to date back to the year 245 BC. The railway was extended from Kurunegala to Anuradhapura in 1905

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