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The Sacred City of Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka. Already in 380 BC it became the Singhalese capital. One of the most famous (and eldest) monuments at the site is the sacred bo tree near the centre. It was grown from a cutting from the tree in India where Buddha achieved enlightenment, and brought here in the 3rd century BC by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns.

The old capital flourished for 1,300 years, until it was abandoned after an invasion in 993. Nearby Polonnaruva, said to be a safer place, became the new capital.

The impressive remains of the site were discovered in the early 19th century, hidden away in thick jungle for a long time. The palaces, monasteries and monuments are since then in restoration.

Visit August 1996

The ancient, magic bo tree welcomes you as you enter the main complex. Its age (2300 years?!) is something to dwell on, although we were not really sure which one of the two prominent trees was the legendary one.

The rest of the monuments are spread out over a large area. Because of that, and because they are so old, Anuradhapura is not easy to grasp as a day trip (as I did).


Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
I had just visited the rock of Sigiriya, the UNESCO site that I liked most in Sri Lanka (I visited four UNESCO places during that journey, back in the year 1989). Then, when I arrived to Anuradhapura the next day I felt a little bit disappointed. I expected more. But anyway, I accomplish my obligations as a tourist and during several hours I visited the pagodas, stupas, the sacred tree, Buddhist temples, etc. In the afternoon I was ready to leave to Kandy when a rickshaw driver criticized my decision, arguing that I was missing the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, in the near village of Mihintale, at about 12 kilometer distance. He proposed to take me there in his rickshaw for a few rupees and I agreed.
Mihintale would give me more satisfaction than Anuradhapura. I climbed 1800 steps of a hill and reached a Buddhist monastery where I was given authorization to spend the night. The master was 85 years old, with a benevolent aspect and a very lucid mind. He had six disciples. He told me that they follow the Tradition, since when Mahinda introduced Buddhism in Sri Lanka, he was accompanied by six disciples.
The next day one of the monks showed me the holy places around Mihintale, especially a painted Buddha inclined statue that I liked more than the giant ones of Polonnaruwa that I had visited a few days earlier.
After those visit I gave my thanks to the master and the monks and left to Kandy.
Not all the UNESCO sites constitute a satisfactory visit. Many of them can be given a miss. But still some of them they are useful thanks to the neighboring places that have not been considered by the UNESCO observers. In my opinion Mihintale deserves to be added together with Anuradhapura in the UNESCO list.
Date posted: February 2014
Philipp Peterer (Schweiz):
Anuradhapura is nice, because of its numerous and impressive pagodas. On the other hand it is not an easy site to visit, as the points of interest are far from each other. It’s mostly pagodas you will see, so there is less diversity than in Polonnaruwa. For me this site was no match to Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa.
Date posted: November 2011
Nishadha (Sri Lanka):
I have visited Anuradhapura almost six times now and each time its not that hard to find a new place that I haven't visited before. If you are visiting Anuradhapura then you should plan it before hand. If you are a tourists a tour guide is highly recommended.
If you are a tourist visiting all the pagodas might make you boring because you don't know the historical facts attached to them. If you are there for a one day visit I can suggest the following.

The Ancient bo tree
Ruwanweli Maha seya ( pagoda, considered the best in SL )
Moonstone in Queens Palace
Kuttan Pokuna ( beautifully carved pond )
Samadhi statue ( beautiful statue of Lord Buddha )
Isurumuniya Temple ( beautiful stone carvings )

When it comes to tourists my experience is they are mostly pleased at visiting Isurumuniya, because of the beautiful stone carvings.
Date posted: September 2010
Frederik Dawson (Netherlands):
Anuradhapura, the city of king was the capital city of Sinhalese for 1,400 years with long history of royals, wars, and religious to be one of the most important ancient cities in this region and the cradle of Buddhism outside India. Everything of Anuradhapura is Buddhism and the center of the city is the sacred city. The word “city” in this term is quite similar with Vatican City or Beijing’s Forbidden City which are the city inside the city. The sacred city was the large complex of ancient monasteries with thousands of Buddhist monks when the city was in its zenith.

The centre of the sacred city is Sri Maha Bodhi, the holy tree, the symbol of local Buddhism, was bought from India 2,300 years ago, and is considered to be one of the oldest living trees in this world. Not only the holy tree, Anuradhapura has many big stupas, the most famous of all maybe Thuparama and Ruvanvelisaya. Thuparama is regarded as the oldest stupa in the world and is the model of Buddhist stupa in many parts of Asia. The gigantic white stupa of Ruvanvelisaya is just breathtaking with its size and hundreds of worshippers. The city is also famous for its art, the guard stone and moon stone at Mahasena and Ratna Palaces are the must see for their amazing mastery craving qualities.

Visiting Anuradhapura was quite a unique experience; I had to walk 1 km on bare foot in Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruvanvelisaya areas passed many security checking points with hundreds of local pilgrims. These places should be spiritual and peaceful, but the thing I saw were soldiers with guns in every corners of the area making a war zone liked feelings. There were also many rules of photography and dress code. But I could not compliant since terrorists had attacked the holy tree and killed many people, so having these soldiers maybe the best thing for this sacred city.

All in all, Anuradhapura is a nice place to visit, but in my opinion these place is not a must since most of the places are stupas which are looked quite the same for non-expert who is unable to separate the differences of bubble, bell and rice heap styles; it is quite hard to appreciate unless you are in deep interest of Sri Lankan history or local Buddhism, the nearby Polonnaruwa maybe the better place for normal casual tourists and typical Kodak moments.
Date posted: January 2009
Rob Wilson (UK):
A fascinating place to visit, particularly the enormous stupas.
Whilst the cultural triangle ticket is expensive, it does give access to almost all of the main sites.
Date posted: July 2008
Suranga Hettiarachchi (Sri Lanka, Live in USA):
Well, I have been to all the World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka, except Sinharaja Forest.
They are wonderful and amazing, because it is very hard to imagine how people gain knowledge
thousands of years ago to build that kind of massive buildings and shrines. Kandy is nice clean
town full of smell of fresh fruits, and seeing an elephant makes you shiver, but touching the
largest land animal on Earth, is a Kodak moment. Going to Sinharaja Forest, Yes its my next target, when I go to Sri Lanka next year.

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Site info

Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Country: Sri Lanka
Inscribed: 1982
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (2) (3) (6)
Category: Archaeological site, South (East) Asian

Site history:
1982 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Sri Lanka Travel

In the news:
» Ruins of ancient hospital discovered in Anuradhapura (24-12-2012).
» Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine (15-09-2011).

Related links:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 1 location(s).


Brick architecture . Gold Surfaces .
Hospitals . Latrines .
Destroyed during invasion . Terrorist Attacks .
Notable Trees .
Chola Dynasty .
Human Activity
Irrigation and drainage .
Religion and Belief
Religious Relics . Stupa . Theravada Buddhism .
Built in the 3rd century BC .
Depicted on National Flag . Famous Love Stories . Located in a Former Capital . On Banknotes .
WHS Hotspots
Central Sri Lanka hotspot .
WHS on Other Lists
Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) . U.S. Ambassadors Fund .

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