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).
Michael Turtle - January 2016
Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to see as much of Anuradhapura as I would've liked. I only had a few hours there as I was passing through and decided that it wasn't good value to but the entrance ticket. It cost US$25 and I thought it was pretty bad value. I do regret my decision now, for the record!
Regardless, there are quite a few sites you can see from the road and you won't need a ticket for. There are also a few smaller sites within the area that just cost a dollar or two to go into, so you can get a taste of the city without buying the full ticket.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
Philipp Peterer - November 2011
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.
Nishadha - September 2010
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.
Frederik Dawson - January 2009
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.
Rob Wilson - July 2008
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.
Share your experiences!
Have you been to Anuradhapura? Click here to add your own review.
Full name: Sacred City of Anuradhapura
1982 - InscribedReasons for inscription
The site has 21 connections. Show all
- Notable Trees the sacred bodhi tree
- Chola Dynasty King Chola Rajaraja I besieged and destroyed it (993)
- Irrigation and drainage Has large "tanks" and associated irrigation canals etc. These were built to enable the city to run and feed itself as it lies within Sri Lanka's "dry zone"
- Built in the 3rd century BC Dagaba Thuparama & Bodhi tree
- Depicted on National Flag Sri Lanka - four Bo leaves of Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura representing country's Buddhism
- Famous Love Stories Story of Prince Saliya and his lowcast lover, Asokamala.
- Located in a Former Capital Anuradapura Kingdom (382BC - 1018)
- On Banknotes Thuparama Dagoba; 500 Rupee issued 2001
- Central Sri Lanka hotspot Central Sri Lanka hotspot
WHS on Other Lists
- Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Wewe Irrigation System Sri Lanka (candidate)
- U.S. Ambassadors Fund Preservation of the Collections of the Anuradhapura and Yatala Archaeological Museums (2009), Documentation of Western Monasteries from the 3rd Century BC at Anuradhapura, a World Heritage Site (2006)