Holy City of Anuradhapura (World Heritage)

Anuradhapura was from the 3rd century BC. For more than 1300 years BC, it was the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka and a religious center according to animalerts. In 993 the city was abandoned and overgrown by the jungle. Even today, the archaeological site is an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination, mainly because of the Sri Mahabodhi. The poplar fig is said to be an offshoot of the tree in Bodh Gaya under which Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha.

Holy City of Anuradhapura: Facts

Official title: Holy city of Anuradhapura
Cultural monument Former residence of 119 Sinhalese kings with citadel, royal palace, “Temple of the Tooth” (Dalada Maligava), Sri Mahabodhi (“Tree of Enlightenment”, Ficus religiosa), “Copper Palace” (Lavamahia Paya), alms house (Mahapali) with 8 m long stone tub (»Rice boat«) for feeding 6000 people and »large dagoba« (Ruvanveliseya-Dagoba) with a circumference of 283 m
continent Asia
country Sri Lanka
location Anuradhapura, northeast of Colombo
appointment 1982
meaning Center of praise for Gautama Buddha for more than 1000 years

Holy City of Anuradhapura: History

250 BC Chr. -1017 Capital of the Sinhalese kingdom, then “forgotten in the jungle”
around 1820 rediscovered by British expedition
1890 archaeological excavations

Of columnar forests and white dagobas, the holy city of Anuradhapura

If you follow the ancient Asian Mahavamsa chronicle, the urban development of Anuradhapura is based on an exemplary concept. With areas for hostels and hospitals as well as separate districts for professions and the upper and lower classes of society. Today it is difficult to keep an overview in King Pandukabhaya’s metropolis, which was planned as a model, because the Sinhalese city founder was followed by numerous other rulers with a desire to build, so that the testimonies of Sri Lanka’s first capital are scattered over more than 20 square kilometers. For visitors, the following applies: Without a detailed site plan and mobile pedestal, nothing works.

The history of the ancient royal city is closely linked to the early development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In times when there was no suspicion of a Jesus Christ in other parts of the world, it was the Indian arahant Mahinda who won King Devanampiya Tissa for Buddhism. Monasteries were founded in Anuradhapura, Abhayagiri, Jetavana and Mahavihara being among the most important. In the center of each monastery complex there was a monumental stupa, a bell-shaped Buddhist sacred building that traditionally served to store relics. The gleaming white Ruvanveliseya-Dagoba from the second century BC belonged to the Mahavihara Monastery and, with its almost 100 meters height, was one of the most important buildings of its era. The Buddhist cult building is surrounded by a square wall from which hundreds of elephant sculptures peek. The stately pachyderms, of which only the front parts protrude, look very lifelike with their huge tusks, leathery ears and the trunk ends resting on the ground.

The white Thuparama dagoba, which can be recognized from a distance by its golden tip, is older, but much smaller than the Ruvanveliseya dagoba. King Devanampiya Tissa had the shrine built to store a legendary piece of the Buddha’s collarbone. The monoliths around the dagoba belong to a circular temple that has disappeared. The Brazen Palace has also disappeared – apart from a stone skeleton made of 1,600 pillars. A nine-story wooden building with a copper roof is said to have once rested on the gigantic forest of pillars. The limestone-carved Samadhi Buddha, the Isurumuniya rock monastery near the Tissa reservoir, are further impressive testimonies to high culture in Anuradhapura.

Despite its faded historical splendor, the meanwhile looting by Indian Chola troops and the relocation of the capital to Polonnaruva, Anuradhapura has remained an important place of worship for Buddhists. Here you worship a sacred tree, the »Sri Mahabodhi«. It is said to have grown out of a branch of that historical tree under which Buddha was enlightened; According to tradition, the Sri Mahabodhi was a gift from the Indian Princess Sanghamitta to King Devanampiya Tissa. Today, a pointed lattice fence protects the giant tree, and poles support its thick branches. Omnipresent are the believers lighting lights and offering lotus flowers.

In Anuradhapura, antiquity and the present are also closely fused with one another. In some places you can see 2,000-year-old steles and stone slabs that border directly on residential huts and are used by the locals in everyday life: by housewives to dry their laundry and by young Sri Lankan footballers to mark the playing field.

Holy City of Anuradhapura (World Heritage)