UNESCO World Heritage Sites


Hundreds of years prior to the birth of Christ, while other regions were emerging from the stone ages, Sri Lanka was a land of highly advanced cities of which Anuradhapura was the greatest. Its ruins today display infinite detail of rare beauty, delicately set in the world’s mightiest masses of monumental masonry, second only to the pyramids of Egypt. As it was only the Buddhist religion that was considered worthy of permanence, Buddhist structures alone were given to the imperishable medium of stone.

For Buddhists there are eight places of particular sanctity within Anuradhapura. These are the Sri Maha Bodhi, the Ruwanweli Seya, the Thuparama Dagoba, the Jetavanarama Dagoba, the Abhayagiri Dagoba, the Lankarama Dagoba, the Mirisaweti dagoba and the Isurumuniya Viharaya. From a non-religious point of view, Anuradhapura is captivating for its architectural excellence. The city has an appeal that relates to almost anyone and even the least artistically inclined traveler will find himself in awe and wonder.


Polonnaruwa, which was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to the 13th century has more to see and leaves less to speculation than Anuradhapura, the capital that preceded it. Due to its more recent past, Polonnnaruwa is strewn with ruins in a resplendent state of preservation. Ornamental friezes and delicately carved pillars decorate most of the ruins, making the metropolis fascinating to any visitor.

The Terrace of the Tooth Relic, at the heart of the city is a platform that houses 12 of the grandest buildings. Of these, the Vatadage and the Thuparama image house are the most spectacular. Further away from the centre of the metropolis is the Gal Vihara, which consists of four statues of the Lord Buddha. Cut from a single granite wall, these rank among the true masterpieces of Sri Lankan art. Other sites of particular interest are the Lotus bath, the Medirigiriya Vatadage and the Lankatilake image house.


The sight is stupendous even today: a massive monolith of red stone rises 600 feet from the green scrub jungle to accentuate the lucid blue of the sky. How overpowering, then, this rock fortress of Sigiriya must have been when it was crowned by a palace 15 centuries ago.

Sigiriya was no gloomy and forbidding fortification. At the brief height of its glory - a flowering of only 18 years - it was one of the loveliest royal cities that ever graced the earth. And today, it is perhaps the single most remarkable memory for visitors to Sri Lanka. Ruins of the fabled palace spread across the very peak of the "Lion Rock", so-named, perhaps, because visitors formerly began the final harrowing ascent through the open jaws and throat (giriya) of a lion (sinha) whose likeness was once sculpted halfway up the monolith. Only gigantic paws remain today. Within a grotto on Sigiriya's sheer west face, beautiful bare-breasted maidens still smile from incredible fresco paintings. Surrounding the foot of the rock, extending for several hundred meters, are Asia's oldest surviving landscape gardens, incorporating lovely ponds around the Sigiriya's plinth of fallen boulders.


The second largest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy is perhaps the center of all Singhalese culture. The cool atmosphere and the picturesque surroundings enhance the enchantment of the citadel that is teeming with traditions of Singhalese art, music and dance. The sacred tooth of the Buddha, Sri Lanka's most prized possession and the symbol of sovereignty over the island, was moved to this hill city in the 16th century and still sits in the beautiful Dalada Maligawa. This temple stands almost alone near the shore of the serene Kandy Lake. It is a splendid work of art in itself.

Beautiful woodcarvings, painted ceilings and silver-and-ivory doors adorn the inside of the temple. It also houses a magnificent museum that records the intriguing history of the Kandyans. One of the most spectacular events that takes place in Kandy is the Esala Perahera. It is the most splendid pageants in SouthAsia featuring a procession of countless elephants, fire-dancers, Kandyan dancers and drummers. This is an incomparable and memorable celebration, which should definitely be on your agenda.


Of all the many cave temples in Sri Lanka the Raja Maha Vihara at the village of Dambulla is by far the most impressive. It consists of a series of five caverns. The temple is on the summit of a huge slope rock face that rises more than 350 feet above the village.

The most interesting is the largest cave, which is the fourth on your right after you pass through a gateway. The ceiling of this cavern is fully illustrated with paintings that follow the natural folds of the rock so closely that it almost appears to be made of cloth. Among the cave’s numerous statues are the earliest devala statues to appear in a Buddhist image house. The cave’s history dates to the 2nd or 1st century B.C. when King Valagambahu took refuge here after being driven out of Anuradhapura by invading armies.


One of the least disturbed and biologically unique primary lowland rain forests in Sri Lanka, covering an extent of over 11000 hectares. Of international significance and declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) in 1978 when UNESCO included it in its international network of Biosphere reserves. It was subsequently designated a National wilderness area in 1988 and received full status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. Situated in the lowland wet zone of the country with an average temperature of 23.6C and an annual rainfall of more than 2500mm the high level of endemism makes it an international rarity. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and it is home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians. Of Sri Lanka’s endemic birds, all 22 rainforest species are seen here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.

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