Sacred City of Anuradhapura – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

  • Category: World Heritage Sites
  • Distance From Colombo‎: 200 km
  • Established: 4th century BC
  • District: Anuradhapura
  • Drive Time: 3 h 40 m
  • Location: North Central Province
  • Availability: All Year
  • Txp: Van, Car, Jeep, Bus
  • Area: 7,179 km²
  • Best Time To Visit: July and December
  • Elevation: 81 m above sea level
About Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, the holy city of Sri Lanka, defined by many as one of the fascinating places in Asia; Moreover, it was the capital for more than 1000 years of the ancient Sinhalese dynasties from 200 BC. to 1000 AD. However, it was abandoned for centuries and brought to light only in 1900. Also, it is a sacred site, the lost city, which is still alive today and used as a pilgrimage destination by thousands of faithful; a town that was large, magnificent, stable, an example of a great civilization with a unique culture. Therefore, an expanse of ruined temples many still buried under the jungle, others instead well preserved; dagoba, towers, lakes, temples, artificial basins, all in an area of ​​40 square kilometres.

Moreover, a city consecrated to Buddha and Buddhism but which is also a reference point for Hindus; because the name Anuradhapura is the capital of the king of one of the protagonists of the Ramayana; Hindu sacred book, a mystical and magical city. The Anuradhapura Heritage is a site protected by UNESCO and inside is the Sri Maha Bodhi; the heart of the site, the oldest tree in the world with an uninterrupted series of guardians for more than 2000 years. It said that Buddha found enlightenment while I was sitting under a Bodhi plant and the tree that found here comes from a bud of that Bodhi.

Respect for the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka
Temple Etiquette

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of the majority of Sri Lanka practised by 70% of Sri Lanka’s population. Theravada Buddhism and religion have long influenced culture is particularly strong in the southern and central regions of the country. Before Visit, find out about these practical label tips.

Never touch or pat the top of a Buddhist monk’s head, including small children in temples. This seen as disrespectful.

Don’t take selfies with a statue of a Buddha.

Never turn your back on any figure of the Buddha.

Don’t share appropriate clothes when you are going to religious sites or temples.

Keep in mind that on full moon days, Poya (monthly) is not possible to serve or sell alcohol. Even in these days, no meat is sold in the markets.

If you have Buddha tattoos on your body, you must take care to hide them because it is considered disrespectful to have a Buddha image on your body.

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Anuradhapura Highlights
Unesco World Heritage Site


Buddhist monastery

It is the heart of ancient Anuradhapura, and there are often religious ceremonies that attract crowds of people who show off their best clothes for the occasion. The finds on this site date back to a period between the third century BC and the 11th century AD. The monk Vinitadeva (c. 645-715) in one of his works mentions three Sri Lankan schools, which are the Jetavania (ie the monks of the Jetava monastery, which are the Sagalika appearing in Mahvaaṃsa), the Abhayagirivasin (ie the monks of the monastery Abhayagiri, which are the Dhammarucika that appear in Mahavaṃsa) and the Mahaviharavasin (the monks of the Mahavihara monastery).

Several scholars have ordered in groups of schools the many denominations that appear in the most ancient epigraphic documents we have received. These lists generally agree to a large extent. In the same group of schools are listed the Jetavania, the Abhayagirivāsin and the Mahaviharavasin, along with the Theravadin.

Abhayagiri Dagoba

Buddhist Temple

This impressive dagoba was constructed in the 1st century BC, and it was the centrepiece of the ceremonies of the Abhayagiri Monastery, which housed up to 5,000 monks. One of the tallest monuments in the ancient world, comparable only to the pyramids of Giza (and to the nearby Jetavanarama), initially it was more than 100 m high, while today (probably due to the numerous alterations) it reaches a height of only 75 m; also so striking for the majesty of the brick dome, devoured by vegetation, which can be seen among the thick trees.

The name means “hill of protection” or “fearless hill”. According to the Saddarma Rathnawaliya, the statue of a golden bull containing relics of the Buddha was buried in the heart of the shrine. The Abhayagiri Dagoba has some impressive bas-reliefs, including that of an elephant dragging a tree near the western stairway. On the northern side, a large slab with an imprint of the Buddha is visible, while the eastern and western steps bear unusual moonstones taken from concentric pieces (the term ‘moonstone’ refers to the shape of the stone, and not to its composition ).
Walking along the northern side of the stupa, pay attention to the octagonal yuba (spire) and to the pole that initially surmounted the dagoba before the current square structure was added to the top.

Sri Maha Bodhi

Buddhist Site

The sacred Bodhi tree represents the heart of Anuradhapura in a physical and spiritual sense. The plant was born from a cutting taken in Bodhgaya, India, and is considered the oldest historically proven tree in the world of authenticity, as evidenced by the uninterrupted series of guardians who cared for it for over 2000 years. Today thousands of faithful come here to lay down their offers, especially on weekends and on days of poya (full moon). The site is imposing at sunset.

According to the faithful, the cutting was imported from India by Princess Sangamitta, daughter of the Indian emperor Ashoka and sister of Mahinda (the one who introduced the doctrines of the Buddha in Sri Lanka). In reality, there is not a single bodhi tree, there are many, but the oldest and most sacred is that placed on the highest platform.

The railings and other structures that surround the trees are adorned with votive flags.
In 1985, during the civil war, the Tamil Tigers opened fire in the fenced area, killing many faithful during a more massive attack that cost the lives of nearly 150 civilians. April and December are particularly intense months, as the pilgrims go to the site for the Snana puja (offers or prayers).

Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

Buddhist dagoba (stupa)

This magnificent white dagoba is protected by a wall decorated with a frieze depicting 344 elephants placed side by side. Except for the part near the western entrance, it is a modern remake of the original, dating back to 140 BC. Today, after the repeated damage inflicted by the armies of the Indian invaders, the building is only 55 m high, much less than when it was built and has also lost its original “bubble” shape.

It is believed that during the consecration of the dagoba, a part of the Buddha’s ashes was deposited here during a grand ceremony that attracted monks from Rajagriha, Vaishali, Patna, and even from Kashmir and Afghanistan. At the time, Ruvanvelisaya was the largest stupa in the world, with 7 m deep foundations made of limestone broken into pieces with hammers and subsequently shattered by elephants.

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The sanctuary was built by King Dutugemunu, who nevertheless did not live to see it finished. While he was on his deathbed, he saw, however, a temporary completion in bamboo and cloth, so that the sovereign, as the last thing, could admire his “finished” masterpiece. It is a common opinion that the limestone statue located in a small pavilion south of the great dagoba depicts the same Dutugemunu.
The land around the sanctuary is dotted with empty beds of ponds and pools and remains of columns and pillars, all scenically inclined in various directions. Slightly south-east of the dagoba, towards the temple of Sri Maha Bodhi, one of the many dining halls used by the monks of Anuradhapura is visible.

Jetavanarama Dagoba

Buddhist dagoba (stupa)

The massive dome of the Jetavanarama Dagoba stands majestically on the whole eastern part of Anuradhapura. Built-in the 3rd century by Mahasena, it originally had to be more than 120 m high, while today it is around 70 m high, roughly like the Abhayagiri.

When it was built, it was the third-largest monument in the world after the two major Egyptian pyramids. Its extensive bulb-shaped outline is not stuccoed, and it is believed that over 90 million bricks were used to make it. An English guide of the early twentieth century estimated that the number was sufficient to build a wall 3 m high and long from London to Edinburgh.

Nearby there are the ruins of a monastery which housed 3,000 monks. One building still has door uprights, more than 8 m high and driven into the ground for 3 m. Once this area was part of a garden called Nandana Uyana, considered the place where Mahinda delivered the first Buddhist sermons in the 3rd century BC

Thuparama Dagoba

Buddhist dagoba (stupa)

In an enchanting wooded area north of the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba stands the Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest sanctuary in Sri Lanka, and probably the oldest dagoba among those still visible in the world. Built by Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, it is said to hold the right collarbone of the Buddha. Following restoration work carried out in 1862, the traditional “pile of rice” shape was replaced by a more

Abhayagiri Museum


Located south of the Abhayagiri Dagoba, this museum is, without doubt, the most interesting of Anuradhapura. Hosts a collection of Turkish baths, jewels, ceramics and sacred sculptures from the site and provides comprehensive information on the numerous monuments of Anuradhapura; there is also a small library.

Samadhi Buddha

Buddha statue

This statue of the Buddha seated in the samadhi (meditation) position dates back to the 4th century. It is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Sri Lanka. When it, was built, it was probably part of a group of four statues placed in the direction of the cardinal points.

Kuttam Pokuna

Twin Ponds

(Twin Ponds) These two pools, similar to swimming pools, were probably used by the monks of the nearby residence of Kaparamula. Water entered the giant tank from the mouth of a Makara (mythological animal with the body of a fish, the mouth of a crocodile and the torso of an elephant) then flowed into the smaller tank through an underground pipe. Note the five-headed cobra near the Makara and the water filtering system at the northwestern end of the containers. “

Eth Pokuna

Largest pond

(Elephant Pond) Surrounded by jungle, this vast pool was probably a cistern to collect rainwater used by the monks of Abhayagiri and not an elephant pool. The dimensions of the tank (159 m long, 53 m wide and 10 m deep) can comfortably accommodate six Olympic swimming pools.



The ruins of a 9th-century monastic residential complex, located to the north-west of the Abhayagiri Dagoba, are noteworthy because they preserve the most beautiful carved moonstone in all of Sri Lanka. Carefully observe its elaborate design and try to identify as many animal species as possible. This peaceful wooded area full of butterflies is ideal for a refreshment stop during the visit to the ruins (there are stalls nearby selling drinks and snacks). Take a look at the picturesque steps decorated with statuettes depicting cheerful Gana (dwarfs).



Much of the Ratnaprasada, or “Palace of jewels”, dating back to the 8th century, is now in ruins but was initially composed of seven floors surmounted by an elegant pagoda roof. The entrance is guarded by beautiful Muragalas (guard stone), which depicts the Cobra King holding a vase of abundance and a flowering branch, with a dwarf attendant at his feet and his head framed by a cobra hood.



(Brazen Palace) The ruins of the “bronze palace”, so-called because the roof tiles were initially made of this alloy, are located near the bodhi tree. The remains of 1600 columns are all that remains of this vast complex which is said to have nine floors and host as many as 1000 people among monks and assistants.
The palace was built by Dutugemunu more than 2000 years ago, but over the centuries has been rebuilt several times, each time in a somewhat less lavish way.

Archaeological Museum


The excellent archaeological museum is composed of several rooms dedicated to the citadel, the outer city, the monastery area (see the model of the monks’ hospital and medical instruments) and finally the Hindu monuments. This last room contains a splendid collection of bronzes, including some beautiful statues of Shiva. Notice the one in which Shiva, surrounded by a halo, performs the cosmic dance on the prostrate body of a dwarf. Taking photographs is not permitted.

What to See and Do in Anuradhapura
Closest landmarks
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Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A Short History:

  • There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lankawith approximately 15,000 monks.
  • Sri Lanka was ruled by 181 monarchs from the Anuradhapura to Kandy periods.
  • Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 236 b.e. (cir. 250 BCE)
  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest tree in the world, and it planted in 249 (2268 years ago) BC
  • Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle includes three major sites that form a triangle. Anuradhapura to the north, Polonnaruwa to the east and Kandy to the south-west. Inside the triangle, there are other places of interest; Mihintale, Ritigala and Dambulla.

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Wonderful 15-day spiritual tour in Sri Lanka, bursting with cultural richness, many stunning historical landscapes and fabulous sacred sites with intriguing history. Commencing from Negombo, you will explore the former capital cities and discover more than 9 amazing ancient monuments and temples, such as: The Sacred City of Anuradhapura (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sigiriya rock fortress (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the incredible stone cave temple in Dambulla, the Ancient Kingdom of Yapahuwa, Arankele Ancient Monastery and the Mysterious Forest Monastery of Ritigala.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka?

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka? Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Sri Lanka, with about 70% of the country’s population as followers.

How many Buddhist temples and monks are there in Sri Lanka?

There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lanka with approximately 15,000 monks.

Did Buddha visit Sri Lanka?

The Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha) first visit was in the ninth month after Buddhahood on Duruthu (January) Full Moon Day.(1 B.E. or 528 B.C.)

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?
Buddhism came to Sri Lanka in the third century BCE. After the Third Buddhist council by Arhanthà Mahinda Thero, son of Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura.

How old is the Buddhist religion?

The religion is 2,500 years old and is followed by 350 million Buddhists worldwide.

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