Five centuries before Christ, Sri Lanka was a land thriving with vitality and a progressive cultured civilization. Cities, palaces, reservoirs, and parks, temples, monasteries, monuments, and works of art all bear testament to this ancient civilization and the subsequent ones that have followed through the centuries.
UNESCO has identified some of these stunning wonders of civilization as "world heritage sites" in this island destination.
Today all these fine monuments of a celebrated heritage are within easy reach driving through spectacular countryside!
By the middle of the 3rd Century BC the fame of the Island's first capital, Anuradhapura had spread to the distant lands of the Mediterranean. The ancient city was said to be a model of planning with hostels and hospitals and a water supply system assured by the construction of reservoirs. In 247 BC Buddhism came to the Island and a permanent home was found. Anuradhapura was to continue as the national capital for over 1300 years up to the 10th Century AD when repeated invasions by Indians and a struggle for royal succession resulted in the capital being withdrawn to Polonnaruwa. Today the monuments of Anuradhura's heyday survive for your admiration, surrounded by the solemn umbrage of trees, scions and of ancient parkland - it is essential viewing!
Mihintale is considered the cradle of Buddhism... just twenty kilometers away. The purity of the white dagoba (or stuppa) a top the hillock is another stunning historic location for pilgrims to pay homage and for tourists to be blessed and cleansed by nature.
135 miles from Colombo and south east of Anuradhapura is Polonnaruwa - the second seat of rule and a medieval capital: 11 - 12th Century. The city in its day was fortified with three concentric walls, beautified with parks and gardens and sanctified by many a shrine and sacred place. The majestic King's Council chamber, the rock cut Lotus Bath, the statue of Parakrama Bahu (one of the great kings) are indeed a testament to the wealth of civilization. The rock-cut sculptures of Gal Vihare (Temple) neatly arranged in the lush garden of nature is perhaps the climax of what was then a kingdom and capital. Partake in an awe inspiring experience if you happen to be visiting this treasure of Temple in the jungle on an evening, when it is the full-moon (Poya day). Thereafter marvel at the creation of the man-made Sea of Parakrama and enjoy the gentle breeze that engulfs the rice fields of the pains... truelly a stunning sight.
Yapahuwa an ancient fortress from the 12th century was one of the capitals of medieval Sri Lanka. The citadel of Yapahuwa lying midway between Kurunagala and Anuradhapura was built around a huge granite rock rising some hundred meters above the surrounding lowlands and was the capital from 1272 to 1284 and kept Sri Lanka's sacred Buddha tooth relic here. Indians from the Pandavan dynasty captured Yapahuwa in 1284 and carried the tooth relic to South India, only for the relic to be recovered in 1288 by King Parakramabahu I. A stunning steep ornamental staircase, lead to the then tooth temple of Lord Buddha. Today the symbolic lion rock statues appear even on the local currency notes.
The last kingdom capital before the British period was Kandy. Known as the Royal City in the Hill Country, Kandy is famed for its magnificent golden roofed temple, (Dalada Maligawa), which houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. The temple is a masterpiece of architecture and frescoes paintings still preserved. Kandy is also known as the home of arts and crafts in Sri Lanka and a visit to the Kandy market is a 'must'! Other features include the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya which is a place of outstanding beauty, a unique Elephant orphanage. In the months of July / August, Kandy prides itself with a glittering and stunning ten-day medieval pageant (also referred as the Kandy festival) takes place with a procession of over a hundred elephants and an array of traditional dancers from the different regions of the island parading the streets paying homage to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Indeed a stunning lifetime experience!
Sigiriya is a fascinating rock fortress which was the stronghold of a fifth century king who sought refuge! With its fresco gallery of heavenly maidens, water gardens and a royal palace on the three acre summit, it is of world-Wide renown. A stroll around the moat admiring nature's gift of lush foliage will indulge the most fastidious visitor to savour the quite serene beauty of a by-gone era.
Twenty kilometers from Sigiriya is Dambulla which is an archaeological treasure. It is a famous rock temple, 500 feet high built by different kings over the years and dating to the first century BC. With its series of spectacular caves and a painted area of over 20,000 sq. ft. of Buddhist murals, Dambulla is perhaps one of the well preserved cave temple where devotees still flock to pay homage to lord Buddha.