Ancient Cities of Sri Lanka

Even though it is geographically a small country in South Asia that is located off the Indian subcontinent’s southern coast,  Sri Lanka is very important country to not only the members of the Buddhism faith but to the entire world history.  The ancient cities of Sri Lanka signify very important dates in the development of the Buddhism faith. Most of these ancient cities were even set up Before Christ (BC) and most of them have been designated by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Before 1972, Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon.  The country has one of the longest histories on earth. Events and developments in the country including the setting up of the oldest ancient cities of Sri Lanka can be traced to about more than 7,000 years ago.  Within or near these ancient cities you will find very many religious and other tourist attractions such as the Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura , Adams Peak, Dambulla Cave Temples, Kandy, Aluvihare Rock Temple, Ritigala and Mihintale among many others.

Most of the attractions are located at close proximity to each within want is now commonly referred to as the Cultural Triangle.  You will see many statues of the Lord Buddha not to mention the caves, temples, shrines, water gardens, places and monasteries.  A visit to these Sri Lankan tourist and religious is more than seeing; it is about discovery and wonderful experience.

The following are some of the popular ancient cities of Sri Lanka


This is one of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka that have been designated as World Heritage sites by the UNESCO.  This ancient city is the oldest and it also serves as a religious attraction.  It is geographically located 128 miles (≈205 km) to the North of Colombo on the Malwatu Oya banks within the Sri Lankan   North Central Province.  It is believed to have been founded about 437 BC by King Pandukhabaya.

If you tour the Cultural Triangle then one of the places that you must visit is the Anuradhapura.  This ancient city served as the royal seat for over 250 Hindu and Buddhist Kings.  It close proximity to the southern region of India enriched it and also encouraged the conversion of the kingdom in to Buddhism.

The 11 the century marked the destruction of one of the oldest ancient cities of Sri Lanka – the Anuradhapura after the invasion by the Rajaraja chola Tamil forces.  After this event, the capital Sinhalese (the then name of the present day Sri Lanka) moved to Polonnaruwa.  After the overthrow of the chola dynasty, various attempts were made to reconstruct this ancient city but it has never attained it former glory.   Tourist and pilgrims from all over the world visit he Anuradhapura not only to see but to learn.


This is one of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka that served as the capital and which have been designated as World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. It is geographically located to the south east of Anuradhapura and 135 miles to the North of Colombo.   After the Anuradhapura- the first ancient capital city was invaded by the Rajaraja chola Tamil forces, the capital of Sinhalese was moved to the Polonnaruwa.

This ancient city was declared as the Sinhalese capital by the famous King Vijayabahu I after he had defeated the Rajaraja chola Tamil forces invasion.  Even though this king was celebrated for his braveness in fighting and defeating the Chola invaders, the Polonnaruwa entered the books of history as one of the popular and important ancient cities of Sri Lanka while under the reign of Parakramabahu I who was the grandson of King Vijayabahu I.

It was during the reign of Parakramabahu I when Polonnaruwa flourished as the centre and hub for agriculture and trade. This King improved the irrigation systems leading to great improvement in the agricultural production. The present day Polonnaruwa is among the Sri Lankan Archeological relic sites that are best planned.


Some people who have visited Sigiriya have termed it as the greatest 8th world wonder. It is among the ancient cities of Sri Lanka that make the best display of the traditional Sri Lankan architectural design.  Some people describe this city as the Asia’s best conserved city centre since the first millennium because its history dates back to about more than 7,000 years ago.  The architecture comprises of water gardens, buildings and gardens and trees, pathways, various levels of radial and axial planning and the fusion of the elements that are symmetrical as well as asymmetrical.

The Sigiriya complex is made up of  central block that  rises 200 meters  above  the  plain that surrounds it not to mention the  two rectangular shaped  precincts that  lie to the  east  and also to the west . These are surrounded three ramparts and two moats. The palace and the city were built between 477 and 495 AD by Kasyapa.

Tourists from the western world know the Sigiriya as one of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka where you will get all sorts of souvenirs.  Within the Sigiriya museum you will also find some of most ancient collections of the pre and post Kasyapan period.


A tour to the ancient cities of Sri Lanka cannot be termed as complete without paying a visit to the Dambulla which is located on a very huge rock that stands about 160 meters above the ground.  This rock has a base perimeter of about 1.5 km and about 550 km in its summit.  These caves acted as the refuge for Vattagamini Abhaya – the King of the Walagamba when he was exiled for 14 years.   Upon his return to power of Anuradhapura, he initiated the building of big rock temple at the Dabulla.   This site has undergone major repainting and repairs in history between the 11th and the 18th century.

In 1991, the UNESCO designated this tourist and religious tourist attraction site as World Heritage Site.  The Dambulla caves have the mixture of secular and religious sculptures and paintings.  In Cave 1 you will see many reclining Buddha’s such as dying Buddha.  The frescoes on the ceilings of the cave depict important moments and events in the history of the modern say Sri Lanka and life of Buddha.  In Cave 2 you will see very many statues that number more that 150. These statues mostly illustrate the influence of Mahayana on the development of the Buddhism religion.


To complete your tour and visit of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka you need to visit the Kandy which is situated about 116 kilometers from Colombo.  The present day Kandy was earlier known as the Senkadagalapura.  Because of its unique geographical location,   it was not very easy to be in invaded and thus it served as the capital for the last generation of the Kings of Sri Lanka until the arrival of the British in 1815.

The Kandy is one of the three most important cities of Sri Lanka the others being Colombo and Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka but the capital is Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. The Colombo City is popular because of its large size and the communication and commerce hub.  the Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is known because its I the allocation of foreign embassies and foreign government missions while the Kandy is known as the  capital of  the rich culture of Sri Lanka as well as the  symbol of the  complex identity  of the nation.

If you want to experience the rich Sri Lankan culture then you should visit Kandy which has been designated as World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.  This tourist and religious attraction site is located at the center of the Sri Lanka Island.