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Updated by Joanna James on Aug 13, 2018
Headline for Top 5 religious & Cultural sites to visit in Sri Lanka – take a step back in time
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Joanna James Joanna James
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Top 5 religious & Cultural sites to visit in Sri Lanka – take a step back in time

Sri Lanka is rich not only in natural wonders but in history, culture and religion as well. Here are 5 places of cultural and religious significance in the island nation you should definitely visit!

1

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the centre of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka for centuries and the capital of the Sinhalese people from around the 4th-century BC to 11th-century AD. During this time, Anuradhapura was one of South Asia's most robust and stable hubs of urban life and political power. Surrounded by monasteries covering an area of more than 40km2, Anuradhapura is one of the most sacred places known to the global Buddhist population. There are 8 main sites to visit when in the city, collectively called the 'Atamasthana'. Among these, are the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest known, human-planted, living tree in the world (288 BC); the Ruwanwelisaya an immense stupa more than 330 feet tall; Thuparamaya, the first dagoba built in Sri Lanka; and the Abhayagiri Vihara, a once magnificent monastic centre and today, one of the world's most extensive ruins.

2

Polonnaruwa

The second most ancient city of Sri Lanka's kingdoms after Anuradhapura. Polonnaruwa was made the capital of Sri Lanka in 1070 by King Vijayabahu I. The city today is one of the most beautiful and well-kept in the country and one of its best planned archaeological relic cities. Most of the city's ancient sites are contained within an isolated park, brimming with gorgeous forest trees and shrubbery, and connected via cobbled pathways that are best travelled on bicycles – bicycles are available for hire in the main town. A map to the numerous ruins and information on them can be obtained from the tourist centre.

3

Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a great, ancient rock fortress built by King Kasyapa. King Kasyapa was the bastard son of King Dhatusena who planned a coup in 477 CE, murdered his father, and took the throne. The King's rightful heir Moggallana fled to South India and began to amass an army there to exact his revenge. Meanwhile, Kasyapa, fearing his half-brother's return, moved the capital of his stolen Kingdom from Anuradhapura to the more fortified, Sigiriya Rock. He built a great palace on top of the rock and beautiful gardens on the grounds surrounding it, complete with self-sufficient moats, pools and underground water conduits. Half way up the rock, he constructed a grand entrance to his palace in the shape of an immense stone lion, and he had gorgeous frescoes of women painted on the rock face. It was all for nought, however, as Moggallana came back and defeated Kasyapa in 495 CE. The immensity and magnificence of what Kasyapa built can still be seen today by way of the ruins and relics that still remain.

4

Dambulla Rock

Dambulla Cave Temple located on Dambulla Rock is the largest and most well-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The temple contains numerous intricate murals, covering more than 2,100m2, depicting the life of the Buddha as well as more than 153 beautifully sculpted statues of the Buddha, along with several others of Sri Lankan kings and Hindu gods and goddesses.
These 5 sites are easily accessible and tours are offered by tourist agencies and hotels alike. Even hotels like Pasikuda's Uga Bay, provides tours to Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, as part of their Pasikuda 'things to do' offers, despite being located relatively far from both places.

5

Trincomalee

Trincomalee is a major city situated in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and is home to one of the world's finest and most coveted natural harbours. The city has been one of the main Tamil Speaking hubs in Sri Lanka for more than two millennia and is said to be one of the oldest cities in Asia! Trincomalee has been occupied and used by several different nations over its long history, which has led to its involvement in both the American Revolutionary War and WWII. This history is still imprinted in the town's architecture. Trincomalee is also home to the Koneswaram kovil, a Hindu temple first constructed in 205 BC.

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