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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Must visit places in Anuradhapura - Ancient wonders of Anuradapura
Joanna James Joanna James
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Must visit places in Anuradhapura - Ancient wonders of Anuradapura

The sacred city of Anuradhapura is made up of ancient royal palaces and monastic complexes. The sheer scale of its remaining ruins and Buddhist stupas is unbelievable and should not be missed.


Abhayagiri Dagoba

This massive stupa, which dates back to 1st century BC, was once the ceremonial centre of focus for over 5000 monks of the Abhayagiri Monastery. At the time of its construction, the Stupa stood over 100m high and was matched in size by only the Egyptian Pyramids. According to an ancient scripture, a statue of a gold bull containing relics of the Buddha was buried in the centre of the stupa. After numerous changes in the Buddhist sect, kings and political upheaval, the stupa eventually was abandoned and fell to ruins, only to be rediscovered again in the 1980s. After several reconstruction efforts, the Abhayagiri Dagoba now stands at 75m above ground. The stupa is visually breathtaking, and the bas-relief that surrounds it is also worth seeing, including one of an elephant pulling up a tree.


Kuttam Pokuna

With so many things to do in Anuradhapura, it's easy to overlook what may seem like mere ponds in passing. However, the Kuttam Pokuna twin ponds feature intricate and elegant designs. Built between the 8th and 10th centuries BC, the ponds contain underwater ducts that empty, filter and fill the pools when needed. The water entered the ponds through the mouth of a "makara", a mythical creature which had the trunk of an elephant, mouth of a crocodile and body of a fish.


Jetavanarama Stupa

The tallest stupa in the world, the Jetavanarama stupa rises majestically over the eastern side of the sacred city. Constructed in the 3rd century, it is said to have stood over 120m tall, but today stands at only 70m. The stupa is unplastered, leaving its 90 million bricks open for all to see. Around the stupa are ruins of a monastery that was once home to 300 monks. One of the structures has door jambs over 8m highs still in place, with a further 3m underground.


Sri Maha Bodhi

The Sri Maha Bodhi is a central part of Anuradhapura and it's here that you'll find the biggest crowds. Said to be the world's most revered tree, it was grown from a cutting of the original tree that Buddha attained enlightenment under in Bodhgaya, India. It is one of the oldest trees in the world and has been tended to devotedly by a succession of caretakers for over 2000 years. Today its many branches are supported by an iron frame and protected by a golden railing covered in colourful prayer flags. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the island visit the Sri Maha Bodhi to leave offerings and meditate. If you are staying at a nearby resort, like Ulagalla, for example, try and visit during the evening when sunset throws a golden hue over the Sri Maha Bodhi.


Isurumuniya Vihara

A monastic complex carved out of solid rock, the Isurumuniya Vihara once housed 500 issira. The issira were the children of noble families willing to dedicate their lives to Buddhism. Once they were ordained, they lived apart from the rest of society. The complex features a giant reclining Buddha, colourful Buddhist paintings, and several large boulders which have carvings of elephants and figurines. Visitors can climb to the top of the highest boulder for a marvellous view over the area.