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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 5 World Heritage sites in Dambulla – Get to know the stories behind these ancient marvels
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Joanna James Joanna James
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5 World Heritage sites in Dambulla – Get to know the stories behind these ancient marvels

The city of Dambulla is well-known for its scenic landscapes and it's iconic heritage sites that date back thousands of years. Here are the top five to check out on your next trip to the city.

1

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

Also referred to as the golden temple of Dambulla, this heritage site is the oldest persevered cave temple in the country, dating back to early BC. Located 160 metres high atop of a solid rock, the temple complex is made of a series of caves, each one filled with religious and historical treasures that include paintings and stone statues of the Buddha and Hindu gods. There are over 150 of the Buddha murals covering over 2,100 square metres in nearly every cave depict his life story including his first sermon and the temptation by Mara. However, these are just the main caves, there are 80 documented caves spread out in the surrounding area. The cave temple is an active place of worship and does get crowded, especially during the pilgrimage season. To avoid the crowds, head there as early as possible, and remember to cover your arms and legs before you go.

2

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Located a 1.5hrs drive north of Dambulla, the city is situated along the banks of the Malvathu Oya and is the oldest and grandest ancient city in the country. Anuradhapura is world famous for its preserved ruins that include enormous stupas, temples, monasteries, palaces and much more. Founded in the 4th century BC, the city was the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, which during its peak, was one of the greatest and most stable civilisations in South Asia. Today, much of the ruins are open to the public for viewing, and many of the temples are still in use by monks and pilgrims.

3

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The second oldest of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was established in the early 11th century AD by King Vijayabahu I to reunite the country after a series of invasions. The immense size of the city and the urban planning that went into it is amazing to view, and it remains one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the country. The numerous temples in the city still hold great importance to Buddhism, and they were once home to the tooth of the Buddha, a Buddhist relic that holds significant political and religious importance even today.

4

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

This iconic heritage site is plastered on just about every tourism poster, card and magazine you will ever see about Sri Lanka – and with good reason. The ruins of an ancient palace and gardens are 200 metres high on top of the massive rock, which in turn is surrounded by a network of landscaped gardens, moats, fountains and pools. The palace dates back to the 477 – 495 AD and was built by one of the most notorious kings in Sri Lanka's history - King Kasyapa, but the history of rock itself can be traced further back to the 3rd century BC when Buddhist hermits lived in its shadow. A must-see attraction here is the mural of the Sigiriya Asparas – hundreds of women adorned in jewellery and flowers, floating among white clouds. The Sigiriya Rock is located a 30-minute drive out of Dambulla and can even be viewed from several vantage points nearby, like Heritance Kandalama, for example

5

The City of Kandy

The City of Kandy

The capital of the hill county, best known for its rolling hills and royal history, Kandy is another must-see heritage site you don't want to miss in Sri Lanka. Resorts, tea factories, temples, palaces, and forest reserves can all be found just kilometres away from each other in this densely packed hill city. The old royal palace complex is now the current home of the ancient tooth relic and attracts both tourists and pilgrims alike.