I had wanted to write about historical places in Sri Lanka for a long time. But in front of a heap of work and busy schedule I had to keep it postponing. But this time I thought of completing this article because the inquiries for Sri Lanka trips with historical places is increasing day by day. This article is mainly about historical places in Sri Lanka, you might be also looking for some infomation on historical places in Sri Lanka, that’s why you landed on this page, I think. I’m intending to write about only most famous historical places in Sri Lanka. Because. If I try to pack all the historical places in Sri Lanka into this article, I will not be able to complete it within few hours, it might even take years because the number of historical place in Sri Lanka is that much great.
Sri Lanka tourism is thriving in big scale and a number of travellers increasing day by day. Sri Lanka had been primarily a beach holiday destination in the past but now it is branching out into other areas such as eco-tourism, adventure holidays, honeymoon tours, cultural tours etc. I thought this articles cannot be delayed anymore because we get a large number of emails from travellers around the world and making questions like “what are the popular historical places in Sri Lanka”, “what are the historical places we can visit during our Sri Lanka tour” etc.
After having done much of research we have chosen below sites as historical places in Sri Lanka and we discuss only on this few historical places in Sri Lanka because they are most visited historical places in Sri Lanka by travellers in the island. All of them are historically very important but located in different parts of the country. If you wish to visit all of them you need to plan on a 3 days Sri Lanka tour at least. But some of the places such as the tooth relic temple, Dambulla golden cave temple can be visited on a Sri Lanka day tour from Colombo.
If you are intending to explore the historical places in Sri Lanka, the First historical site to explore undoubtedly be Anuradhapura because it is the root of Sri Lankan history. None of the Sri Lanka tours to explore historical sites of Sri Lanka is complete if it does not include Anuradhapura. It was the capital-ruling centre of Sri Lanka for more than thousand years, starting from 3rd century BC. Several historical building such as Ruwanweli Stupa, Thuparama dagoba are in good shape while most of the ancient structures are reduced to ruins. The historical part of Anuradhapura is belonging to the UNESCO world heritage sites. The historical part of Anuradhapura includes prominent landmarks such as Isurumuniya, Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwanweli Stupa, Kuttam Pokuna, many other places and museums.
At the heart of the historical site is Sri Maha Bodhi, which is the oldest documented tree in the world, is considered to be one of the most sacred places for Buddhist in the world. This temple is visited by many thousands of local as well as foreign travellers every day. As per the historical evidence, the Bo Tree was planted at the present site in 2nd century BC. It is believed that there had been many Buddhist around the bo tree in the past. The king had been the guardian of the bo tree as well as Buddhist monasteries.
Around the corner is Ruwanweli Stupa is another important Buddhist monument, it was built by the king Dutugemunu in 2nd century BC. About hundred meters away from Ruwanweli Stupa is the Thuparama Dagoba, which believed to be the oldest Stupa in Sri Lanka and built by King Devanampiyatissa in 2nd century BC. Apart from these three places, there are dozens of important places to visit in this historical site such as Twin pond, Lankarama dagoba, Samadhi Buddha statue, Jetawanarama dagoba, museums, Moonstone …the list is endless and a tour around this historical city of Anuradhapura is one of the most loved guided tours of Sri Lanka.
The three historical places of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy mark corners of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. The cultural triangle of Sri Lanka harbours hundreds of historical places in Sri Lanka and Polonnaruwa is an essential part of it. Polonnaruwa was the second ruling capital of Sri Lankan dynasty and held the role of capital of Sri Lanka for several decades.
The ruins of Polonnaruwa are much younger than the ruins of Anuradhapura, hence the temples, places, hospitals and other monuments in Polonnaruwa is in very good condition compared to the ruins in Anuradhapura. Therefore many tourists opt to visit Polonnaruwa instead of Anuradhapura when they have timing constraints. Parakrama Samudra, The palace of Parakramabahu (12th century), Galvihara with 3 gigantic granite statues (12th century and), Vatadage (12th century) are some of the noteworthy places in this historical site. Don’t forget to step into the historical museum of Polonnaruwa near Parakrama Samudra, this is the best place to have good insight on the glorious historical past of Polonnaruwa.
Sigiriya rock fortress
As one of Sri Lanka’s most visited historical sites, Sigiriya rock fortress welcome nearly about one million tourists every year, and it should be on every traveller’s bucket list, who is fascinated of exploring historical sites during their trips. Sigiriya is another UNESCO world heritage site in the island and its one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The well-planned garden is comprising of swimming pools, palaces, caves, guard rooms, protected wall and a ditch.
Sigiriya rock fortress is dating back to 5th century AD, and it was built by King Kashayapa. The frescoes of Sigiriya is world renowned and shows similarities to paintings at Ajanta caves. The paintings are also dating back to 5th century AD. They were painted using natural colours but they are still very bright and clear. The restoration work of this archaeological site began during the British rule in Sri Lanka (18th century). Still, the excavations and restoration activities are going on at the site under the purview of the archaeological department.
The upward walk on the rock to the lion’s paw and beyond is strenuous but well reworded because the view from the top of the rock is breathtaking. You can have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding jungle area. On top of the rock, there had been a palace (today only the foundation to be seen), which was occupied by the king, few steps away from the palace is the huge pond or a swimming pool.
Dambulla golden cave temple
The Golden cave temple of Dambulla is one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in the island of Sri Lanka. The origin of the ancient temple is going back to 1st century B.C. The temple is situated in Dambulla, which is a modern metropolis in the central province of Sri Lanka. The temple majestically lies on the mountain of Dambulla towards the western slope of the mountain. Dambulla golden cave temple is one of the earliest cave temples on the island and still in very good condition. The temple is comprised of 5 spacious natural caves.
Due to its strategic location on the main route of Jaffna-Kandy (A-9 road) the temple is visited by a large number of local as well as foreign tourists. The temple is managed by the central cultural fund. Dambulla golden cave temple is one of the many important historical sites of Sri Lanka cultural triangle and it is a UNESCO world heritage site, therefore the temple is a part of any multi-day Sri Lanka road trip.
The temple was known as Dambulla cave temple in the early days. In the 12th century, King Nissanka Malla added several Buddha statues and plated them with gold, since then the cave temple is named as Dambulla golden cave temple. The temple is primarily dedicated to Buddhism but Hindu God figures are also can be seen in the temple. The temple is believed to have provided shelter to one of the Buddhist kings known as Walagambahu in the 1st century BC, during a south Indian invasion. It is believed that the king took refuge at the site for 14 years, during this time the king managed to organize his army. Later the king expelled the foreign forces from the country and regained his throne.
When the king took the kingship back from the invaders he created the cave temple of Dambulla and added many Buddha statues. And same times the temple was decorated with beautiful paintings. The temple was renovated many timed by the kings who ruled the country in the later periods, these kings had added many Buddha statues, god figures and repainted the wall and ceiling paintings while renovating the temple. Same times they have added new paintings. Therefore the temple of Dambulla has become the historical temple with the largest concentration of Buddha statues of The island, numbering 150 Buddha statues. Today this cave temple is considered as great antiquarian, an epigraphical and archaeological site in the island.
A large number of beautiful ceiling and wall paintings depicting the life of Buddha can be seen on the inner wall and the ceiling of the caves. A colossal Buddha statue, which is in recumbent position can be seen in the first cave, This Buddha statue is one of the biggest Buddha statues on the island measuring 14 meters long.
The tooth relic temple Kandy
Kandy is one of the most important historical places in Sri Lanka and a must visit place for every traveller. Especially, it is a must visit place for local travellers (Buddhists) due to the presence of tooth relic of Buddha. For foreigners, it is one of the must-visit places as it offers many important places to explore such as tooth relic temple, Pinnawala elephant orphanage, Peradeniya botanical garden, tea plantations etc. Kandy is another UNESCO world heritage site and lies about 500 meters above sea-level.
It was the last kingdom of Sri Lankan monarchy and ruling capital of the island before the British occupation in Sri Lanka (1796). The city has a fascinating blend of historical monuments, colonial buildings as well as modern structures. The landmark building of the temple of the tooth relic (earlier the king’s palace) is the oldest structure in the city, is still in very good shape. There is a large number of buildings built by the British administration in 18’s and all of them are also belong to the old part of the city.
Travellers who venture on a trip to southern Sri Lanka might visit this multi-religious site located towards the southern tip of the island. This is one of the most historical places in Sri Lanka as well as a religious site. It is most popular as a religious site than a historical place. Therefore most visitors of Kataragama temple are Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims who are coming to take part in religious observances. And you don’t encounter many foreign travellers here. If you are a foreign traveller and wish to see the religious aspects of Sri Lankan people, then it is worth visiting this place. Here you can see the true attachment of Sri Lank people to their religion.
Kataragama temple is one of the most historical places in Sri Lanka, which believed to be a place where Buddha visited in 6th century BC. Kirivehera stupa believes to be the place where Buddha meditated as he visited Kataragama. Today Kataragama is most popular due to the Katargama Ddevala, where God Kataragama or God Skanda is worshipped. The god of Kataragama believed to be able to fulfil the wishes of the devotees. A large number of local devotees presents here with a plate of fruit as offering every day.
Seetha Amman temple
Sitting in the central hills of Sri Lanka, Seetha Amman temple is the only historical monument in this list that is directly attributed to Hinduism. Because most historical sites in Sri Lanka are closely related to Buddhism. According to Ramayana Seetha Amman temple is the place, where Seetha was kept by King Ravana when he abducted Seetha (the wife of Rama).
Temple is dedicated to worshipping Seetha alone with other Hindu deities. According to the information, the temple is dating back many decades but the present temple is not more than a decades old. Seetha Amman temple is visited mostly by the Hindu devotees. This is one of the few temples in the world where Seetha is venerated. The temple is included in most Ramayana tours that are been sold to Indian tourists.