Anuradhapura is the most historical city in Sri Lanka and dates back to the 3rd century BC. Anuradhapura is located within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and it is included in most Sri Lanka trips. Anuradhapura had been the ruling capital of Sri Lanka for more than a thousand years, today Anuradhapura is a UNESCO world heritage site; for travellers, there are a large number of places to visit in Anuradhapura, however, in this article we discuss several important places to visit in Anuradhapura.

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The historical city of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura united entire Sri Lanka in the third century BC and for more than 1000 years remained as the capital of Sri Lanka subsequently. According to the legend King, Pandukabhaya founded the city. With the collapse of Anuradhapura due to the Tamil invasions the Sri Lankan kings shift their capital to Polonnaruwa, which is located towards the interior of the country from the coastal belt of west Sri Lanka. Today Anuradhapura is one of the most important archaeological sites in Sri Lanka. Many hundreds of Stupas, temples, gardens, palaces and many other ancient structures were scattered throughout the ancient city. With the South Indian invasions, the city was abandoned nature invaded the city subsequently. Most historical buildings were destroyed over the last 2 thousand years, however, many ancient constructions remain well preserved such as the Kuttam Pokuna and moonstone. Kuttam Pokuna remains in its original form for the last 2000 years. Jetawanrama Stupa is another ancient structure showcasing its original shape, its pinnacle is collapsed, however, more than 90% of the old building is intact.

Map of Anuradhapua ancient city

Places to visit in Anuradhapura

The historical site of Anuradhapura is currently the subject of one of the world’s largest and most intensive archaeological research projects. Anuradhapura is a UNESCO world heritage site and the oldest documented city in Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura can be described as an archaeological zoo, where the travellers find many dozens of temples, gardens, palaces and many other ancient constructions. Today Anuradhapura is a popular tourist attraction and is visited by thousands of travellers every day.

Visiting ancient temples in Anuradhapura

The majority of the places to visit in Anuradhapura are closely connected to Buddhism. These ancient structures are remnants of one of the most ancient cultures in teh world and they are lying in solitary in the city of Anuradhapura, in the north-central province of Sri Lanka. The evidence of the advanced culture that existed is very much alive in the form of Dagobas (Stupas), Buddhist temples, Palaces, Gardens, lakes, and other remarkable architecture. Explore the hidden histories of the Eternal City’s extraordinary monuments, from millennia-old ruins to glorious Buddhist temples and Renaissance masterpieces.

Sri Lankan archaeologists have been able to make another useful discovery pertaining to the history of Sri Lanka. The ruins of two thousand years old hospitals were discovered in the historical city of Anuradhapura. The recent discovery is valuable evidence to prove the existence of an advanced healthcare system in ancient Sri Lanka. The hospital is believed to have used Ayurveda medicine…Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

Historical places in Anuradhapura

Visitng Historical places in Anuradhapura is part of almost every Sri Lanak cultural tour. Most foreign travellers include an Anuradhapura city tour in their tour itinerary in order to explore ancient temples and other constructions in the city. Anuradhapura hides many dozens of important historical monuments in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, which include temples, stupas, dagobas, Buddha statues and many more. However, some travellers enquire if is it worth visiting Anuradhapura. The simple answer is YES if you are interested in archaeology and ancient cultures otherwise visiting Anuradhapura may not make any sense to you. So, if you are travellers who love to experience the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka, here are 8 places to visit in Anuradhapura, which are some of the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilisation.

8 sacred places to visit in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is an ancient city with many dozens of important ancient monuments, however, in this article, we discuss only 8 important historical places in Anuradhapura.

  1. Isurumuniya temple
  2. Ranmasu Uyana
  3. The Balustrade ‘Korawakgala
  4. The Guard Stone ‘Mura Gala
  5. Site of the 2000-year-old hospital
  6. Thuparama Dagoba
  7. Twin pond
  8. Elephant Pond (Eth Pokuna)

What are the 8 most sacred places to visit in Anuradhapura?

Atamastana” in Sinhala means eight sacred places. This Atamasthana is located within the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Atamasthana denotes eight sacred places to visit in Anuradhapura. These 8 places are very important Buddhist sacred places and therefore every Buddhist should visit them. Usually, the Anuradhapura city tour includes all the places mentioned in Atamastana. These eight significant icons have close relationships with Sri Lanka’s rich historical past. Many of those religious places still play a significant role in Sri Lankan society. Most of them were built by kings that ruled the country from Anuradhapura Kingdom. Below are the 8 most sacred places in Anuradhapura.

  • Sri Maha Bodi– This is a fig tree that was planted in 288 BC and is considered sacred because it is believed that Buddha achieved enlightenment while meditating under this tree.
  • Ruwanwelisaya-It is a “stupa” that is built by King Dutugamunu and is one of the biggest completed ones to date.
  • Thuparamaya-It is the oldest ‘dagoba’ in Sri Lanka, and possibly the oldest visible one in the world.
  • Lovamahapaya-The significance of this building is that the roof was once covered in bronze tiles.
  • Abhayagiri-It is one of the biggest viharas in Anuradhapura. It was a monastery of 5000 monks.
  • Jethavanaramaya-It is a sacred world heritage site and had accommodated some 3000 monks at the time. It is also quite similar to Abhayagiri.
  • Mirisavetiya-This stupa was built by King Dutugamunu after defeating King Elara.
  • Lankaramaya-This is also built by a king called King Valagamba in the Anuradhapura Kingdom times and is one of the eight sacred places in the city.

Few other useful reading

5 best places to visit in Sri Lanka in one day

12 best places to visit in Sri Lanka in 2 days

15 best places to visit in Sri Lanka in 3 days

Places to visit in Sri Lanka in 4 days

22 places to visit in Sri Lanka in 5 days

Anuradhapura is the most historical city in Sri Lanka and dates back to the 3rd century BC. Anuradhapura is located within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and is included in most Sri Lanka trips. Anuradhapura had been the ruling capital of Sri Lanka for more than a thousand years, today Anuradhapura is a UNESCO world heritage site; for travellers, there are a large number of places to visit in Anuradhapura, however, in this article we discuss several important places to visit in Anuradhapura.

This 10-day private Colombo package includes 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Golden Temple of Dambulla, Galle Fort, and Temple of the tooth relic with Sri Lanka mountain resorts, southern national parks, and western and southern beach resorts.

Isurumuniya Buddhist temple

Your city tour through the historical city starts at Isurumuniya, a temple dedicated to Buddhism. The visitors of the temple should climb up the steps to reach the highest point in the temple. It was a bit tiring but very rewarding as it allows you to have a spectacular view of the historical site. Isurumuniya is one of the oldest sites in Anuradhapura and it dates back to the 2nd century BC. The temple has a beautiful image house with granite Buddha statues from the early time of the temple. Part of the temple is modern. The museum of the temple houses very rare and valuable artefacts found in the city during the excavation. The stone granite sculpture of lovers (presume ably Saliya and Ashokamala) is to be found in the museum. The temple is still visited by a large number of Buddhist devotees and the monks help the devotees with day-to-day religious activities.

Sri Maha Bodhi, Sacred Bo tree

Few hundred meters from Isurumuniya is the sacred Bo-tree known as “Jaya shri Maha Bodhi”, which is considered one of the most sacred places for Buddhists. The giant Bo-tree (ficus religiosa), is a sampling of the Bo-tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The sapling was brought to the island in the 2nd century BC and planted in Anuradhapura, then the capital of Sri Lanka. Sri Maha Bodhi is one of the “Atramastana” or 8 sacred places in Anuradhapura.

Ruwanweli stupa

Right behind the sacred Bo-tree is Ruwanweli Stupa or Ruwanweli Stupa. It is one of the most important monuments in Anuradhapura and one of the “Atamasthana”, most sacred places in Anuradhapura. The history of the colossal brick building goes back to 2nd century BD and is believed to be constructed by King Dutugemunu. Dome shaped building is a reliquary and it has a spacious open area around the main body. The entire complex is surrounded by an elephant wall. On the left side of the main entrance of the Stupa is a statue of King Dutugemunu, who founded the Stupa. Right next to the statue of King Dutugemunu is the image house with many Buddha statues.

Thuparama Stupa

Thuparama Stupa is considered one of the oldest Stupas in Sri Lanka, dating back to the 3rd century BC. The small yet historically important dome-shaped building was constructed by King Devanampiyatissa, the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka. The Stupa was originally built of clay and was covered by a roof. Today the main part of the roof is collapsed and colossal granite columns that were bearing the roof are still standing around the Stupa.

As you drive deep into the historical city of Anuradhapura, passing Thuparama Stupa, you will pass Lankarama Stupa; reach the main part of the ancient Kingdom, where the king lived. The ruin of the King’s palace can be witnessed along the way. It was believed to be the centre of Public and political life of the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

Isurumuni Lovers: places to Visit in Anuradhapura

Isurumuniya is ranked among the most important places to visit in Anuradhapura and is included in most Sri Lanka tour itineraries. The stone sculpture of Isurumuni lovers is one of the most striking artefacts on the island and it is now exhibited at the Museum of Isurumuni Vihara, Anuradhapura. Even though it is located in the Museum of Isurumuni and called Isurumuni Lovers, this fine piece of sculpture has no relationship with the temple.

This stone sculpture is considered one of the most exquisite artworks of ancient Sinhalese artisans. Even though today it is residing at the Museum of Isurumuni, it was discovered at Ranmasu Uyana, the pleasure garden of the king. Therefore, this sculpture is considered to have no religious significance. The royal park was located adjoining the Isurumuni Vihara.

Archaeologists are indifferent opinions with regard to the subject of the sculpture. Some scholars believe it to be Prince Saliya (the son of great king Dutugemunu) and his wife, Ashokamala. The romantic story of the duo is well-known in the history of Sri Lanka. According to historical information, price Saliya, a legitimate successor of the kingship had sacrificed his throne by marrying an outcaste beautiful lady.

Well-known writer Martin Wickramasinghe described the sculpture as a refined piece of erotic sculpture in his book ‘Buddhism and Art’. He further elaborates it to be lovers. According to Mr Wikramasinghe, the gesture of the man’s head (raised shoulder touching the head) is known as ‘nihancita mudra’ denoting the pleasure of seeing the beloved.

He opines that the man could be a soldier, based on the dress and the sword and the shield behind the figures. Therefore the sculpture may represent a soldier and his wife before the departure of the soldier or after his arrival from duty.

Another group of artisans believes it to be the God Shiva with his wife Parvati. Some believe it to be ‘Bodhisatwa Manjusri’, the symbol of wisdom. The figure a man is carrying a sword on his shoulder, which is believed to be a symbol of wisdom. Today, this sculpture is well known throughout the region as a masterpiece of aesthetic beauty from the early days of Sri Lankan civilization.

Ranmasu Uyana: Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

Ranmasu Uyana is located adjoining Tisa wewa (reservoir) in Anuradhapura. It was used as the pleasure garden of the king and dates back more than 2000 years. The well-planned garden was spreading over 40 acres of land. It showcases some important factors of gardening and urban planning in the days of the pre-Christian era. The garden was located on a rocky outcrop and huge boulders were carefully used to enhance the natural beauty of the garden.

The granite stones were extensively used for other constructions such as pillars and seating places in the garden. There are three ponds in Ranmasu Uyana and all of them are completely constructed by using nicely carved stone slabs. The water for the bathing ponds was supplied from the nearby Tissa wewa.

The water was directed through the underground canal system and there had been a mechanism to filter the water before pouring it into the ponds. Ranmasu Uyana is believed to be the spot, where Saliya and Ashokamala frequently met.

Anuradhapura is the most ancient city in Sri Lanka and 2nd most historical city in Sri Lanka is Polonnaruwa. Both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa offer many dozens of important historical monuments such as temples, stupas, dagobas, palaces, Buddha statues, lakes, garden ponds and many more.

The Balustrade ‘Korawakgala’: Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

The balustrade is one of the prominent architectural works of every Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. Usually, all Dagobas and image houses are built on an elevated platform. Most of the time, the Bo-tree another important part of the temple is also planted on a raised platform. A flight of steps, from all major directions (North, East, West, and South) leads the devotees to the sacred area.

The flights of steps are very artistically done with intricating carvings. Flights of steps at temples are made of durable materials such as granite and cement due to the frequent direct exposure to rain wind and sun. The two balustrades or better known as ‘Korawakgal’ are flanking the two sides of the flight of steps. The architectural work of the balustrade resembles the mythical animal Dragon or ‘makara’.

The Guard Stone ‘Mura Gala’: Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

Two stone slabs with beautifully carved upright figures and floral designs, which are at the lower end of the flight of steps of sacred areas, are known as the guard stones or Muragala. One of the most common figures in the guard stone is known as naga-raja. It has a figure of a king (raja) and a cobra (naga) hood; therefore it is called Naga-raja or king of the Nagas.

According to the Sinhalese culture, the cobra is given a prominent place as a living being, which is entrusted with protecting valuables and important places. The two guard stones at the entrance of Abhayagiri show many differences from the orthodox guard stones found on the island.

Two guard stones are known as Sanka and Padma the guards of Kuvera. The gourd stone with a figure and a conch shell on its head is known as Sanka and the figure with a lotus flower on the head is known as the Padma.

As the name suggests Guard Stones is functioning as protectors of the place, where they reside. It keeps malicious forces away from the property. On one hand of the figure is a pot of flowers and it is a symbol of the prosperity of the site. Guard stones are mostly found in religious places but they may occur in palaces and other constructions aimed at the royal family.

Simply Sri Lanka 8 Days Private Tour with Luxury Accommodation- This eight-day private tour takes you to the most important tourist places on the island such as Sigiriya rock, Dambulla golden temple, and the tooth relic temple of Kandy, the national park of Udawalawe. Towards the end of the trip, you will be anchoring on the empty beaches of Mirissa.

Ayurveda Hospital: ruins of a 2000-year-old hospital

Sri Lankan archaeologists have been able to make another useful discovery pertaining to the history of Sri Lanka.  The ruins of two thousand years old hospitals were discovered in the historical city of Anuradhapura. The recent discovery is valuable evidence to prove the existence of an advanced healthcare system in ancient Sri Lanka. The hospital is believed to have used Ayurveda medicine.

Earlier an Ayurveda hospital that dates back more than 2000 years was discovered in the historical city of Mihintale, near Anuradhapura. The recent discovery is made near one of the oldest dagobas in the country, known as Thuparama, in Anuradhapura. Archaeologist opines that the initial constructions of the hospital started in the 3rd century BC.

The hospital had been well planned and was consisting of medical rooms, treatment rooms, spas, and separate rooms for the production of medicine. The equipment used for the preparation of medicine such as grinding stones and knives was also discovered at the site.

There is a well-laid latrine among the discoveries. Recently ruins of another hospital of similar age were discovered at the Anuradhapura Maha Vihara Temple complex. The site is under excavation at the moment, under the supervision of the archaeological department.

Thuparama: places to visit in Anuradhapura

Thuparama is a dagoba found in the historical city of Anuradhapura. Thuparama was built in the 3rd century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. King Devanampiyatissa was the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka. The teaching of Buddha was introduced to the island from India in the 3rd century BC, and since then, Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka.

According to the information the site of the Dagoba was selected by unseen forces. It is said that, when the collarbone relic was transported over the site, the elephant, which was carrying the relic stopped and could not be moved. Then the king decided to build the Dagoba at the same spot where the elephant stopped.  Once the relic was removed from the animal, it started to move.

Thuparama is the oldest such construction in the historical city of Anuradhapura. The Dagoba is about 65 feet in height and 60 feet in diameter at the base, which is smaller than most leading tourist attractions such as Jetawanarama or Ruwanweliseya.

Thuparama is located in the historical city next to Ruwanweliseya. The travellers need to go about 200 meters in the north-ward direction from Ruwanweliseya to reach Thuparama. Next to Thuparama dagoba is another tourist attraction of Anuradhapura, known as Basawakkulama or Abhaya wewa, which is one of the oldest man-made reservoirs in the country.

The name “Thuparama” originated from the Pali language and it can be divided into two words, “Thupa” and “Arama”.  Arama denotes the garden or park according to Pali and Thupa means stupa. Like most historical temples such as Jetawanarama, Veluwanarama, Thuparama was also located in a garden.

Historians believe due to this fact it was named Thuparama. Dagoba had been a part of a large monastery complex and it was called Thuparama. However, the rest of the monastery is slowly diminished over the last several hundred years. As nothing much of the monastery was to be found, people started to apply the name “Thuparama” to the dagoba. The stupa was built in the shape of a paddy heap and the right collar bone of Buddha is deposited in the dagoba.

The Dagoba reside on a circular elevated platform. There had been four concentric granite stone pillars all around dagoba, supporting a roof. This type of architecture (circular building protecting a dagoba) is known as Cetiyagara. 

Today Cetiyagara is not to be found anymore and what is left of Cetiyagara are several stone pillars with beautiful, intricate stone carvings. There had been 48 stone pillars in the outermost row of the four concentric stone pillars. The pillars were decorated with beautiful stone carvings. Some of the stone carvings depicting figures of animal, human and floral designs can be seen even today.

Twin pond: a unique well that addresses the water shortage. The twin pond is one of the most attractive tourist places to visit in Anuradhapura. The pond is built by ancient engineers in such a way that it addresses the water shortage due to the prolonged drought in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.

Places to visit in Anuradhapura: Twin pond

This unique well is among the least popular Anuradhapura ancient places, which is an architectural invention of ancient engineers of Sri Lanka. The twin pond or Kuttam pokuna in the native language dates back to the Anuradhapura period (3rd Century BC to 11th century AD), and the exact dates of its construction are the ancient ponds. These twin ponds are considered to be an ingenious solution for the water shortage during the dry season in the region.

Concealed from the plain sight, a few minutes away from the newly emerged bustling city of Anuradhapura, the commercial hub of North-central province is the Anuradhapura ancient city, popular far and wide in the world for its crumbling historical monuments. However, I have great doubt about the popularity of twin ponds in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, because it seems like just another ordinary well with steps and rarely gets the attention of visitors. This ancient landmark is overlooked by many travellers due to the other major attractions such as Jetawanarama, and Ruwanweliseya, which are much larger than the twin ponds and have more religious significance.

The unique architecture of the twin pond

Twin ponds have a unique architectural design that was an ingenious answer to the water shortage in the area during the dry season. Anuradhapura kingdom is in the heart of Sri Lanka’s dry zone, where the perennial water resources dry out during the dry season. To make it worst rain is also seldom during this period. As the perennial, water resources deplete and the rain does not contribute considerably to the water level of water storage (tanks, lakes, and rivers) in the region sinks.

Creating enormous twin ponds deep below ground, helped the monks, who used these ponds to access the groundwater level even during the prolonged drought. The depth of the ponds is 18 feet (6 meters), making it possible to tap into the groundwater table, therefore this step-well has a year-round water supply, even after many centuries of its inception. As you stand on top of the flight of steps going deep down into the earth at Anuradhapura, you can see the thick forest and the crumbling historical monument in the backdrop, remembering that you are in the most historical archaeological site on the island.

Places to visit in Anuradhapura: Elephant pond (Eth Pokuna)

Abhayagiri monastery complex is one of the biggest monasteries that existed on the island and it was spreading over 500 acres. There are large numbers of important historical places in the Abhayagiri monastery complex that are coming under the radar of its visitors such as Abhyagiri Stupa or dagoba, Samadhi Buddha, Twin pond, Moonstones and guard stones but the Elephant pond is rarely visited by the devotees.

Elephant pond or Eth Pokuna is one of the biggest ponds in the sacred city of Anuradhapura and it is one of the important places belonging to the Abhayagiri monastery complex. The Elephant pond had been the bathing place for five hundred minks living in the Abhayagiri monastery. The huge pond is 900 feet deep and the water was directed to the pond from the nearby tank known as Periyakulam Tank. The rectangular pond is 158 meters long and 52.7 meters wide. The maximum capacity of the water that can be stored here is 75000 cubic meters. It is said that there was a water filtration system to purify the water before it falls into the pond.   The pond is equipped with 3 flights of stairs on the northern side, eastern side and southern end enabling the monks to reach the water’s surface.

The weather pattern in Anuradhapura

According to the weather pattern, there is an acute shortage of water in the dry zone of Sri Lanka from November to April due to the lack of rain. The archaeologist believes that the weather pattern we have today shows a lot of similarities to the weather pattern that existed during the Anuradhapura period, ancient people also had to find a solution for the water shortage during the dry season.

Advanced water management installed by the Sri Lanka kings in the past

On account of this phenomenon, the ancient Kings installed thousands of lakes across the northern dry zone of Sri Lanka, in order to collect water during the rainy season (monsoon season). The collected water was subsequently served to the people under the stringent control of officials. A labyrinthine of canals built by ancient kings dating back to the 3rd century BC is still serving the people of the dry zone, and they are the lifeblood of farmers in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.

Jetawanarama dagoba of Anuradhapura is a part of Jetawanarama monastery complex. Jetawanrama spreads over a large area, where travellers find stupas, dagobas and many Buddha statues. Keep your attention on Sri Lanka temple rules such as the dress code when visiting Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.

Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

The Number of Anuradhapura ancient places exceeds many thousands and the old city expands over a large area. Anuradhapura is an archaeological zoo with hundreds of thousands of historical monuments and a twin pond is one of them.

The step-wells are to be found very commonly in north India, and some other parts of western Indian states. However, they originated during the medieval period and the twin ponds of Anuradhapura are much older than the Indian step-wells. The twin pond primarily served the temple monks and it was not for the purpose to serve the general public, therefore it was a temple tank.

There are a few differences between the step-wells of India and the twin pond of Sri Lanka such as decorations, twin pond is lavishly decorated but most Indian ponds are basic and not decorated. The flight of steps of the twin pond is lavishly decorated with niches, stone sculptures and arches, floral designs, and animal figures.

Even though the concept behind the step-wells seems to be similar in both countries, in the Sri Lankan case, it is much more complicated and more advanced. The Indian step wells solely depend on the groundwater level in order to fill the pond but at twin ponds, the ancient engineers installed an underground terracotta pipe to direct water to the pond from the nearby tank. The water which was coming in the direction of the pond was directed to a tank before it fills the step-well, thereby all the residue that mixed with the water settled in the tank before receding to the well and only the clean water flows into the pond.

The twin pond of Anuradhapura is the oldest and most well-known stepwell on the island. The twin pond is still in very good shape even after about 1500 years. The twin pond was built for the use of monks of Mahavihara and it was a part of the temple complex and was abandoned when the capital of Sri Lanka was moved to Polonnaruwa from Anuradhapura in the 11th century AD.

After many centuries of disuse, it was discovered during the excavation in the old city. Today the twin pond is one of the very valuable artefacts that show the architectural and engineering skills of ancient people and it is clever and sophisticated engineering, could be relevant again today, because Sri Lanka’s dry zone faced the spectra of drought over the past few decades.