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Anuradhapura is situated on the north central of Sri Lanka which is 201 km from Colombo. It was the capital of Sri Lanka from 4th century BC to the beginning of 11th century AD.
Anuradhapura, Ptolemy’s Anouragrarnmon, is believed to have been founded about 440 BC by King Pandukabhya, ancestor of King Tissa. It is named after the star Anuradha, which in Indian astrology is a divinity of light corresponding to the Iranian god Mithra. The modern town, which has developed only since the beginning of this century, lies to the south-east of the ruins, near Lake Nuwara, which was formed in the 2nd century AD.
All over the site are tanks (artificial ponds) and canals attributed to the earliest Sinhalese kings. The Basavak Kulam and Bulan Kulam are thought to date from the foundation of the city; the Tissa Wewa was formed by King Tissa; and the Nuwara Wewa and Puliyan Kulam are dated to the early centuries AD. At its apogee the city is said to have been surrounded by walls with a total extent of not less than 80 km; and more than 1000 men were employed for the maintenance of the streets alone. The ruins of the city, which was several times abandoned, were miraculously preserved by the vegetation until, only half a century ago, British architects carried out the first excavations. Part of the area still remains to be excavated.
Tour of the Ruins
The ruins lie in an extensive park, with numerous streams, water channels and tanks. As they pick their way about the site, visitors never lose their awareness of the nearby forest.
The following itinerary, which takes in the main features of the site, starts from the (1) Tissa Wewa resthouse, a colonial style building, with its marquee of portico and large balcony gives an arboretum. In the immediate vicinity of the rest-house, to the north, near the Basavak Kulam and a tank, is the (2) Mirisavati Dagaba, considered as one of the most prominent landmarks of the sacred city. It is the first stupa built by Datta Gamundi (100 BC) but now much reduced in size following its restoration by Kassyapa V one of the last kings of Anuradhapura.
On south along the shores of the lake, is an area known as the (3) Royal Pleasure Gardens or the Park of Goldfish. The gardens serve as an eloquent testimony of ancient Sri Lankans landscape architectural skills. (4) The Isurumuniya Gala a rock-cut temple dating from the time of Tissa. It is one of the most interesting temples on the site. To the right of the entrance is a small tank, behind which is a rock face with carved figures of grotesque dwarfs and elephants, one of them with its trunk raised in a rather jaunty attitude. The most interesting carving is a figure of a seated horseman, with the head of his mount appearing behind his right arm. To the left of the entrance is a slab with a pair of lovers (no doubt a god and goddess). On either side of the staircase are the usual figures of Nagas (snake spirits). Inside the temple are a seated figure of the Buddha and some pieces of carving. The temple is probably the oldest in Sri Lanka, although the experts are uncertain of its exact date; it was apparently altered at some time between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD.
Farther south is the (5) Vessagiriya (Mountain of Wisdom), a huge rock monastery in a series of caves among large erratic boulders, which in the days of Anuradhapura’s greatness accommodated more than 500 monks.
From here to the north, passing on the right is the (6) Dakhina Dagaba this is placed in which Buddha meditate after having left his footprint on Sripada, and then come to the (7) Sacred Bodh Gaya, the shrine of the sacred Bo-Tree. A slip from the pipal tree under which Siddartha Gautama received Enlightenment, was solemnly brought to Ceylon by Sanghamitra (or Sanghamitta), daughter of King Ashoka and a Buddhist nun; and the tree, or its descendant, still survives, an object of veneration for the past 2,300 years. It is surrounded by an imposing wall (built in the 18th century to protect the tree from elephants) and by some rather unsightly buildings. Even when the rest of the city was buried in the jungle this shrine, known as Sri Maha Bodh Gaya, was still frequented by the faithful.
(8) The Peacock Palace is a monastery with pillars topped by carved capitals and a moonstone. Near it is the (9) Museum, containing much material of archaeological and historical interest; various publications relating to the lost cities of Ceylon can be bought here. To the east of the Museum is the (10) Brazen Palace or Loha Prasada, a forest of pillars, some of them now rather off the vertical, which is all that remains of the building of seven-storey mentioned in the Mahavamsa. The upper storeys were of wood, the roof of copper sheet. The palace is believed to date from the reign of King Datta Gamundi (100 BC).
(11) The Ruvanveliseya was also built by Datta Gamundi to celebrate his victory over the Tamils. It has been restored several times, and in its present form reflects the ideas of the architects who rebuilt it about 1930. Its tall pointed cone, 102 m high, ends in a block of rock crystal. The base has a rather monotonous carved decoration consisting of a procession of elephants in which only the forequarters of those are seen. Four vahalkadas are seen on the four cardinal points of the dagaba which have maintained some very old sculptures.
To the north is the (12) Thuparama, Anuradhapura’s oldest dagaba (thupa means stupa), built by King Tissa to house the shoulder-blade of the Buddha presented by Ashoka. The last restoration dated back in 19th century. The base, without carving, has a triple ring of monolithic pillars 2,000 years old. It is a vatadage, a circular temple designed for a ritual in which worshippers walked ceremonially round the shrine. The pillars may have supported a roof of light construction, but it is thought that they were probably intended to bear garlands and lanterns, particularly for the ceremonies celebrating the Enlightenment.
To the east is the (13) Jethavanaramaya, one of the most imposing monuments on the site, more than 80 m high and 340 m in circumference at the base. It was built by Maha Sena about 340 AD for a Mahayana community, and bears the name of the principal monastery founded by the Buddha himself, at Jethavana in northern India. (Aramaya means monastery). Nearby is the legendary site of the (14) tomb of Ellara, the Tamil king who was defeated and killed in 101 BC.
There is also (15) a group of unidentified ruins within the area. Then to the north of these various buildings is the (16) Mahapali or Alms Hall, built by Tissa, with a number of carved pillars and a stone trough which held the rice given to the bikkhus (mendicant monks). Nearby is a very wide ancient well which granite steps lead down to the water. To the north-east are the ruins of the first (17) Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa, dated to the 4th century AD, with beautiful carved capitals.
From here to the west, passing the ruins of a building called the (18) Gedige. Here, a unique carnelian seal was discovered in 1979. North of this is an ancient monastery, the (19) Nakha Vihara, a square- shaped stupa built of bricks. A few hundred metres north of this is an eight foot high imposing statue of the Buddha seated in the posture of ecstasy (samadhi), (20) the Samadhi Buddha. 500 m west of this figure is the (21) Lankarama or Garden of Lanka, a dagaba built by King Vattagamini Abhaya about 50 BC to mark the spot where he found refuge from five Tamil chiefs who had invaded the capital. This squat structure of modest size is a vatadage, surrounded by a triple ring of pillars with carved capitals.
At the north end of the site, towering over the present monastery, is a high mound on which stands the (22) Abhayagiri, the largest among the five viharas in the Anuradhapura Kingdom. This monastery was founded in second century BC by King Vattagamin Abhaya.
To the east of the Abhayagiri are the (23) ruins of what may have been a palace. Beyond this, in a large stretch of grass under some granite crags, is the (24) Kuttam Pokuna or Twin Bath, edged with dressed stone decorated with carvings. The ponds are separated by garden and surrounded by a magnificent wall. To the west of the Abhayagiri is a group of ruins known as the (25) Ratna Prasada, the Queen’s Palace or Elephant Stables. This building, with its huge pillars, its guardian spirits at the doorway and its moonstone, may well have been a royal palace.
Aside from this there are other ruins which cover the kingdom a few to mention are: the western monasteries, with carved panels in the lavatories; the Pubbaramaya (ruins of a monastery);the Tissa Pabata, a temple, situated near a bath, the Katta Kaduwa Pokuna; and the ruins of a monastery at Toluvila, near the station. A statue of the Buddha, now in the Colombo Museum, was found here.
Sigiriya, the Lion Rock (alt 363 m), can be seen from a distance of many kilometres, an impressive tabular crag of gneiss rising sheer above the forest like a vessel riding the waves. The top is more than 200 m above the surrounding trees. Kassyapa’s relentless energy, intrepid of a parricide and usurper pursued by heaven, half-brother and many of his subjects leads to the transformation this eagle’s eyrie into an impregnable citadel. There is some difference of view about the exact date when Kassyapa built his citadel, though it was around the end of the 5th century AD. The historians date his reign either to 477-495 or to 495-512, depending on which of two possible chronological systems they prefer.
Long before it became Kassyapa’s capital Sigiriya was regarded as a sacred place where ascetics had their abode. Inscriptions found on the site have been dated to the 2nd century BC. It was not until the end of the 5th century AD, however, that the rock received the name of Sigiriya.
The liberator King, Dhatu Sena, had two sons. The elder, Kassyapa, born of a concubine of humble origins, was a bold and resolute prince; the younger, Mogallana, the son of a wife of high rank, was delicate and hesitant. Unexpectedly, the king designated the younger son as his successor: whereupon Kassyapa, feeling unjustly supplanted – and moreover enjoying the support of his uncle, the king’s general threw his father into prison and withdrew into the forest, where he established a new capital, while Mogallana fled to southern India. When Dhatu Sena refused to reveal where his riches were hidden Kassyapa had him killed. This was the beginning of a long period of civil war in northern Ceylon, during which the new king established an extraordinary new capital on the summit of the Lion Rock. This stronghold was never taken by an enemy, but after a reign of 18 years Kassyapa, tiring of the fratricidal struggle and, it is said, stricken with remorse, decided to submit himself to a kind of trial by ordeal; and in a battle to the death at the foot of the rock he was defeated by Mogallana, who had gained the support of some of the Tamil rulers. Tradition has it that Kassyapa committed suicide when he saw that he had lost the final battle.
The new king gave the accursed place to his great-uncle Mahanama, a monk who lived as a hermit eight leagues away near Lake Kalaweva. Mahanama established a monastery in the caves at the base of the rock, a centre of monastic studies at which part of the Mahavamsa was compiled.
Visitors who are pressed for time often see no more than the Lion Rock itself and the mass of boulders which defend the approach to it, paying no attention to the fortified town, which covered an area of some 70 hectares.
The site of the town extends for a distance of some 1300 m from east to west. It consisted of two districts separated by a tumble of erratic boulders and by the central rock which bore the citadel. To the west was the aristocratic quarter, with military and residential buildings set amid carefully laid out gardens and tanks, covering an area of some 40 ha. Excavation has revealed the foundations and sub-structures of the buildings, enclosed within a double circuit of ditches and brick-built ramparts. In the central area the boulders have been left where they were and fitted into the layout and all over the site erratic blocks have been left undisturbed when they did not interfere with the general plan nor had a defensive function: if the terms were not so anachronistic, it might be said that the planners of the town had tried to create a kind of garden city in a landscaped park. To the east, under the vertical face of the Lion Rock, was the working class district, covering 19 hectares, occupied by the ordinary people who built the splendid royal capital. Since their houses were of simpler construction they have left no visible traces on the surface, and this part of the town has not yet been systematically explored.
Entering the site from the west, are the ditches, the second of which is 4 m deep and 25 m wide. After passing close to the remains of guard-rooms, is the Royal Road which leads to the Lion Rock. At the north and south ends of a rectangular area measuring 175 m by 110 m are the remains of houses, with baths or pools at the four corners. The path leads between two areas covered with ruins and surrounded by ditches into a small open space with baths round the sides, one of them (at the north-east corner) being octagonal in shape.
Scattered about in the tumble of boulders, which is traversed by a maze of little paths, are a variety of structures hewn from the rock cisterns, a bath, a pulpit, seats, a kind of audience chamber with a rock-cut divan, etc. At the foot of the Lion Rock sometimes difficult to locate are some 20 caves or rock shelters which have been used for human habitation. In these more than 680 graffiti have been recorded, most of them dating from the 5th to the 13th century but some of them from before the Christian era.
Sigiriya’s main attraction for most visitors, however, lies in its frescoes, which are thought to be roughly contemporary with the famous Indian paintings at Ajanta (Maharashtra). The Sigiriya paintings, unlike those at Ajanta, are genuine frescoes, painted on a fresh plaster coating, and they are superior to the Ajanta paintings in the vigour of their draughtsmanship and the brightness of their colouring, with its rather vaporous tones. They are in an astonishingly good state of preservation, after more than 15 centuries exposure to the ravages of time and weather.
The frescoes are painted in recesses on the west face of the rock, known as the Mirror. They have no narrative content and cannot be interpreted as illustrating any connected mythological tales: they appear, indeed, to reflect a purely aesthetic delight in beauty, a series of variations on the female form.
It is difficult to be sure about the role or social status of the 21 figures represented, although it has been suggested that those with a light complexion are princesses and the darker-skinned figures their attendants. The figures are life-size, but are represented only as far down as the hips, which are draped in brightly coloured loincloths, so that they appear to be emerging from celestial clouds. They are bare-breasted or covered only with a transparent veil. These strikingly beautiful figures, painted in a style of great purity and with a total lack of affectation or artificiality, are among the masterpieces of world art. We can only speculate on their identity perhaps princesses from Kassyapa’s harem, or the apsaras who are the Indian equivalents of nymphs, or cosmic divinities personifying natural phenomena like lightning or storm, or merely imaginary figures reflecting Kassyapa’s dreams of female beauty.
Those who have seen the fury of the monsoon beating against the Lion Rock can readily believe that the figures represent cosmic divinities and were painted to propitiate these formidable powers. It seems clear in any event that they must have been painted for gods rather than men; for at the time they were painted they could not be seen by ordinary people as we can see them today. We cannot but marvel at the skill of the engineers who built up the dizzy framework of scaffolding and wooden gangways which enabled the artists to do their work on these inaccessible rock faces.
The paintings can now be reached by climbing up a spiral metal staircase, but the narrow gangway which runs along in front of them is too close to the frescoes to afford a proper view of the general effect or to allow visitors to photograph them. The best plan, therefore, is to look at the reproductions in the Colombo Museum or to obtain the UNESCO publication on the frescoes.
The Lion Rock
After seeing the frescoes we come down again to the gallery which runs along the west face of the rock and provides the only means of access to the top. This leads to the so-called Place of the Bees on the north face. Here there is a metal cage, installed by the first archaeologists working on the site to provide protection for 4 or 5 people against attack by a swarm of wild bees. It is situated at the south-west corner of the platform (33 m by 65 m), which is also known as the Lion Plateau. From here there is a magnificent view of the forest, and there are in fact very few bees, for at this altitude (over 300 m) the winds blow strongly, so that the Rock feels rather like an island set in a storm-tossed sea.
To reach the top (363 m) it is necessary to be fit and active and to have a good head for heights. Iron railings and ladders are provided to supplement the steps cut in the rock, but it is still a stiff climb. The summit of the Rock, with an area of about 1 1/2 hectares, is like a dead city, with its ruined palaces, its temples, its cisterns and its large sacred bath.
At first glance the site is a mere huddle of unidentifiable ruins-bare foundations or a few sparse remains of buildings built on a series of terraces at different levels, so that the exploration of the remains means going up and down many flights of steps amid the ruins. The site presented the archaeologists with many problems and puzzles, and it is not easy to establish the function of all the various buildings. There is general agreement about the identification of the Royal Palace, with its easily recognisable baths, cisterns and ritual basin. Facing the rising sun is a magnificent throne hewn from the rock, a kind of divan protected by a roof.
The whole site, with its evidence of a vast expenditure of labour and resources, conveys a powerful impression of the grandeur and also of the fragility of this human enterprise which was to endure for barely more than a decade.
From the top there is, of course, a magnificent wide-ranging view in all directions. To the east, 10 km away beyond a great expanse of forest, is the Ehakulawewa ridge of hills (392 m); to the south is the Erawalagala massif (700 m); and below, to the west, is the regular layout of the lower town.
Surroundings of Sigiriya
Visitors staying in the Sigiriya rest-house, looking on to the Lion Rock, will be able to explore other ancient sites in the surrounding area: 500 m from the Rock, 10 minutes walk east of the rest-house, is the hill of Mapagala (245 m), with ancient ramparts built of large blocks of stone enclosing the remains of buildings which have not been identified but are thought to date from the time of Kassyapa.
2 km from Sigiriya is the hill of Piduragala (320 m), with the ruins of a monastery, a deep cave with half effaced wall paintings and the figure of a sleeping Buddha 13 m long. Nearby are the remains of a small dagaba and of a hall with 40 monolithic pillars 3 m high.
12 km south, in the foothills of the Erawalagala range, is the site of Nuludinapokuna, 2 km from Nikawatawana. The whole region is strewn with the remains of ancient buildings situated near ruined tanks, bearing witness to of the extend cultivation in earlier times. Altogether Sigiriya and the surrounding area are very interesting that if a visitor would only see one ancient site in Sri Lanka Sigiriya will be the best choice.
Situation and History
Galle, situated in latitude 6 North, has one of the two natural harbours of south-western Ceylon, protected by a promontory known as the Rock or Galle Point. The harbour has been used since the dawn of history, and some have identified it with the Biblical Tarshish from which Solomon and Jehoshaphat obtained gold and silver, ivory and apes and peacocks. It is probably Ptolemy’s Odoka. Ibn Batuta (1304-1377), the famous Moroccan traveller, visited Galle in 1342, encountering fellow Muslims who knew that Qali was a port familiar to the ancients. In 1507 the Portuguese established a small trading post here, protecting it by a fort built on the high ground above the present harbour. The little Fort of Santa Cruz on the Ponta de Gab was on the site of the Zwart Bastion, now occupied by the harbour police. The Portuguese interpreted the name Galla (pronounced roughly Galo) as Gab, meaning a cock in Portuguese, and this became the emblem of the town: in fact the name probably means either the rock or the place of cattle. St Francis Xavier put in at Galle in 1545 during his voyage to the Far East. Rajah Sinha I recaptured the port from the Portuguese, but they recovered it in 1587 and thereafter held it for more than half a century.
In 1625, under increasing Dutch pressure, the Portuguese began to build new fortifications. The peninsula is shaped like a fruit, connected to the mainland by a stem only 300 m wide; and although the sea formed a natural defence it was vulnerable on the landward side. Between 1625 and 1640, therefore, the Portuguese built three bastions on this side, linked by a wall and ditch across the isthmus. To the west was the Santo Antonio, under the Star Bastion; in the centre the Conceiao, under the Moon Bastion; and to the east the Sao Jago, under the Sun Bastion, above the harbour. Exhausted by the cost of maintaining its huge maritime empire, Portugal failed to reinforce its possessions in Ceylon, and in 1640, after a siege lasting 78 days and fierce hand-to-hand fighting; Dutch force of 2000 men under Admiral Wilhelm Coster overcame the heroic little garrison of Galle.
The Dutch had captured the town on behalf of their ally the king of Kandy, but in 1656 the place was once again occupied by Dutch forces with the object of making it one of the main bases of the colonial empire of the United Provinces. They transformed it into a powerful fortress, which is still almost intact, since it was never exposed to even the mildest attack. The existing fortifications were restored and improved; a second wall was built across the isthmus and the bastions were raised to increase the range of their cannon. On the three sides surrounded by the sea the Dutch built only a series of salients and redans (rather pompously called bastions) which enabled their artillery to sweep the anchorage. On the west side, starting from the Star Bastion, are the Aeolus, Clippenberg, Neptune and Triton bastions; on the south side are the Flag Rock, on which there was formerly a light, and Utrecht Point, with the modern light-house; and on the east side are the Aurora, Akersloot (named after Admiral Coster’s birthplace in Holland) and Zwart bastions, this last occupying the site of an earlier fort. Between the Zwart Bastion and the Sun Bastion are the vaulted water gates giving access to the fort from the harbour, the Commandement Corner and the Fishmark salient (a corruption of Fishmarket). After the building of these imposing fortifications Galle enjoyed an uneventful existence until 1796, when it surrendered to the British without striking a blow.
The old town still contains many government and administrative offices. Since the harbour was always dangerous because of the narrow passages between coral reefs, the British began to look for another naval base immediately after conquering Ceylon, but they did not finally abandon Galle in favour of Colombo until 1873-1890. Since then the town has preserved its fortifications and its atmosphere almost intact. Within the last ten years the government has been engaged in extensive works designed to turn Galle into a modern fishing port, but the new development has taken place along the shores of the bay outside the old town, which has thus been say from destruction.
Tour of the Town
Visitors staying overnight in one of the hotels in the old town will find themselves carried back to a bygone age as they walk about the town in the evening or look out in the silence of the night. The old town is enclosed within an almost hexagonal circuit of walls running from north to south along the contours of the rocky headland. The old Dutch gateway in the harbour bears the coat of arms of the Dutch East India Company, with the interlaced initials VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Dutch East India Company) surmounted by the cock inherited from the Portuguese. The same coat is found on the old Government House in Queen Street, now occupied by a business firm. One bears the date 1669, the other 1687.
This was the title of the Dutch governors of Galle and Jaffna. Only the governor of Colombo had the style of Governor. There is a pleasant walk of almost 3 km round the ramparts. Visitors who have time at their disposal will enjoy wandering about the silent streets looking for the handsome mansions of wealthy Dutch settlers, with their fine freestone walls, substantial thresholds and wide doorways.
In Hospital Street, near the Akersloot salient, is the site of the Pilots’ House in which the harbour pilots lived when they retired, being forbidden to leave Galle lest they should reveal to rival seamen the seaway into the harbour. In the same street are government offices (the Kachcheri), in the former magazine and hospital of the fort.
Government House, near the Commandement Corner, was the residence of the Commander of Galle during the Dutch occupation and later, in Victorian times, of the British administrator: hence the name of Queen Street.
In the next street, Church Street is the Old Dutch Church, built in 1754 by the wife of Commander de Jong in thanksgiving for the birth of a son. The church contains old coats of arms on the walls and handsome tombstones, many of them with Latin inscriptions; the parish registers go back to the late 17th century.
Lighthouse Street no longer has a lighthouse: the present lighthouse is on the Utrecht Point salient. However the street name was kept unchanged.
To the north, in front of the Moon Bastion, is the Clock Tower, dates from 1707. The bell was rung every hour and on Sunday to announce the service of the Dutch Reformed Church. Between the Moon and Sun bastions is the main entrance to the present-day town, Main Street, laid out by the British authorities in the 19th century. The modern town extends over both sides of the isthmus between the harbour and the little coastal river. To the west is the Kaluwella (black town) district, originally the native town, as distinct from the white town, i.e. the Fort. On Calvary Hill is a Roman Catholic Church in Portuguese style.
To the east, beyond the harbour and before the Bazaar, is the Old Dutch burial ground, the Kerkhof. The streets in this part of the town are attractively planted with flowering trees (tulip-trees, hibiscus, etc.). All round the bay the upper part of the beach is covered with flowers purple bindweed, lilies of various kinds, in a pattern of bright colours only a short distance from the water’s edge.
In the Bazaar a variety of local specialties can be bought locally made lace (a tradition inherited from the Flemish lace makers of the past), trinkets and other articles in tortoiseshell and ivory (but beware of imitations in bone or plastics) and, as in many other towns in Sri Lanka, beautiful jewellery, and precious and semi-precious stones.
Excursions from Galle
1. To the north of Galle can be seen a hill known as the Haycock or Hiniduma Kanda (661 m), at the foot of which is the little town of Baddegama (20 km from Galle). Here there is an Anglican church, built in 1825, with services in Sinhalese and local music. From the top of the hill Adam’s Peak (2243 m) can sometimes be seen.
2. There are pleasant walks and excursions round the bay. Fishermen can sometimes be seen perched on stilt-like posts in the middle of the water in what looks a rather uncomfortable position, fishing with rod and line. At the far end of the bay, at Watering Point, are beautiful beaches. As the name indicates, this was formerly a watering point for ships, the water being supplied by springs near the beach, at the foot of a hillock, Rhumassala Kanda (45 m) which is said to be a fragment of the Himalayas brought here by Rama’s ally Hanuman, king of the monkeys. From Watering Point there are fine views of Galle and the bay.
3. Weligama or the sandy village (27 km from Galle). Just before the village is a statue 4 m high hewn from a sheer rock face. The statue, some 2000 years old, is known as Kusta Rajah, the Leper King, but the legends attached to the figure do little to explain the significance of the name. It is sometimes said to represent Prince Agrabohi or Agbo, nephew of King Mahatissa, who is supposed to have introduced the coconut into Sri Lanka. It is more probable that the statue represents a mythological figure of Mahayana Buddhism, Avalokiteswara, the vigilant Master and Maitreya or future Buddha. Nearby is a Buddhist monastery.
Weligama Bay, 3.5 km long by over 2 km wide, was a fine natural harbour used in ancient times, with a sheltered anchorage of some 8 sq. km. The bay rivals Gable Bay in beauty. At both ends are beautiful red cliffs of lateritic rock. In the bay, some 400 m from the rest-house, is the island of Taprobane, laid out as a tropical garden. All rounds are immense beaches.
A local delicacy which can be sampled here is a sweet made of curdled milk and palm sugar.
4. Matara (from Mahatara, the Great Harbour ), 45 km from Galle, on the west side of the Nilwala Ganga estuary; the river is the haunt of crocodiles. The railway line ends here.
The Matara area was sporadically occupied by the Portuguese at various times between 1510 and 1640. The Dutch built two forts here. In the 18th century Kirti Sri (1747-1780), the last great Sinhalese king, tried to shake off the foreign yoke for the Dutch, who controlled the coast, could cut the supply of salt to the interior. The king launched an expedition to the south, and was successful in taking the Matara forts, where he maintained a garrison from 1760 to 1766. This was the Salt War, which cost the Dutch East India Company dear: according to figures published by Galletti in 1909, the total revenue from Ceylon during the years 1760-1768 was 9,507,000 guilders, while expenditure over the same period totalled 23,107,000 guilders (the guilder then being worth 11 to the pound sterling). After the sacking of Kandy in 1765, however, Kirti Sri had to withdraw his troops and make peace with the Dutch.
The Star Fort (private property, not open to visitors) has a monumental gateway with a coat of arms and the date 1770. In the other fort, near the Clock Tower, is a rest-house occupying a building which appears to have been an elephant stable. On an islet linked with the mainland by a causeway there was until a few years ago a monastery known as the Chula Lanka. At the far end of Matara Bay, 10 km from the town is Dondra Head, cape in the most southerly point of Sri Lanka (latitude of 5 to 56 North) with a large lighthouse built in 1889.
Mihintale, 15 km east of Anuradhapura, is one of the holy places of Sinhalese Buddhism, the scene of the meeting between King Tissa and Mehinda or Mahinda, Ashoka’s son or nephew, about 250 BC. With its various shrines and other buildings scattered this holy site is considered as the seat of Buddhism.
Within the vicinity are the ruins of the ancient hospital complex which served as one of the support facilities for the resident monks (there were around 2,000 monks who once lived on the mountain). Moving off the hospital and walking towards the foot of the mountain is the great stairway that leads up Mihintale. It is one of Sri Lanka’s great centres of pilgrimage; and those who have once visited it will realise the appropriateness of references to it as the sacred mountain. The ascent is made on a flight of 1840 steps, wide and shallow enough to be climbed by a man on horseback.
At the foot of the mountain to the left of the steps are (1) some confused remains which are believed to be those of two dagabas, the Indikatuseya and the Katuseya.
The mountain rises in a series of stages, and at various points on it are mounds crowned with dagabas. After climbing a hundred or so steps through the perfume of the frangipane trees towards the top on the right is another hundred steps leading to (2) Kantaka Chenthiya, a dagaba dating from before the Christian era. Although partly razed to the ground, it still preserves four vahalkadas or frontispieces at the cardinal points altar-like structures with a finely carved decoration of dwarfs and wild geese. Until recently the remains of wall paintings (lions) could be distinguished, but these are now almost effaced. On the upright slabs flanking these features are traditional motifs (foliage, cocks, lions, elephants, peacocks, bulls, spirits and dewas) as if the whole of nature was present to take part in the Buddhist festival.
From here there is a path back to the road, but it is better to return to the main staircase and continue the ascent. At the first platform, are the remains of a (3) monastery (the Assembly Hall). The square hall has no enclosed walls and its roof is rested on stone pillars. A path on the right leads to the (4) Lion’s Bath, with the water flowing through a granite lion’s head. Note the figures of wrestlers, taking part in what was a ritual Sinhalese sport.
About a half way up to the staircase (which becomes narrower but is still perfumed with flowers and shaded from the sun) is a short path on the right that leads to the (5) Naga Pokuna, the bathing pool of the king cobra. It may be suspected that Buddhism took over the cult of some chthonian divinity. Visitors must take off their shoes before climbing to the second platform, for this is sacred ground.
In the middle of a grove of palms is a small and delicately constructed dagaba, surrounded by slender monolithic pillars with carved capitals. This is the (6) Ambasthala or Mango-Tree, built on the spot once occupied by the tree under which Tissa and Mahinda first met.
Two fairly steep flights of steps lead up to the (7) Maha Seya, the Great Dagaba, that has been recently restored (with a protective concrete coping). This is believed to be the oldest dagaba on the site, for according to tradition it was built by Tissa to house a hair from the Buddha’s head and a few of his ashes, priceless relics which Mahinda brought with him. From its base there is a magnificent view of the forest which extends in great undulating waves from Mihintale to the horizon (alt. 309 m). Nearby is Mahinda’s Bed, a cave which was the cell occupied by Mahinda, the apostle of Buddhism in Ceylon. A little lower down are the ruins of the (8) Mahinda Seya, located only a few years ago, and built to house relics of Mahinda which were recovered by the excavators.
Down to the road, a few hundred metres south is a small track goes off on the left to the (9) Kaludiya Pokuna or the Bath of Black Water. It is the largest pond at Mahintale. Surrounding the pond are remains of an Aramaya.
Situated on the Central Province of Sri Lanka, 12 km away from Sigiriya is an isolated colossal rock mass. Dambula has diverse landscapes with numerous caves surrounding the area.
Dambulla is notable for its sacred caves, which served as shrines in prehistoric times and were occupied in the 2nd century BC by Buddhist monks, who established a monastery here. In 90 BC they provided a refuge for King Vattagamini Abhaya, who established a temporary capital here after abandoning Anuradhapura when it was attacked by the Tamils; and according to tradition it was he who made the caves into a centre of worship and pilgrimage.
The sacred caves are near the top of a gneiss hill, the lower part of which a dark grey mass with a slightly convex surface, like the back of a giant whale. After a climb of 100 m the path (perfumed by the frangipane trees) leads on to a terrace in which the mouths of five caves: the first cave known as The Temple of the King of the Gods (Dev Raja Viharaya). The cave holds infinite wall and ceiling paintings as well as the well preserved images. One of the striking images in the temple is one that depicts the Parinibbana or the passing of the Buddha; the second cave (Maja Raja Viharaya), the largest (53 m long, 23 m wide, 7 m high), contains about 50 life-size statues of Buddha, a figure of Vishnu unexpected in a place of Buddhist worship, and the figures of some ancient king. With the aid of candles provided by the guide it is possible to see some wall paintings of relatively modern date. The oldest may date from the 18th century; some may be copies or restorations of earlier 11th or 12th century paintings; the third cave (Maja Alut Viharaya) was converted into a shrine room by King Kirthi Sri Raja Singhe during 18th century. The cave houses around fifty Buddha images. The principal image of this cave is the standing figures, carved out of the natural rock, placed under the ornate gateway facing the entrance; the fourth temple known as the Western Temple (Pascima Viharaya) contains 10 proportional figures of the Buddha; the fifth cave (Devana Alut Viharaya) is the smallest of all the shrine rooms in the area. Here one can find eleven images of Buddha in which the most prominent one is the recumbent Buddha image. (Here and in other caves and temples a good electric torch is a useful accessory for the alternatively flash photography will provide a more permanent record which can be studied at leisure after returning home.)
The Golden Temple
Located on the Eastern side of the Royal Rock Temple is the Golden Temple. It possesses all the prescribed distinctiveness needed for its completeness. It is a sacred pilgrimage for more than 22 centuries. The imposing giant golden Buddha sitting on the roof of the Golden Temple was said to be the largest of its kind in the world. This statue was built in 1998 and was completed in 2001. The temple houses remarkable collection of statues of Buddha, Bodhisattas as well as several Hindu deities. There are also magnificent displays of environmental landscapes and modern museum which features recent history of Sri Lankan Buddhist culture.
From the terrace there is a magnificent view of the dense surrounding forest. From the summit, 50 m higher up, the Lion Rock of Sigiriya can be seen.
38 km north-west of Dambulla is the famous statue of Avukana, the glorious rock cut Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. Cut out of the solid granite about 13 m high. This 5th century statue was carved out during the reign of King Dathu Sena.
Beyond Dambulla, follows a winding course through the central mountain region, with some stretches of the old primeval forest, and then enters a region of plantations (cacao, rubber, coffee) and terraced rice-fields (deniyas).
The site can also be reached by rail (Colombo Batticaloa line).
The date of foundation of the city is not known. In the reign of Maha Sena (4th c.) this was an area of settlement (many artificial lakes). The chronicles refer to it as Pulatthi or Pulastipura. Protected by dense forest, it became a royal capital and a safe place of refuge during the Tamil invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries. In 993 Polonnaruwa was captured by the Chola ruler Rajahrajah, who set up a viceroy here. The reconquest of the city by Vijaya Bahu (1055-1110) opened the golden age of the new capital, dated by inscriptions on buildings to the period from 1000 to 1293. When the Sinhalese kings were finally compelled to withdraw to Dambadeniya, Polonnaruwa was abandoned, situated as it was in a region threatened by the Tamils. Nature returned to its own; the dams were not maintained and began to leak; the large artificial lake was reduced in size and split into three: the Dumbutulu Wewa, the Erabadu Wewa and the Thopa Wewa. The site became overgrown with vegetation, and this jungle Pompeii disappeared under an accumulation of soil. At the end of the 19th century archaeologists and engineers began to work on the site, the dams and water channels were restored and the area was resettled. The new village was established 4 km away from the ancient site.
The remains are scattered over a narrow strip of land extending for some 8 km from north to south along the east side of the lake known as Parakrama Samudra, Parakrama’s Ocean, which has an area of 18 sq. km. The name of this great king, Parakrama Bahu I (1153-1186), a legendary figure in the chronicles, constantly recurs at Polonnaruwa.
Near the lake is a rectangular enclosure dating from the 12th century, with the remains of walls, bastions protecting the entrances, and defensive ditches, now largely filled in. This was the heart of the ancient capital, but the remains cover a much larger area, extending particularly towards the north. More than fifty buildings have been identified by the archaeologists, but part of the site still remains to be cleared. Even if you are accompanied by a guide constant reference to the plan of the site is necessary to keep your bearings, since the lush growth of vegetation makes it difficult to get any general impression of the layout though it does offer a good sample of the rich flora and fauna of Sri Lanka.
Tour of the Site
There are so many places to see in this breath-taking archeological site. Starting from (1) the rest-house, a comfortable hotel on a promontory, overlooking the lake, the road which runs south along the lake is 2 km to the (2) Potgul Vihara, or Library Dagaba, a centre of monastic studies now represented by the remains of a circular structure on a platform base surrounded by other ruins. It probably dates from the 10th century, in spite of a legend which attributes it to Queen Sandravati, wife of Parakrama Bahu I. The mounds covered with vegetation appear to be the remains of smaller dagabas.
(3) The statue of Parakrama Bahu, a rock-cut figure in high relief (height 4 m) which is a masterpiece of ancient Sinhalese sculpture, probably dating from the 9th century. It represents a man with a venerable beard reading a palm-leaf manuscript, and with its mingling of idealism and realism, its combination of nobility of feature with a considerable paunch, it has all the appearance of being a portrait as well as an idealization of the Sage. The figure has become one of the emblems of Sri Lanka, represented on the country’s stamps and banknotes.
In the rest-house one can see the Citadel and its palaces.
Above the lake (4) are various pavilions which served the purposes of aquatic sports; (5) the traditional site of the funeral pyre of Nissanka Malla (1186-1196); (6) Palace of Nissanka Malla, brick-built, with two upper storeys of wood; (7) Council Chamber of Nissanka Malla, with a stone lion bearing an inscription which formed the base of the throne; (8) Pleasure Pavilion, on a little islet, brick-built, with traces of paintings on the wall plaster; (9) Palace of Parakrama Bahu I, to the south of a small citadel with an entrance on the north side; brick-built, with a large hall (50 m by 13 m) and an inner courtyard. There were two upper storeys of wood; (10) Council Chamber of Parakrama Bahu I, which has a stone basement storey with a fine elephant frieze; (11) to the south-east: the Kumara Pokuna or Royal Bath, a bathing pool with steps along the sides.
From here turning to the north passing a bastion with an inscription in the name of (12) Nissanka Malla is an early 13th century Hindu temple of Shiva, a relic of the Pandya occupation. It has a stone base in the style characteristic of South India.
To the north of the Citadel is an area of higher ground on which there is a group of religious buildings.
(13) The Thuparama is a massive structure with thick brick-built walls, bas-reliefs, friezes of animals and the original vaulting still in position: a building of predominantly horizontal lines, barely relieved by false pillars and empty niches. There is no dagaba, a feature normally implied by the element thupa in the name: probably in this case thupa is to be taken in the sense of relic-house.
(14) The Vatadage, a circular shrine built in the 7th century notable for the elegance and beauty of its architecture and carving. It is one of the best preserved buildings on the site. It has a stone basement storey with a double terrace and openwork balustrade, surrounded by a double ring of pillars and a circular wall which formerly enclosed a dagaba, now destroyed. At the cardinal points are four vahalkadas. At the foot of the staircases are the traditional moonstones and guardian spirits. Note also the dancing dwarfs on the risers of the steps.
Opposite the main staircase of the Vatadage is the (15) Hatadage or Shrine of the Sixty Relics, built by King Nissanka Malla to protect the sacred Tooth Relic. To the east of this is the Gal-pota or Stone Book, a slab 8 m long by 1.80 m wide bearing the longest inscription in Ceylon: 24 lines of writing recording an edict of Nissanka Malla.
(16) The Satmahal Prasada or Little Palace of Seven Storeys, a pyramidal relic-house of a type unusual in Ceylon, perhaps reflecting Far Eastern influence. The side of each storey is adorned by a figure of a deity in an arched niche.
(17) The Atadage, or the House of the Eight Relics is Vijaya Bahu’s Temple of the Tooth (1055-1110), originally of several storeys. The temple is has 54 pillars within is a standing figure of the Buddha.
(18) The Nissanka Lata Mandapa noted for its pillars, which have become the emblem of Polonnaruwa. They are in the form of lotus stems, with capitals in the form of lotus buds.
(19) On the east lies the Pabulu Vihara or Coral Shrine, a truncated dagaba with 12th century statues of the Buddha built by one of the queens of Parakrabahu.
(20) Temple of Shiva, the oldest building on the site which can be exactly dated, in the style of South India, with 11th century Tamil inscriptions.
(21) Temple of Vishnu, with a statue of the god (12th c).
(22) Remains of the other temples of Shiva, with a yoni and the base of a lingam.
(23) The Manik Vihara is a dagaba with a stone basement storey and a frieze of lions.
Nearby are four pillars belonging to a small building with an inscription in the name of Nissanka Malla; (24) The Rankot Vihara, a large dagaba 55 m high with a diameter of 175 m at the base, surrounded by chapels with statues of the Buddha. There is an inscription recording that it was built by Nissanka Malla; and (25) The Gopala Pabbata, a flat rock containing four caves. In one of them is an inscription in Brahmi script bearing witness to the presence of monks here in the 5th century AD.
There are also group of ruined buildings belonging to the Alahana Parivana or the Monastery of the Burning Place, near the site of the royal funeral pyres. In which the foundations of monks’ cells can be seen.
(27) The Baddha Sima Prasada, a Buddhist temple with the residence of the abbot of the monastery.
(28) The Lanka Tilaka or Glory of Ceylon, also known as the Jethavanarama, from the name of the Buddha’s first monastery. This is a massive brick structure 52 m long by 20 m across. The roof has disappeared but the walls still stand 17 m high. In the interior is a gigantic standing figure of the Buddha, the head of which is broken.
(29) The Kiri Vihara or White Shrine, so called because of the facing of lime mortar on the dome of the dagaba.
(30) The Gal Vihara (Stone Shrine) or Kalugal Vihara (Black Stone Shrine), with three colossal statues, all hewn from a huge gneiss block. At one end is a figure of the Buddha seated on a throne in the attitude of meditation (5 m high), and next to this, facing east, is the entrance, flanked by two rock-cut pillars, of a central chapel hewn from the rock. To the rear of the chapel is another seated Buddha, of smaller size. Beyond this are two huge statues, also hewn from the solid rock: a tall figure of a monk standing in a pensive pose with his arms crossed, holding a pilgrim’s staff, and an even larger figure of the sleeping Buddha, lying with his face towards the rising sun. This is the most impressive of the three huge figures, representing the Maha-pari-nirvana, the Great One who has attained Nirvana.
There are various interpretations of this group of figures. One suggestion was that it represents the death of the Buddha, attended by his faithful disciple Ananda, but it is now thought that the two main figures are both representations of the Buddha. The standing figure, probably the first to be carved, is believed to depict the Buddha as the apostle of Enlightenment, while the recumbent figure shows him at the end of his mission. The whole group is an impressive expression of the certitudes and the serenity of the Buddhist faith.
These three groups of buildings are sometimes called the Uttararama, the last or outermost pleasure garden, since they were the last structures of any size to be built at the north end of city.
A few hundred metres farther north, hidden amid vegetation, is the (31) Demala Maha Seya, the Great Dagaba of the Tamils, which was built by the forced labour of Tamil (Damala) prisoners after the army of a Pandya king of Madurai was defeated by Parakrama Bahu I.
On top of this artificial mound is a small dagaba, now truncated, built at a later period but not exactly dated. From the top, which is difficult to reach because of the thorns obstructing the paths, there is a fine view of the forest.
Still farther north, in the jungle, is the (32) Lotus Bath, 7.60 m in diameter, which is built in tile form of a stylised lotus flower with five steps representing five rows of eight petals. Its discovery in the early years of this century not only indicate the extent and magnificence of Polonnaruwa in its heyday but was a reminder of the number of buildings which must still lie concealed under the ground.
Much farther north still, outside the usual tourist circuit, is the (33) Tivanka Pilimage, the last temple to be discovered in the heart of the forest, with a colossal statue of the Buddha. On the stucco coating of the walls a few scenes from the Jatakas, painted in the 11th century, can be distinguished with difficulty. Fortunately they were copied at a time when they were in better condition, and the copies can be seen in the Colombo Museum.
On the way back to the rest-house a number of other buildings can be seen:
(34) The Nayipena Vihara, which is not in fact a vihara but a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. The statue has disappeared, but there is still a cobra’s head (the hood of which served as a canopy).
(35) The Siva Devala, a Hindu temple, with a porch and six chambers opening out of one another in a line from east to west. In the shrine is a lingam which is still venerated.
(36) The Priti Danaka Mandapa (the reception chamber which offers joy), a temple built on a granite hillock which possessed the right of asylum.
(37) The Minneri Dewala, which in spite of its Hindu name is a Buddhist temple.
(38)The Museum, displays numerous remains recovered during the excavations.
Kurunegala, Yapahuwa and Kalawewa
Kurunegala is the capital of the North Western Province. It is about 116 km from Colombo and 60 km from Kandy. From 1299 to 1230 Kurunegala was a capital city, selected by Parakrama Bahu IV as the seat of his government when the Tamils gained control of the Polonnaruwa area. The town was visited by Marco Polo.
Kurunegala is strikingly situated at the foot of a series of enormous rocks, steep and curiously shaped, to which appropriate names and legends have become attached. Kurunegala is known for its vast rocky outcrops which appear like various animals. Towering more than 300 m above the town is Ethagala, the Elephant Rock; others are known as the Tortoise, the Goat and the Crocodile. Near the town is a beautiful lake. Visitors staying at the rest-house may feel tempted to climb some of the hills in the early morning.
Some 20 km north-east is the Ridi Vihara or Silver Monastery , perched on a rock and reached by a flight of 200 steps from the road. It is supposed to have been founded by King Datta Gamundi about 100 BC in thanksgiving for a vein of silver discovered here. The present buildings date from the time of the great 18th century ruler Kirti Sri, who restored the monastery. The library contains ancient works (olas) written on the leaves of the talipot palm.
51 km north of Kurunegala (4 km east of Maho) is Yapahuwa. In 1273 the king of Polonnaruwa fled into the forest and established a temporary capital at Yapahuwa, the Good Mountain, where he built a Temple of the Tooth. Twelve years later, however, the Tamils raided the town, plundered it and carried off the precious Tooth to India. In order to recover the sacred relic King Parakrama Bahu III went to submit voluntarily to the Pandya king and become his vassal.
On the north-west is the Maligawa Ancient Ruins which gives a glimpse of the past glory of the Kurunegala. Here are remains of a moat palace and monasteries from 12th century.
Kurunegala Clock Tower is located in the city proper and serves as a landmark of the city. This tower was built in 1922 in honour to the officers and soldiers who fought valiantly in the World War I. In 1945 this tower serves as In Memoriam for the soldiers who died in the World War II.
A royal residence in 13th century Yapahuwa was able to preserve some interesting remains. Located at Kurunegala, North Western Province of Sri Lanka, this ancient fortress is rising to a height of 90 m. Built by King Buwanekabahu I as the capital of Sri Lanka in 1301, here can find traces of ancient battle defenses.
The Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth was enclosed within a fortified precinct, with a ditch or moat which can still be seen. Although the sculpture includes bas-reliefs with traditional Buddhist themes (makaras), the general effect is that of a Dravidian temple. Near the temple are a number of caves which have been adapted for religious use, with rather poor modern decoration. The steep flight of steps that leads up to a palace, are decorated with the heads of spirits, makaras and lions. The makaras (monsters, half lion and half crocodile) are common theme in Hoysala art (Mysore, l2th l3th c.); the lions suggest Far Eastern influence. At the top of the steps is a frieze depicting a magnificent procession in honour of the Tooth, with dancers, musicians, an acrobat and women carrying fly whisks. Note a window hewn from a slab of stone, a finely wrought tracery with figures of dwarfs, dancing girls, lions, wild geese and mythical monsters. It is a little surprising to find in this Buddhist shrine a figure of Gala Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess Lakshmi flanked by two elephants spraying water on to the lotus flowers which she holds. This may be a relic of the cult of some great fertility goddess and its associated erotic symbolism, or it may merely be a reflection of Hindu influence: at any rate it bears witness to the tranquil tolerance of Sinhalese Buddhism. Other decorative elements are the figures of monsters spewing out warriors from their mouths and the bevelled pillars commonly found in Sri Lanka, here curiously terminated by capitals with something of an Egyptian effect. In general the profusion of ornament is more reminiscent of India than of Sri Lanka.
From the palace and temple a steep path leads up to terrace on which there are some unidentifiable remains and a modern dagaba. The view, however, is sufficient reward for the strenuous climb.
From Yapahuwa a road runs north-east (42 km) to the village and railway station of Kalawewa, at the north end of a large dam. The tank formed by the dam is surrounded by forests in which there grows a white-flowered liana known as kala or kalawel. The first dam was built by Dhatu Sena about 480 AD, and was restored by Parakrama Bahu I in the 12th century and again by the British authorities in the 19th century. In the depths of the forest, some 3 km from the tank, is the great masterpiece of Ceylonese sculpture, the Buddha of Avukana, a magnificent statue of the Buddha blessing his followers, 12 m high, hewn from the granite, it is thought in the reign of Dhatu Sena. (It is advisable to get a guide at the village or the station).
The Buddha can also be reached from Anuradhapura (48 km), leaving on the Kandy road and taking a side road on the right 5 km beyond Maradankadawela. All the local guides know the way.
Links to all Ancient Cities in Sri Lanka: