The ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura where the foundation of Buddhism once thrived, remains after over 23 centuries, a revered pilgrimage centre. The neighbouring areas of Anuradhapura were inhabited from 1 000 BC and by the 5th century BC the city developed at a rapid rate. Emperor Ashoka’s son, Mahendra, instilled Buddhism in the 3rd century and the city is known as the capital of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist way of life.
Spend the day exploring dagobas (hemispherical structures containing relics), ancient palaces, monasteries, temples and shrines surrounding the ancient Bodhi tree. Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is a stark white dome that was once one of the world’s tallest buildings, second only to the pyramids and a revered Buddhist site. It has been honoured as Solosmasthana and Atamasthana, sacred places of worship.
Visit the Jetavana Monastery, with meticulously landscaped and preserved ruins and peruse artefacts in the Jetavana Museum, unearthed when the monastery was excavated. Treasures here includes beads made of a variety of crystal, clay, ivory and stone, ritual objects and paintings on slabs of stone. See into the monks’ living units and the Image House where the lotus pedestal of the Buddha image sits. A highlight of the monastery is the Jetavana Stupa (hemispherical structure containing relics), boasting the title of tallest brick stupa on the earth. This towering stupa features graceful figures of women dancing on the eastern vahalkada (entrances to the courtyard), and the southern side of the vahalkada presents a cobra king, a goddess and crumbling elephant heads.