The Ancient Cities
Sri Lanka's famed cultural triangle is a treasure trove of temple remnants, lost cities, and sacred Buddhist sites and monuments. Entrenched at the center of the island, this area points at three great Sinhalese capitals, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura - from which the pinnacle of Sri Lanka's Buddhist heritage is magnificently preserved.
Held dearly by pilgrims, laymen and the clergy (mostly Buddhist), as well as by locals and tourists, Sri Lanka's cultural heartland lies in north central plains surrounded by forests and outcrops. These plains are known as Rajarata or the King's Land where several kingdoms set up their first capitals and developed artistic and architectural pursuits. Eventually, the once-flourishing Sinhalese dynasties fell into ruin, with their crumbling temples and other tangible legacies slowly sinking into forest and jungles. Now a famous area with high universal value, this string of ancient cities rises from the depths of the forest, to claim the top spot in your Sri Lanka bucketlist.
Explore these UNESCO-listed treasures during your cultural jaunt in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya, the Lion Fortress
The rock citadel of Sigiriya was formed from a magma of an extinct volcano, standing 200 meters higher than the surrounding jungle. As one of the most visited attractions in Sri Lanka, this stunning complex remains accessible to visitors through a series of galleries and staircases rising from the mouth of the colossal lion serving as gateway to the fortress. Considered as one of the greatest examples of ancient urban planning, Sigiriya astonishes visitors with its extensive network of fortifications, gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains adoring the remnants of a ruined palace.
Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura
The ancient red-brick Buddhist temple stands 75m above the forest floor, providing a visually appealing spectacle against light woodland. A sight to behold, this colossal temple is constructed over a footprint of the Buddha and measures 106.6 meters in diameter at the widest point of the curve. It is one of the greatest constructions of the ancient world from which its historical, cultural and religious significance remains untouched by the passage of time.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is the second oldest city on the island. This historic destination is highlighted by Brahmanic monuments from the Chola Dynasty and ruins of buildings, parks, and sanctuaries built by King Parakramabahu I in the 12th century when the city was still in its golden days. Other structures of high importance include the gigantic statues of Buddha in Gal Vihara, the king’s Audience Hall, and the Parakrama Samudraya - the biggest antique man-made rainwater tank in Sri Lanka.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla
This monument is the biggest and the best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The sacred site has five cave sanctuaries containing about 150 magnificent Buddha statues and paintings. Among the five caves, the Maha Raja Viharaya is by far the most impressive one with each well decorated archway and extensive collection of the finest Buddhist paintings and structures.
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When to visit
The dry months of January to March are the best time to visit Sri Lanka's famous cultural triangle as you can get around in comfort when days are warm and filled with sunshine. Temperatures are good enough for day tours around the northern plains with the hill country of Kandy providing a cooler respite.