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Sri Lanka

Main attractions

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya / B.Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Sri Lanka may seem comparatively small if compared to the giant of South Asia - India. But this island has huge importance in the history of culture in South Asia, here are found wondrous man made and natural landmarks. Most interesting landmarks of Sri Lanka are:

  • Ancient capital cities. The magnificent ancient capital cities of Sri Lanka are truly unique and belong to most surprising man made landmarks in the world. Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are very different - but each of them contains outstanding monuments of architecture and art.
  • Stupas. Some Sri Lankan stupas belong to most outstanding man made landmarks of the world, such as the 122 m tall Jetavanaramaya (the 3rd - 4th century AD), Ruwanwelisaya (91 m tall, built in the 2nd century BC) and others.
  • Rainforest ecosystems. Most of Sri Lankan rainforest has been lost but in the remaining patches of this ecosystem live hundreds of species which are not met anywhere else in the world. Sometimes unique ecosystems and unique species have evolved on a small patch of land - such as Pitawala Pathana in Knuckles Range.

There are many other wonders in the country - amazing rock-cut temples, ancient irrigation systems of giant size, world's oldest known planted tree and others.

Natural landmarks

Waterfalls

  • Bambarakanda Falls - Uva. Tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka, 263 m tall. Waterfall is almost vertical, water slides down along the cliff.
  • Bomburu Ella - Uva. Large and very impressive waterfall, one of the widest in Sri Lanka. Height of falls exceeds 100 m.
  • Diyaluma Falls - Uva. Second tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka, 220 m tall.
Knuckles Range, Sri Lanka
Knuckles Range / Chamika Gallage, / CC BY 2.0

Ecosystems

  • Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya forest - Southern. Second largest remaining rainforest in Sri Lanka, approximate area 10,000 ha. This forest contains a multitude of species which are found only here. Out of 319 woody species approximately 52% are endemic, here live also numerous endemic species of animals.
  • Knuckles Range - Central. Biodiversity super-hotspot. Small mountain range (some 200 km2 large) contains numerous nearly intact biotopes, including species rich cloud forests. Here are met numerous relict species of plants and animals which are not found anywhere else on Earth. Contains also the unique Pitawala Pathana - natural grassland with two endemic species, area approximately 10 ha.
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve - Sabaragamuwa and Southern. Largest virgin rainforest in Sri Lanka, abode of numerous endemic species. In spite of its comparatively small size (8,864 ha) this forest contains multitude of endemic trees (139 species!), insects, birds, mammals and other beings which are not met anywhere else in the world. Forest contains numerous very large and tall trees.
  • Waulpane (Wavula Pane) - Sabaragamuwa. Cave with some 250,000 bats living in it. In the cave have been found remnants of the prehistoric Balangoda Man.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Sri Lanka
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi / William Pfeifer, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Other natural landmarks

  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Fig Tree) - North Central Province, Sri Lanka. Oldest known human planted tree (Ficus religiosa L.), planted 288 BC from a sapling of Bodhi tree where Buddha became enlightened. Girth of tree changed due to additional trunks grown together with the original one.
  • Ratnapura gemstone mines - Sabaragamuwa. Extensive region with multiple gemstone mines. These mines have provided incredible variety of high quality gemstones, such as sapphire, padparadsha, topaz, garnets, tourmaline, chrysoberyl and many others, including numerous kinds of very rare gemstones.
  • World's End - Central. 1,050 m tall precipice. Gorgeous view opens from this precipice and sometimes the 81 km distant ocean can be seen.

Man made landmarks

Prehistoric landmarks

  • Fa Hien Cave (Pahyanagala) - Western. Large cave where have been found remnants of the Late Pleistocene humans who lived here 33,000 years ago. Here and in some more sites in Sri Lanka were found the earliest known microliths. This is the oldest known settlement of indigenous type of small man - Balangoda Man.
  • Tharulengala - Eastern. This longest cave in Sri Lanka contains numerous interesting archaeological landmarks, such as Vedda cliff paintings, ruins of Buddhist monastery inside the cave and at its entrance. Monastery continues in the surrounding forest at the cave and unknown ruins still are discovered here.
Jetavanaramaya - wonder of ancient world, Sri Lanka
Jetavanaramaya - wonder of ancient world / Mahesh Kularatne, / CC BY 2.0

Ancient capitals of Sri Lanka

  • Anuradhapura - North Central. Capital of Sri Lanka in the 4th century BC - early 11th century AD. Large settlement existed here already 900 BC. Anuradhapura was one of the largest urban centres in the world, it was considered to be sacred by Buddhists. Contains ruins of many magnificent structures, such as Ruwanwelisaya - 91 m tall stupa, built in the 2nd century BC and Jetavanaramaya - one of the largest structures in the ancient world, 122 m high, built in the 3rd - 4th century AD.
  • Polonnaruwa - North Central. Second most ancient capital of Sri Lanka, declared as capital in 1070 AD. Polonnaruwa was developed as a planned garden city with magnificent buildings and artworks. Declined in the end of the 13th century AD.
  • Sigiriya - Central. One of the most interesting monuments of urban planning worldwide. Sigirya was developed around and on the top of nearly 200 m high rock peak. The construction took place in 477 - 495 AD. Later, until the 13th or 14th century this city was used for Buddhist monastery. This complex includes several unique monuments which include a giant lion whose mouth serves as the entrance to rock fortress and beautiful frescoes - a masterpiece of world importance.
  • Yapahuwa - North Western. Ruins of short-termed capital city of medieval Sri Lanka. Similar to Sigiriya, this town was built on and around huge granite rock which rises almost 100 m tall. Yapahuwa was founded in 1272 and abandoned in 1284. Here have been preserved impressive ruins, especially impressive is the main staircase and cave shrines with sculptures and frescoes.
Adam's Peak - sacred mountain since prehistoric times, Sri Lanka
Adam's Peak - sacred mountain since prehistoric times / Shehanw, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ancient shrines

  • Adam's Peak (Samanala kanda) - Sabaragamuwa. Sacred mountain and impressive natural landmark - 2,243 m tall mountain which dominates the skyline in this part of Sri Lanka. Near the summit of mountain is located Sri Pada - "sacred footprint" which, according to Buddhists, has been left by Buddha, according to Hinduists - by Shiva and according to Christians and Muslims - by Adam. This site has served as a shrine since prehistoric times and before the rise of contemporary religions. Piligrims ascend the mountain by taking thousands of steps made in the cliff.
  • Kataragama - Uva. Pilgrimage town, sacred place to many cultures, including indigenous Vedda, Hindu, Buddhists and Muslims. Main site of the veneration of Kataragama - local deity for more than 2,000 years.
  • Koneswaram temple - Eastern. Important Hindu temple, possibly built in the site of prehistoric shrine. Temple was developed since the 4th century BC at least and includes black stone - megalith. Temple includes tall gilded gopurams - ornate towers as well as undersea parts and valuable artworks. Here is found engraved ancient prophecy about the future of Sri Lanka which so far has been correct.
Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Ruwanwelisaya / Rob Glover, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Buddhist stupas, chaityas

  • Jetavanaramaya - North Central, Anuradhapura. Tallest stupa ever built - 122 m tall, for many centuries the third tallest building in the world after the pyramids of Giza. Constructed in the 3rd - 4th century AD. The construction of this giant structure required much innovation.
  • Ruwanwelisaya (Ruwanweli Saya) - North Central, Anuradhapura. This is a beautiful halfdome stupa, 91 metres high. Constructed in the 2nd century BC, one of the highest achievements of ancient Sri Lankan architecture. Site of legends and mysteries.
  • Somawathie Stupa (Somawathiya Chaitya) - North Central. Historical pagoda of major importance in the past, built in the 2nd century BC. Monastery has served as abode for several Arahants - supremely enlightened beings. This site is famous thanks to unxplained light phenomena - beams of light emanating from the stupa, beating of invisible drums and many other unusual events.
  • Thuparamaya - North Central, Anuradhapura. Oldest known Buddhist stupa in Sri Lanka, originally constructed in 250 - 210 BC. Current stupa was rebuilt in 1862 AD.
Reclining Buddha in Dambulla cave temple, Sri Lanka
Reclining Buddha in Dambulla cave temple / Lankapic, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Rock-cut temples and monasteries

  • Buduruvagala - Uva. Buddhist temple, adorned with rock-cut bareliefs from the 10th century AD. Largest image is 16 m tall. Amazing detail is carved image of flame, where the stone seeps oil which smells like mustard oil.
  • Dambulla Cave Temple - Central. A unique complex of 5 cave temples and monastery, worship has been practised here since the 1st century BC, inhabited since prehistoric times. Partially rock cut caves, adorned with numerous frescoes and statues.
  • Gal Vihara - North Central, Polonnaruwa. Rock cut temple, built in the 12th century AD. One of most impressive features is a group of four enormous Buddhas carved in cliff face.
  • Kuragala monastery - Sabaragamuwa. Group of rock outcrops where in the 2nd century BC was established Buddhist monastery. Monks have made some 30 - 40 cave temples, here are found petroglyphs and ancient writings. Site is partly destroyed by Muslims.
Lankatilaka Temple in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Lankatilaka Temple in Polonnaruwa / R Barraez D´Lucca, / CC BY 2.0

Other temples and monasteries

  • Abhayagiri vihāra - North Central, Anuradhapura. One of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the world, now in ruins. Important pilgrimage site. This monastery was founded in the 2nd century BC and served as a centre of Anuradhapura - capital of Sri Lanka. In the early centuries of our era it served as important centre of wisdom. Most impressive building here is Abhayagiri Dagaba - 75 m tall stupa.
  • Embekka Devalaya - Central. Shrine - exceptional achievement of wood construction and woodcarving. This temple was built in the 14th century.
  • Hatthikuchchi - North Western. Ruins of ancient temple complex, built in the 3rd century BC. Very impressive is the enormous Falling Rock - amazing geological formation.
  • Lankatilaka Temple - Central, Polonnaruwa. One of the best extant examples of Sinhalese temple architecture. Temple is built on the top of rock and has richly ornamented interior.
  • Mihintale - North Central, Anuradhapura. Mountain peak - very sacred site to Buddhists. Here are located several important religious buildings, such as the enormous Kantaka Cetiya (the 3rd century BC). City contains world's oldest dedicated hospital building (the 4th century AD).
  • Nissanka Latha Mandapaya - North Central, Polonnaruwa. Very unusual building, constructed in the times of king Nissanka Malla (the 12th century AD). King used it to listen to chanting of Buddhist scriptures. This structure is low platform which is surrounded by stone wall and adorned with eight curved columns which are covered with stone carvings.
  • Polonnaruwa Vatadage - North Central, Polonnaruwa. Best example of vatadage - specific structure built around smaller Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka. This structure is circular, very ornate, constructed in the 12th century AD.
  • Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara - Eastern. Very old Buddhist temple, founded in the 2nd century BC. Temple complex includes large stupa, ornate entrance gates and remnants of other buildings.
  • Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) - Central, Kandy. A politically important Buddhist temple, it is considered that whoever holds control over its relic (tooth of Buddha), controls Sri Lanka. The tooth was smuggled to Sri Lanka in the early 4th century and was moved to different locations in Sri Lanka - each consequenty becoming a capital. The temple where the tooth is nowadays, was built in the early 18th century.
Avukana Buddha statue, the 5th century AD, Sri Lanka
Avukana Buddha statue / Prince Roy, / CC BY 2.0

Buddha statues

  • Avukana Buddha statue - North Central. More than 12 m tall statue, carved rom live rock in the 5th century AD. Statue is elaborately carved and is one of the best examples of such large, standing sculptures.
  • Maligawila Buddha statue - Uva. Large statue of free-standing Buddha, 11.5 m tall. Statue was carved in the 7th century AD.
  • Samadhi Buddha statue in Kurunegala - North Western. 26.8 m tall Buddha statue towering above Kurunegala city on Ethagala cliff. Built in 2003.

Ancient irrigation systems

  • Kala Wewa - North Central. Ancient reservoir, built in 455 - 473 AD, one of biggest irrigation tanks in the ancient world. Circumference of this water reservoir is 64.4 km, the dam is 6.88 km long and 14.6 m high.
  • Parakrama Samudra - North Central. Largest irrigation project in the medieval Sri Lanka. Main parts are three enormous reservoirs, the oldest was built sometimes around 386 AD.
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
Galle Fort / GalleMediaWorks, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Other man made landmarks

  • Bogoda Wooden Bridge - Uva. Well preserved, ornate wooden bridge which was constructed in the 16th century. Possibly world's oldest wooden bridge, built without any iron details. Bridge is covered.
  • Galle Fort - Southern. Best example of fortified colonial city in Southern Asia. Construction was started in the 16th century by Portuguese and continued by Dutch in the 17th century. Fort takes 52 hectares large, rocky peninsula. Whole area is surrounded by fortification walls. City quartals have preserved their original layout, in the city are numerous historical buildings.
  • Lovamahapaya - North Central, Anuradhapura. Remains of once magnificent palace complex which was covered with bronze tiles. Constructed in the 3rd century BC. Remnants of palace are impressive - 1,600 tall stone pillars in 40 rows. This building was 9 floors and 49 m high.
  • Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens - Central, Kandy. Old botanical gardens, founded sometimes around 1750. Now this beautiful garden contains more than 4,000 species of plants and especially well known is the rich collection of orchids. Scenic highlight of garden is Avenue of Palms.

List of described attractions by provinces

Central
Eastern
Northern
North Central
ArrowSomawathie StupaBuddhist shrines
North Western
Sabaragamuwa
Southern
Uva
Western

Map of Sri Lanka

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