NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Anuradhapura lies in north-central Sri Lanka
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION
3rd century BC to 10th century AD
Jan: 79°F (26°C); Apr: 84°F (29°C); Jul: 81°F (27°C); Oct: 81°F (27°C)
The capital of ancient Sri Lanka for over 1,000 years, Anuradhapura was one of the greatest monastic cities the world has ever seen. In its heyday, it was the archetypal Buddhist theocracy; a miniature kingdom where divinely ordained kings ruled alongside a powerful Buddhist clergy, and where the boundaries between the secular and the religious remained hazy at best. The city had a population of some 10,000 monks and its monasteries were a powerhouse of Buddhist learning and theology, the influence of which spread to India, Burma, Thailand, and beyond.
Anuradhapura fell into terminal decline following an Indian invasion in AD 993, but its ruins still paint a memorable picture of the large and sophisticated society that once flourished here. Pride of place goes to the city’s succession of gargantuan stupas, including the Thuparama Dagoba, which is surrounded by narrow stone pillars, and the mighty Jetavanaramaya Dagoba, which is almost 328 ft (100 m) high and was built using an estimated 90 million bricks. This is the second-largest man-made structure in the ancient world, surpassed only by the pyramids at Giza in Egypt.
Be sure to follow the crowds of sarong-clad locals to the Sri Maha Bodhi, a 2,000-year-old sacred fig tree that was allegedly grown from a cutting of the tree in India where the Buddha himself gained enlightenment. This is thought to be the world’s oldest human-planted tree, and attracts thousands of Buddhist pilgrims every year.
Finally, take a trip to the ancient reservoirs and irrigation works that pepper the countryside near Anuradhapura and serve as an enduring reminder of the city’s once-thriving agrarian society.
Getting There Take a flight straight to Colombo, and then travel by train, bus, or car to Anuradhapura, which is 128 miles (206 km) away. The site is quite spread out and is most easily and enjoyably tackled on a bicycle.
When to Go The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from November to April, outside the main monsoon months, although Anuradhapura itself remains fairly dry all year round.