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Places to visit in Anuradhapura ( Must See Places )

Updated on February 3, 2012

Temples , Dagobas , palaces and ponds in Anuradhapura are must visit place for tourists

The sacred city of Anuradhapura is one of the seven world heritage sites in Sri Lanka and considered a must see place for tourists who are interested in exploring historic sites. Unlike Sigiriya or Golden temple of Dambulla this is not just one place , it is a whole city with lots of things to see and without proper guidance this could be a bit overwhelming. If you are arriving to Sri Lanka through a tour guide company then it want matter because most of them have experience tour guides. But if you are not then this article would prove to be very helpful. The things to see in Anuradhapura could be divided into four categories. Magnificent Dagobas , Old palaces with moonstones and guard stones , temples with beautiful paintings and carvings ,ponds that are distributed among the city and finally statues of Buddhist monks , various gods and kings.. For Buddhists the most important places are named "Atamasthana" which could be loosely translated to English as eight important places of worship.

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Abhayagiriya Dagoba in Anuradhapura
Abhayagiriya Dagoba in Anuradhapura

Dagobas in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is famous for its huge and magnificent dagobas. They are sometimes referred as "Stupa" ( Sanskrit ) or "Seya" ( Sinhalese ) and some of these are awe inspiring sights for tourists. You have to be close by to get a really good idea about how large these structures are and it would have taken a great effort to build these large structures more than 2000 years ago. There are hundreds of Dagobas in Anuradhapura and listed below are few of the most famous ones. Most of these Dagobas are included in "Atamasthana" as well which is an added bonus.

  • Ruwanweliseya
  • Without a doubt the most famous Dagoba in Sri Lanka it is one of the most well preserved ones as well. Its huge pure white structure is visible for miles and it is one of the most visited Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka. It was built by King Dutugamunu who is famous for defeating King Elara and liberating the country from Hindu rule. The structure is 300ft high and the circumference at the base is close to 1000ft. It is also known as "Swarnamali stupa" and considered one of the best made Dagobas in Sri Lanka.
  • Abhayagiriya
  • Abhayagiriya is another huge dagoba which was built by King Valagamba. It is not as well preserved as Ruwanweliseya and its under renovation by Archeological department. Although it is a religious places it is considered a national monument as well because King Valagamba built it after defeating an invading Tamil king and liberating the country.
  • Mirisavetiya
  • Another huge Dagoba built by King Dutugamunu which makes him one of the most dedicated Buddhist kings the country ever had. According to historians King Dutugamunu built it because he had a chilly curry without giving a share to clergy first.
  • Thuparamaya
  • Built by King Devanampiyatissa this is considered the first Dagoba built in Sri Lanka according to Buddhist culture. It is not as huge as most Dagobas found in Anuradhapura and stand at around 4M high. The stone piles surrounding it is evidence that it was one of the first dagobas that had a vatadage.
  • Jetavanaramaya
  • This 122M high huge Dagoba was built by King Mahasen and it once was the tallest stupas from ancient times. It is an awe inspiring huge structure although it is not as well maintained as most other Dagobas.

Listed above are few of the most famous and visited Dadobas in Anuradhapura. The city of Anuradhapura is filled with Dagobas so you want have trouble finding one but it is always a good idea to visit one of the above because then you can see the structural genius that was required to build these monumental structures.

Moonstone in Queen's palace in Anuradhapura
Moonstone in Queen's palace in Anuradhapura

Palaces in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the the first capital of Sri Lanka and it remained that way for hundreds of years. Until the South Indian invasions forced the capital to be relocated it was one of the most prosperous cities in that era. Palaces were built for Kings and queens who resided there and they were few of the most luxurious building in that time with emphasis given to decorating the castle with fine art like painting and stone carvings. Below listed are some palaces found in Anuradhapura.

  • Queens Palace
  • Queens palace is famous for the beautiful moonstone that could be found in the entrance. It is one of the best preserved moonstones found in Sri Lanka and it clearly shows the influence of Buddhism in its carvings.
  • Mahasen Palace
  • Mahasen palace is famous for its guard stones and it has one of the well preserved guard stones from the Anuradhapura era. Most of the time carving in the guard stone is very unique and this one has a figure of a dwarf carved into it. Snakes and soldiers are the other most commonly found carvings.

Isurumuniya Lovers
Isurumuniya Lovers

Temples and Monastries in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and the whole city of Anuradhapura is filled with temples. The most sacred of these places is the "Sri Maha Bodiya" , a very old Fig tree which is part of the Fig tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Sri Maha Bodiya was a heavily guarded location before the end of the war but the security has somewhat lessened a bit after the end of the war. With a golden fence surrounding it is a truly magnificent sight and during poya days when the surrounding area is lit with lamps it becomes a very beautiful site.

Another famous temple in Anuradhapura is the Isurumuniya Raja Maha viharaya which is famous for its stone carving. The temple is located on top of a rock and there are few famous rock carvings engraved to the rock. The most famous of these rock carving is the "Isurumuniya lovers" which is famous all over Sri Lanka.

Another important religious building of note is the Lovamahapaya which is considered to have nine stories when it was originally built. Although it was not a temple it served as a place where monks can gather and discuss religion.

Above mentioned are few of the most important temples and monasteries found in Anuradhapura but there are plenty more to be found in the city.

Kuttam Pokuna in Anuradhapura
Kuttam Pokuna in Anuradhapura

Ponds in Anuradhapura

As mentioned before before the south Indian invasions Anuradhapura was one of the most prosperous cities in the world and to cater to the huge population of civilians and clergy ponds were built all over the city. There are lots of ponds scattered throughout the ancient city but without a doubt the most beautiful of them all is the Kuttam Pokuna. The pond gets its name because of the two ponds built adjacent to each other but according to historians they were built in different eras. Beautiful carving around the ponds and the snake carved guard stones make is a beautiful site to visit and it is considered a highlight in the advanced irrigation system used in that era.

Samadhi Buddha status in Mahamewna park in Anuradhapura
Samadhi Buddha status in Mahamewna park in Anuradhapura

Statues in Anuradhapura

Buddhism played a huge role in the development of Anuradhapura and various statues of Lord Buddha can be found everywhere in Anuradhapura. The most famous statue is known as "Samadhi statue" which shows Lord Buddha in a meditating position. This statue is situated in Mahamewna uyana which a park made during the Anuradhapura era.

Another famous statue is the "Awkana statue" situated near the Kala wewa , wewa being the Sinhalese word for the reservoir. It shows a person in a standing position and one of the more impressive and well preserved statues found from that era. Almost every temple have a statue of Lord Buddha inside them and there are various more statues of Kings and Hindu gods found in temples.

Other places to see in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is a huge city and as you can see above there are hundreds of things for you to see in Anuradhapura. Because it is situated in a relatively dry area Kings build huge reservoirs to hold the water and there are few huge reservoirs in the city. Most pilgrims enjoy bathing in these reservoirs before going to places of worship.

Different parks built during that time are another place that you might consider visiting. The parks were built for the royalty and they consist beautiful stone and wood carvings , beautiful ponds etc. Definitely a great place to visit if you are fascinated by ancient sites.

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    • lankanwriter profile image
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      lankanwriter 6 years ago

      @TonyPayne: yep, Anuradhapura is a great place to visit if you are lover of history

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Looks amazing, I would like to visit one day.