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Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 1

For such a small island, Sri Lanka certainly has more than its fair share of World Heritage sites to enjoy. Read more about these extraordinary sites here!

1. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

A temple in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

A temple in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

After the destruction of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the capital of Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa is a complex of ancient buildings, including stupas, temples, administrative buildings and others that bear testament to the civilisations that have lived here over the years. As well as being a shrine to Buddhist and Sinhalese history, the mark left by the Cholas – who were disciples of Brahmanism – makes it a fascinating place to explore. After a golden age of prosperity, Polonnaruwa went into decline once the coveted Tooth Relic was removed. Wander through the ancient buildings, explore the temples and take a walk around the enormous Rankot Vihara, a stupa of some 175m in diameter and 55m high. Don’t forget to remove your shoes when entering the holy sites of the city!

2. Ancient City of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Built at the summit of a 370m high granite peak, and on the surrounding slopes, the city of Sigiriya was built by King Kassapa (477 – 95). As one wanders the ruined fountains and terraced gardens surrounding the peak, it’s hard not to imagine how life must have been

Cloud Maidens, Sigiriya

Cloud Maidens, Sigiriya

for the inhabitants of the city, who lived in exceptional splendour under the rule of their king. Halfway up the rock, under an overhanging rocky shelter, you’ll find ancient paintings of the ‘Maidens of the Clouds’, 21 beautiful (though unidentified) female figures. A little further – and up between the enormous carved paws of a lion – and you’ll reach the summit, where the king had his palace. Take a moment to admire the incredible view!

3.  Golden Temple of Dambulla

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

The best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka, Dambulla has been a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. With five sanctuaries housing exquisite statues and artworks, this is a must-see on any trip to Sri Lanka. Continuously inhabited since the 3rd Century BC, the complex has been developed extensively, now including brick walls to screen the caves and terraces. Take a few minutes to sit quietly in one of the sanctuaries and think about the many thousands of monks and pilgrims who have found peace here over the years.

4.  Old Town of Galle

Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Founded by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, Galle reached the height of its development just prior to the arrival of the British. It’s the best example in South and Southeast Asia of a city built by Europeans, and following the takeover by the Dutch in 1640 it became heavily fortified – impregnable against the English, French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese until the handover to the British in 1796. Drop in for a taste of colonial history!

Read more about Sri Lanka’s Top Spots here, and stay tuned for Part 2 in our series on Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites!

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