The ‘Teardrop Isle’ of Sri Lanka has a great deal to offer travellers – from stunning coastline and beaches to the lush green highlands of the interior, ancient cultures and delicious cuisine. Having been directly in the path of the trade routes even before the days of the spice trade, it’s a multi-faceted country that will keep you fascinated, particularly with its wealth of ancient sites. Here are some of our favourite World Wonders from Sri Lanka. All that’s left to do is wrap your tongue around the place names!
The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Featuring the ruins of Parakramabahu I dating from the 12th Century, Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s second capital city. It’s buildings have a ‘special relationship with the natural setting’, and it’s probably because of this that the dimensions of the buildings are so unusual. This was a place inhabited by kings, who decorated the walls lavishly and built statues to their gods. It was also inevitably the scene of invasions – and finally it went into decline after the removal of that famous relic, the tooth of the Lord Buddha.
Site of the famous ‘Lion Mountain’, Sigiriya has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, and was established as King Kassapa’s capital in the 5th Century AD. Featuring a fascinating ruined complex including the fortified palace, rock sculptures, terraced gardens, ancient graffiti and rock paintings, this is one of the most recognisable places on the island and the climb to the summit affords incredible views across the forested plains.
The Sacred city of Kandy
The last capital of the Sinhala kings, Kandy’s Dinhala culture flourished here until the British occupation of 1815. Perhaps more famously, it’s the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, a famous pilgrimage site. And not surprisingly – it’s here that Buddha’s tooth is reported to be kept. Once a year a replica of the tooth is paraded through the streets on top of a brightly decorated elephant for Kandy festival, and accompanied by jubilant dancers, fire-breathers and jugglers.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla
A cave monastery with five sanctuaries, Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in the country, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that it’s been a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. It remains a very important example of religious art in the area, and if the centuries-old masterpieces don’t impress you, then the fact that the temple complex has been continuously inhabited since the 3rd century surely will.
Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands
Located in south-central Sri Lanka, these montane forests are some 2500 meters above sea level and maintain a huge range of plants and animals, including the Sri Lankan leopard. Most of Sri Lanka’s wildlife and flowering plants are restricted to this area, making it hugely important ecologically. Read all about Amar Grover’s train journey into the Sri Lankan highlands here.