For those who wish to explore the island’s ancient history, the many attractions of the Cultural Triangle, with its ruined cities, temples and statues, are within comfortable reach. About three hours away, it contains no less than four of the island’s seven World Heritage Sites.
The sacred city of Anuradhapura, now in picturesque ruins, was once a major center of Sri Lankan civilization. The fascinating ancient ruins include huge bell-shaped stupas built of small sun-dried bricks, temples, sculptures, palaces, and ancient drinking-water reservoirs.
Polonnaruwa was a medieval Kingdom of Sri Lanka from the 11th to the 13th century. The prominent ruins at Polonnaruwa are the Royal Palace, the Audience Hall, the Lotus Bath, the Statue of king Parakramabahu and the famous Gal Viharaya, where 4 splendid statues of the Buddha in ‘Upright’, ‘Sedentary’ and ‘Recumbent’ postures. The Gal Vihara marks a very important land mark and a high point in rock carving as these four separate statues are all carved out of one large slab of rock.
Thirteen kilometers east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is of enormous significance because it is where Buddhism originated in Sri Lanka. In 247 BC, King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura met Mahinda, son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor Ashoka, while deer hunting around the hill at Mihintale, and was converted to Buddhism. This is a must see for visitors with a deep interest in Buddhism and the site’s history.
The Sigiriya Rock Fortress designated a World Heritage Site in 1982, translates to “Lion Rock” in English. The name of the monument indicates the manner in which visitors begin their final ascent to the top – through the open jaws and throat (‘giriya’) of a lion (‘sinha’). Unfortunately, the only remains of this lion figure are the gigantic paws, sculpted into the side of the rock. The unusual rock is particularly interesting due to its flat top (nearly an acre in size), that was used in its entirety to build King Kasyapa’s fortress complex, still evident by the presence of the extensive ruins.
The Dambulla Cave Temple contains up to 150 beautiful images of the Buddha 150 dating back to the 1st century BC. Located at a height of over 100 metres on a huge rock, the walls are also adorned with colorful frescoes of various scenes related to the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and great deeds of the kings.