At Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, a young monk has just finished washing himself at the ancient well of the Ruwanweliseya Monastery. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Anuradhapura is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction.
Sri Lanka – Been There

Time travel in a world heritage wonderland

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Sri Lanka – Been There Time travel in a world heritage wonderland

The history of Sri Lanka is one of a highly sophisticated culture and an irresistible mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Jochem Wijnands
Jochem Wijnands Founder / photographer

The interior of the island is littered with archaeological sites, at least seven of which have been cited as Unesco World Heritage sites. They have witnessed war, patricide, divine inspiration, megalomanic dictators and religious chaos, but luckily I don’t have to worry about all of that now as I jump from site to site thrilled by the pomp and circumstance that I encounter. The collection of historical places that I am visiting is known as the “Cultural Triangle.”

My journey back in time leads me to Anuradhapura, founded approximately 2,500 years ago and the original capital of Sri Lanka. The city is spread over 40 square kilometers, with a gigantic stupa here and there (a Buddhist shrine, temple or pagoda that houses a relic or marks the location of an auspicious event). To the west lies an enormous water reservoir that has been supplying the local people since at least 430 BCE.

The city was razed to the ground countless times, with hardly a stone left standing. The ruins lie under meters of sand, although some foundations have been excavated, creating an eerie impression. My imagination cannot take it all in and I wander aimlessly until I come across the Jetvana Vihara stupa. Standing at 120 meters, it is by far the highest building in the city and made entirely of brick. Unbelievable, really.

The cupola is so drastically overgrown that Unesco has been busy with the massive, unprecedented restoration for years. Mesmerized, I follow the dozens of workers, with wheelbarrows full of bricks, over the fragile scaffolding. There are enough bricks here to build an entire city. This alone gives an indication of the greatness of this historical era.

Feeling inspired? TRVL is a peer-to-peer booking platform that enables you to tailor-make trips for your friends (and earn up to 10% per booking). TRVL is free, sign up today.

Other stories about Sri Lanka