Anuradhapura is a sacred ancient city in Sri Lanka founded in the 4th century BC, whose beautiful ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over time, Anuradhapura became one of the great capitals of Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), garnering both political and religious significance.
The 3rd century BC saw Anuradhapura grow in importance for the Buddhist faith. In around 250 BC, Anuradhapura gained its first Buddhist sovereign, Tissa, and in the same century, the city was gifted a highly sacred object in the shape of a tree cutting.
The fig tree from which the cutting originated is believed to be the same one under which Siddharta – the founder of Buddhism – became enlightened.
The kings of Anuradhapura ruled for centuries, establishing a series of impressive monuments, from palaces and monasteries to sculptures and dagobas. However, the city suffered numerous attacks by the Tamils, Pandyas and Cholas. The final blow occurred in around 993 AD with an attack by King Chola Rajaraja I, after which Anuradhapura was abandoned in favour of Polonnaruwa.
Today, the modern city of Anuradhapura houses an incredible set of ruins belonging to its ancient counterpart, especially a number of Buddhist shrines.
There are numerous stupas and dagabas (mounds which house sacred relics), including the beautiful Ruwanwelisaya stupa with its thousands of elephant sculptures, the Thuparamaya and the vast Jetavanarama.
The sacred fig tree said to have grown from the ancient cutting also remains at the site, and attracts Buddhist pilgrims from around the world.
Getting to Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is a major city in Sri Lanka well-linked by road to most of the island. Jaffna International Airport is around 200 km away travelling via the A9, however also Anuradhapura has its own airport for domestic flights.
Anuradhapura Railway Station is located in the centre of the city, a short walk away to most attractions, while a number of bus services also run throughout, including the 57-18 that runs through part of the old town.
Sri Lanka Historic Sites
Explore the ancient history of Sri Lanka through our guide to the island's 10 best historic tites, featuring the sacred Anuradhapura and the colossal Jetavanarama Dagoba.