Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka – UNESCO

Top Heritage Sites (UNESCO)

Sri Lanka is home to eight(8) UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES.
Divided into two categories,
Cultural (6 Sites)  |  Natural (2 Sites)
Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is an ancient capital city of Sri Lanka which lasted more than a millennium from 377 BC to 1017 AD. The civilization which was built upon this city was one of the greatest civilizations of Asia and in the world. It is an important cultural treasure with a deep importance for Buddhism, our history, and it is world-famous for its well-preserved ruins of the Great Sri Lankan Civilization.

The city is now a UNESCO heritage site in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, on the banks of the historic Malwathu Oya. (It is situated 205 km north of the current capital Colombo) Founded in the 4th century BC, it was the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom until the beginning of the 11th century CE. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia.

It was also a wealthy city which created a unique culture and a great civilization. Today this ancient city of Sri Lanka, which is sacred to the Buddhist world, which its surrounding monasteries covers an area of over 40 square kilometres and is one of the world’s major archaeological sites.


Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The second most ancient of the kingdoms in Sri Lanka is Polonnaruwa (a UNESCO Heritage site). It was first declared as the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, whom defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 CE to reunite the country once more under a local leader. While Vijayabahu’s victory and shifting of Kingdoms to the more strategic Polonnaruwa is considered significant, but the history books consider the contribution of his grandson, Parakramabahu I, as the most significant.

However, with the exception of his immediate successor, Nissankamalla I, all other monarchs of Polonnaruwa were slightly weak-willed and rather prone to picking fights within their own court. They also went on to form more intimate alliances with the stronger South Indian Kingdoms. These alliances did not bode well as they superseded the local royal lineage and gave rise to the Kalinga invasion by King Magha in 1214. Following King Magha, power shifted into the hands of a Pandyan King after the Arya Chakrawarthi invasions of Sri Lanka in 1284. The capital was then shifted to Dambadeniya.

Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the kingdom’s first rulers.


Ancient City of Sigiriya

Sigiriya or Lion Rock, a UNESCO heritage site, is considered by some as the eighth wonder of the world. It consists of the fortress used by King Kashyapa of the 5th century AD. The Sigiriya site consists of the  remains of the palace on top of the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate, the Mirror Wall and the Sigiriya Frescoes. The lower complex  consist of the moats, walls and gardens that extend for some hundreds of meters out from the base of the rock.

The site is both a palace and a fortress. Sufficient remains to provide the visitor with a stunning insight into the ingenuity and creativity of its builders.

The upper palace on the top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock that still retain water. The moats and walls that surround the lower palace are still exquisitely beautiful.


Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

This site comprises the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. Central Highlands was added to the list in 2010 and qualified because of its biodiversity.

Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Galle is a town situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, 119 km  from Colombo. Galle was known as Gimhathiththa (although Ibn Batuta in the 14th century refers to it as Qali) before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, before the arrival of the British, who developed the harbor at Colombo.

On 26 December 2004 the city was devastated by the massive Boxing Day tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that occurred 1,600 kilometres (1,000 mi) away, off the coast of Indonesia.


Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple

Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple(also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla) is a world heritage site in Sri Lanka. Situated in the central part of the country it is mostly visited along with Sigiriya. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m (525 ft) over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding, but the major attractions are spread over 5 caves. The caves contain statues and paintings which are related to Lord Buddha and his life.

There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. The later 4 include two statues of Hindu gods, god Vishnu and god Ganesh. The murals, covers an area of 2,100 square meters. Depictions in the walls of the caves include Buddha’s temptation by Mara (demon) and Buddha’s first sermon.

Dambulla Temple

Sacred City of Kandy

Kandy is considered the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. The Sri Dalada Maligawa or The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a temple in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka. It was built within the royal palace complex which houses the tooth relic of the Buddha, a tooth, which is venerated by Buddhists. The relic has played an important role in the local politics since ancient times, it’s believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country, which caused the ancient kings to protect it with great effort. Kandy was the capital of the Sinhalese Kings from 1592 to 1815, fortified by the terrain of the mountains and the difficult approach. The city is a world heritage site declared by UNESCO, in part due to the temple.

Monks of the two chapters of Malwatte and Asgiriya conduct daily ritual worship in the inner chamber of the temple, in an annual rotation. They conduct these services three times a day: at dawn, at noon and in the evening.


Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests ecoregion, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1989. The reserve’s name translates as Kingdom of the Lion. The reserve is only 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4 mi) from north to south, but it is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are no elephants, and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The most common larger mammal is the endemic Purple-faced Langur.

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