Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is the number one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka.

Wikipedia

The Anuradhapura kingdom lasted nearly one thousand and five hundred years. King Pandukabhaya chose the already existing town Anuradhapura as his capital in 380 BC. It then served as residence and royal capital for 119 successive Singhalese kings till 1000 AD when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa. Nowadays the former capital is Sri Lanka’s major excavation area and home to many of the earliest and grandest monuments of the ancient Sinhalese civilization. It became a popular destination for Buddhist pilgrimages, too, because of its many venerated shrines and relics.

You will see some of the most famous as well as the tallest dagobas of Sri Lanka and remains from palaces, temples, monasteries, ceremonial baths and the famous temple of the holy Bo-tree. This tree was grown from a sapling of the very tree under which more than 2500 years ago the Buddha found enlightenment. Today's Sacred Tree in Bodhgaya is not the original one anymore, but a sampling of that Anuradhapura Bo-tree again.

Sigiriya

Sigiriya Palace & Fortress in the Sky

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Sigiriya, the spectacular so-called "Lion rock" fortress, stands majestically overlooking the luscious green jungle surroundings, and is one of Sri Lanka's major attractions.

Sigiriya was built by king Kasyapa, who was the son of king Dhatusena and a palace consort. As legend goes, King Dhatusena was overthrown and walled in alive by his rebellious son Kasyapa in 473 AD. Mogallana, Dhatusena's son by the true queen, fled to India vowing revenge. Kasyapa fearing an invasion built this impregnable fortress at Sigiriya. When the invasion finally took place in 491, Kasyapa rode out to the battle on his war elephant.

In an attempt to outflank his half-brother Mogallana, Kasyapa took a wrong turn, and his elephant got stuck in the mud. His soldiers, thinking Kasyapa was retreating, fled abandoning him, and so left alone he took his own life. Sigiriya later on became a monastic refuge, but eventually fell into disrepair.

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993

Wikipedia

While Vijayabahu's victory and shifting of Kingdoms to the more strategic Polonnaruwa is considered significant, the real Polonnaruwa Hero of the history books is actually his grandson, Parakramabahu I. It was his reign that is considered the Golden Age of Polonnaruwa, when trade and agriculture flourished under the patronage of the king, who was so adamant that no drop of water falling from the heavens was to be wasted, and each be used toward the development of the land; hence, irrigation systems that are far superior to those of the Anuradhapura Age were constructed during Parakramabahu's reign, systems which to this day supply the water necessary for paddy cultivation during the scorching dry season in the east of the country.

The greatest of these systems, of course is the Parakrama Samudraya or the Sea of Parakrama, a tank so vast that it is often mistaken for an ocean. It is of such a width that it is impossible to stand upon one shore and view the other side, and it encircles the main city like a ribbon, being both a moat against intruders and the lifeline of the people in times of peace. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was completely self-sufficient during King Parakramabahu's reign.

Dambulla

Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla

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The Rajamaha Temple of Rangiri Dambulla (Golden Rock Temple) is located north of Kandy and considered by many to be the centre point of Sri Lanka. Dambulla is a town built around a vast isolated monad rock. The temple is a World Heritage City site declared by UNESCO.

The name Dambulla derives from Damba - Rock and Ulla - fountain. One can see the incessant drip of water from the fountain inside the main cave's image house. The complex of caves at Dambulla is one of the most impressive Buddhist Temples in the world. It was here that King Vattagamini Abhaya (Valagamba) took refuge in the 1st century BCE. He later turned the caves into a rock temple. Later kings carried out further improvements, including King Nissanka Malla from Pollonaruwa who ordered the temple interior to be gilded, earning it the name of Ran Giri - Golden Rock. Dambulla's most splendid works of art are rock paintings, masterpieces of the Kandyan era.