Ancient Capital of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is 205 kms from Colombo and it is the first capital of Sri Lanka founded in the 4 century BC. Anuradhapura is considered the most extensive and the most important of the ancient cities in the northern region. It served as a capital city of this region for over 1000 years and hence was residence to many Sri Lankan kings from 377 BC. King Pandukhabhaya first made it a capital, naming it after the constellation Anuradha. He was followed by king Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) in whose reign Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka and became the predominant religion. The city became great and a centre for Buddhist devotion. The great Sinhalese kings Dutugamunu (161-137 BC), Vasabha and Mahasena belonged to the Anuradhapura period.
Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Bo-tree)
The sacred Bo-tree has grown from a cutting of the Bo-tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. This cutting was brought from India by Mahinda’s sister, Sanghamitta Bhikkuni (Buddhist nun) during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) to Sri Lanka. The king built the Maha Vihara (‘great temple’) for the monks and the Bo-tree was planted in the compound. Later the Ruwanveliseya stupa and Brazen Palace were built within the grounds of the Maha Vihara.
The Sri Maha Boddhiya Bo-tree is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world. It is over 2250 years old. It is visited by Buddhist devotees who come to make offerings and is watched over by guardians all year through. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien visited the site in the fifth century AD when he stayed three years on the island.
The ruins of the Brazen Palace are close to the Bo-tree. The palace was so called because of its bronze roof and was described in the Mahavansa as having nine storeys and supported by ‘sixteen hundred pillars of rock’. It was built in 161 BC by Dutugemunu to accommodate 1000 monks.
Abayagiri Dagaba and Monastery
This Dagaba was also named after its monastery, which housed 5000 monks. It was built during the reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya (Valagamba) in 89 to 77 BC. By the first century AD the Abayagiri monastery had become famous attracting scholars from all over the world. Abayagiri enjoyed a golden age in the 4th century AD under King Mahasena when it housed the Tooth Relic (now housed in the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy). At the site are the Twin Ponds or Kuttam Pokuna which are two unusual baths beautifully constructed in polished stone. The entrance steps to the baths have two stone punkalas (pots of abundance). The Elephant pond at Abayagiri is an enormous bathing pool measuring the equivalent of six standard Olympic pools.
Jetavana – The tallest stupa in the world
At over 360 feet in height (originally 400 feet in height) Jetavana is the tallest stupa in the world. This colossal structure was made out of brick in the 3rd century AD. In the 4th century at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, this was the third tallest monument in the world. The first and second being the two tallest pyramids at Gizeh, Egypt.