First of all it took me 5 tries to actually spell these two names right, Secondly Sri Lanka is full of evidence and traces of its rich history, especially within the 2 cities I am about to write about. One the old capital of Ceylon, Anuradhapura, the second was the second largest city other than the first, Pollanuruwa. Both with so much character, stories to tell, but both becoming UNESCO World Heritage sites in , which intrigued me even more to go to both of them.
ANURADHAPURA – 7,179 km2, and £21 for entry
I hopped on a Bike from my Hostel for the day around Anuradhapura. It was a long day, starting around 8am and finally deciding I needed to go and eat by 4pm. The beauty of the Ancient City completely overwhelmed me, so much to look at and take in
The suprise and spontaneous development of the day was the young boy who ended up showing me round after he said hi to me on his bike. His name was Amal and he wanted to learn English, I wanted to learn the history of the city he grew up in. Deal! He took me to areas I wouldn’t have even gone to, and knew the best routes which meant i got to see so much more than I would of.
Abhayagirya Stupa is the first stop within the Ancient city i visited. It is one of the most extensive ruins in the world and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities in the nation. It was built in honour of many different kinds of Buddhism, so is a very significance historical Ruin. The Stupa was built from 89-77 BC, and is one of the oldest ruins in Sri Lanka, its incredible to think its still standing!
The Ruwanwelisya Stupa requests you to take your shoes off before entering and dress appropriately, this is still a working temple. There are Buddhists monks and also children following them in, for their daily ceremony. You have to walk around Ruwanwelisaya stupa in a clock-wise manner… (Remember, it’s believed that the Buddha will bless you from your right arm). It has the smaller Stupa in each corner of the complex too.
This was the busiest Stupa and site i went to in the whole of the Ancient City complex , due to its community and worshipping ceremonies which happen daily. This Stupa was actually built in 140 B.C., making it nearly 1900 years old, and built in the time of King Dutugemunu, crazy!
A procession of villagers had arrived for a post-harvest ceremony at Ruwanwelisaya when we got there. They carried on a rather long piece of orange fabric which they proceed to carry around the stupa and subsequently wrap it around the stupa.
The Ratnaprasada, Moonstone , found outside of the … architecture throughout Sri Lanka, with different meanings of the animals within the moonstone lines for wisdom, health, bravery and protection.
Degha pasana cave, is hidden close to the Lake I cycled around, with sacred stones, and hidden carvings we found bathing ponds, and even a group of Buddhists touching the cave rocks to pay their respects.
Samadhi Buddha Statue is a very sacred statue to Sri Lanka, one of the main rules is to not turn your back to the statue out of respect. The Buddha is in Meditation pose one of the most important Buddhist poses around the World.
Kapara Mula is the ruins of the Monastry which houses the Monks. The ruins are so interesting here, from the huge Kitchen room with the intact mixing trough which used to make the huge curry meals for the daily meals. Archaeological digs are still under way, allowing you to see the brick foundations emerge from the forest soil, full of moss, rocks and boulder which if you look closely are actually flour grinders.
Elephant Pond – Eth Pokuna is an ancient man made pond situated close to Lankaramaya. In length it is 52 metres and 9.5 meters in width, with a serious depth to it too, basically its huge and why it gets its name. I saw monkeys drinking from it, and the water to this pond has been supplied from the Periyamkulama Tank through a network of underground canals. These underground canals still work after so many hundreds years. These huge pools will have been used by the monks to bath and other households.
This one is of particular significance as it’s the meditation caves for the first monks in Sri Lanka. It was given to the monks by the King (the monks were also members of the Royal family) and its also where old Sri Lankan alphabets are engraved on.
Twin Ponds are found very close to the Monks Accommodation. Also known as the Kuttam Pokuna, two of the best specimens of bathing tanks or pools in ancient Sri Lanka. The said pair of pools were built by the Sinhalese in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura. These are considered one of the significant achievements in plumbing in these times, and for the artistic details found on them. Like the snakes/ serpents found around the steps and main steps as guardians.
Anuradhurpura Museum was full of beautiful statues, and some really helpful staff to ask any questions I had. I even helped them with some oft eh new information boards with grammar and spelling
POLLANARUWA – 3,291km2 – £21 entry fee
The name comes from its Tamil form, Pulainari, is mentioned in Tamil inscriptions found at Polonnaruwa of the Chola period, the city is over 1950 years old , with ruins from 81 BC.
I had a driver for this visit, but there was alot of people on Bicycles doing the same route. Unfortunately this meant i didnt learn as much as i would of done with a guide, so recommend this instead of doing it yourself. However I did join onto a particular guided group for a few stops just to learn what I could! It has a very similar history to The Ancient Capital City Anuradhapura, however this city was more noticeably the Royal City.
First stop was the Museum, full of artifacts, models, paintings and information about this extraordinary city. It starts the day off perfectly to understand what you are about to see.
The Royal Palace, has 5 foot high walls still intact. Making it an incredible site to walk through, with different layers to it with even paint still being found on the walls in some more shaded areas.
The Citadel is a beautiful structure in walking distance from the Royal Palace, with tiered layers each carved out with animals and decoration. The columns as you walk to the top are still intact and so in the moonstone at the foot of the steps up. It was a beautiful piece of architecture, and so privileged to still see so much of its detailed meanings in the stone.
One of my favourite stops in this Ancient City, due to the intact remains, like the Vatadage with Buddhas looking back at you from each staircase on the second tier and 4 staircases in each direction. The columns within the temples surrounding it, and the 5 tiered towers which are still preserved. This dates back to 79AD, with one of the finest in tact moonstones in the whole architectural site. It’s the most concentrated collection of buildings you’ll find in the Ancient Cities – an archaeologist’s playground.
Kumara Pokuna is the largest area because of it being the outer city, I only saw some of this area driving through it to other parts. With small amounts of ruins, covering these areas, mainly small local houses with one room, courtyard and out houses. All outside of the main defensive walls of the ancient medieval city.
Somawathiya Stupa is a beautifully preserved Stupa dating back to 1070 AD surrounded by trees, grass and nature, no wonder believers truly believed this Stupa was blessed. It was so quiet when I was there only 2 other couples, so I walked round the Stupa three times, 2 times is seen as unlucky it must always be an uneven number and clockwise around it!
Kiri vihara and Lankathilaka Image House is the tallest building which once had a roof and almost church feel to it, with the huge Body of Buddha almost 14 metres tall through the now roofless corridor of the image house (temple)… It has a dramatic quite height
Lotus Pond of location and just what is there, but still worth a quick stop to go and see the beautiful craftsmanship of this Lotus shaped pong, where royals or dignitary’s would of bathed.
Gal Vihara, is one of the most important Buddhist locations in Pollaneruwa, It was fashioned in the 12th century by Parakramabahu I. The central feature of the temple is four rock reliefstatues of the Buddha, which have been carved into the face of a large granitic rock
Closely located is Tivanka image house which was stunning, again it was not as busy as the main area, but definitely worth a nosey at the end of the northern road. The interior is so quiet with statues all the way along the inner temple, the carvings on the exterior so detailed, with some unusually shocking statue features (that’s as much as I will say).
Between both of these beautiful Ancient Cities looking back they are both worth a visit for any keen geologist or history geeks like me. There is a lot of information to take in and learn. Anuradhapura as the ancient capital has such a spread out area that you could spend several days here if you really wanted, with so many different things to see from the ponds to the stupas, the buddhist trees and museums. It was my first taste of Sri Lanka and its people so holds a special meaning to me.
Pollanaruwa on the other hand had much more built up ruins to the buildings and temples which remain in this beautiful site. Walking through the palace and remains of some of the more unusual and diverse ruins like the dramatic which were not at Annurhadapura meant I didn’t feel like I was repeating what I got to see and experience.
All I can say is spread the visits out to both so you don’t feel like you are ‘templing’ yourself out, (aka Templed out). Hire a guide, and have the authentic Sri Lankan passion telling you about these important cities within their history.