The island of Sri Lanka may lie only a short journey off the south-eastern coast of India, but its history and its culture are very different to its prominent neighbor. Because of its location and its excellent harbors it was a territory that was greatly coveted by colonial powers, having been part of the Portuguese, Dutch and British Empires during its history. Although each of these powers have left their mark, there are also plenty of historical sites related to the native people of the island to explore too.
The Sacred City Of Kandy
Although the city of Kandy is the second largest in Sri Lanka, the sacred city that is included in the name of the site refers to the predecessor of today’s bustling city, and is important because of the Palace of the Tooth to be found within its boundaries. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy which ruled much of the interior of the island from the fifteenth century through to the early nineteenth century.
The Temple of the Tooth itself is a building dedicated to a relic housed in the temple which is said to be the tooth of the Buddha himself. The sanctuary in which the tooth is housed is very ornate, and the temple is surrounded by a number of other gardens and palaces, along with the Museum of Kandy.
As with the city of Kandy, the modern city of Anuradhapura is also the location of a much older city that today boasts some of the oldest city ruins to be found in the whole of Sri Lanka. The ancient city became one of the most important places in South Asian civilization, and this has led it to being among the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world.
Among the most important parts of the ruins to be found in the city are the bathing pools of Kuttam Pokuna, involving some beautifully preserved sculptures in the city. There are also many Buddhist sites and monasteries to be found across the city. One of the many traits of this architecture is the bell-shaped masonry, some of which are truly huge in scale.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is a testament to the superb planning of the kings that founded the city, and their emphasis on water conservation that helped the area to flourish. The ruins of the city are a wonderful place to explore, including an old temple, some wonderful statues and well decorated walls. The site was recognized by UNESCO as an important historical site, but was also used because of its beautiful site in a music video for Duran Duran.
Today visitors to the ancient city will usually stay in the nearby city of the same name, and one interesting aspect for visitors is that it can be significantly colder than other parts of the island in December and January.
One of the most interesting sites in Sri Lanka is the rock fortress to be found in Sigiriya, where some of the best examples of ancient art in the country are to be found. It is estimated that when the fortress was in use a large portion of the western face of the rock in the fortress was dedicated to frescoes, many of which are still visible today. These frescoes depict beautiful women and still retain many of their wonderful colors today. There are also two giant lion’s paws to be found on each side of a stairway, which are the remains of where the king would walk between the forepaws of the lion.
Outside the fortress there are some remarkable water gardens and a beautiful mirror wall made of porcelain, which would have been polished to a high sheen so the king could see himself as he entered the fortress. One of the interesting aspects of the mirror wall is that it has been written on by visitors to the site for centuries, showing that this has been a tourist site for many years.