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Anuradhapura is located in Sri Lanka
Location in Sri Lanka
Coordinates: 8°20′6″N 80°24′39″E / 8.33500°N 80.41083°E / 8.33500; 80.41083Coordinates: 8°20′6″N 80°24′39″E / 8.33500°N 80.41083°E / 8.33500; 80.41083
CountrySri Lanka
ProvinceNorth Central Province
Established5th century BC
 • TypeMunicipal Council
 • City7,179 km2 (2,772 sq mi)
 • Urban
36 km2 (14 sq mi)
81 m (266 ft)
 • City50,595
 • Density2,314/km2 (5,990/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+5:30 (Sri Lanka Standard Time Zone)
Postal code
Official nameSacred City of Anuradhapura
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii, vi
Inscription1982 (6th Session)

Anuradhapura (Sinhala: අනුරාධපුරය, romanized: Anurādhapuraya; Tamil: அனுராதபுரம், romanized: Aṉurātapuram) is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of North Central Province, Sri Lanka and the capital of Anuradhapura District. Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilisation. It was the third capital of the kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara.

The city, now a World Heritage Site, was the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. The city lies 205 km (127 mi) north of the current capital of Colombo in the North Central Province, on the banks of the historic Malvathu River. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.

Urban Area[edit]

Iron Age

Although according to historical records the city was founded in the 5th century BC, the archaeological data puts the date as far back as the 10th century BC.[1]

According to Sri Lankan records, the city was founded in 380 BCE by Prince Pandukabhaya and deserted after an invasion by the Chola Tamil Hindu king Rajaraja 1 The Great in 993CE. When the explorer Thor Heyerdahl investigated one of the great structures, the Runaveliya, he found that some of the blocks used had symbols indicating that they had been taken from a structure built by a sun-worshipping civilisation which had moved to the Maldives because of the Sinhalese invasion from India.

Buddhism and Anuradhapura[edit]

Anuradhapura was a major intellectual centre for early Theravāda Buddhism, home to revered Buddhist philosophers including Buddhaghosa.[2]

During the reign of Dhatusena (455-473) a redaction of the Theravada Buddhist canon took place while at the same time 18 new vihara (temple complexes) were built and a statue erected for Mahinda, the Indian prince-monk who introduced Buddhism to the island.[3]

During the late Anuradhapura period, the royal family and nobility of Sri Lanka strongly supported Buddhism. As such, they frequently commissioned works of art and donated these items to Buddhist temples. In return, the temple and local Buddhist community supported the king's rule. Artworks featuring depictions of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion, became increasingly popular.[4]

Modern era[edit]

European discovery[edit]

The area was inhabited for many centuries, but the local population remained aware of the ruins. In Robert Knox's 1681 An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, he wrote: "At this City of Anurodgburro is a Watch kept, beyond which are no more people that yield obedience to the King of Candy".[5] In 1821, John Davy wrote that: "Anooradapoora, so long the capital of Ceylon, is now a small mean village, in the midst of a desert. A large tank, numerous stone pillars, two or three immense tumuli, (probably old dagobahs,) are its principal remains. It is still considered a sacred spot; and is a place of pilgrimage."[6]

Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka by Oldypak LP life Smirnov photo


Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Various excavations have taken place at the site, beginning in 1884–86 by Stephen Montagu Burrows.[7]

Places of veneration[edit]

Other structures[edit]


Ethnicity Population % Of Total
Sinhalese 51,775 91.42
Sri Lankan Moors 3,825 6.75
Sri Lankan Tamils 850 1.50
Indian Tamils 45 0.08
Other (including Burgher, Malay) 137 0.24
Total 56,632 100

Source: - Census 2001

Sacred city and new town[edit]

Nissanka Wijeyeratne was Government Agent of Anuradhapura District from 1958 to 1962. He was arguably the best known of all government agents of his time. His stature ensured that the voice of Anuradhapura was heard at the highest levels in Colombo. Apart from being Government Agent, he was Chairman of the Anuradhapura Preservation Board. This was the time when the city of Anuradhapura was in a period of historic transition. The new town of Anuradhapura was being built, and the residents of the old were being transferred to the new town. It was a time of some tension and of excitement. He managed this process of change with courage and remarkable political skills. While in Anuradhapura, he unveiled a memorial for H. R. Freeman, a popular British Government Agent who later was elected by the people of the district to represent them in the 1st State Council of Ceylon.[8] Coming events cast their shadows before. A striking feature of Wijeyeratne's Anuradhapura days was his great ability to see the bigger picture and focus on the key issues, and delegate responsibilities to his staff officers. He was never one to be enmeshed in detail. He also set up the Sacred City of Anuradhapura shifted the urban city to the newly created Anuradhapura town and is responsible for the establishment of Anuradhapura Airport.[9][10]


Anuradhapura is served by railway and highways. The Northern railway line connects Anuradhapura with Colombo, Jaffna, and Kankesanthurai. Anuradhapura railway station is the city's rail gateway, with major services, such as the Yal Devi, Uttara Devi stopping there.

There are a number of bus routes passing through Anuradhapura from Colombo to the northern province. Some of them are 04, 15, 57, 87 etc.

Anuradhapura is a central city in Sri Lanka. It is directly connected by road to a large number of major cities and towns on the island. By road, it is connected to Vavuniya, Dambulla, Matale, Puttalam, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kurunegala and Kandy.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Harischandra, B. W.: The Sacred City of Anuradhapura, Reprint. New Delhi, Asian Educational Services, 1998.
  • Nissanka, H.S.S.: Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: The Oldest Historical Tree in the World, New Delhi 1996, (Reprint. Vikas)
  • R. A. E. Coningham.: The Origins of the Brahmi Script Reconsidered: The New Evidence from Anuradhapura, Minerva 8(2): 27–31, 1995.
  • R. A. E. Coningham.: Anuradhapura Citadel Archaeological Project: Preliminary Results of a Season of Geophysical Survey. South Asian Studies 10: 179–188, 1994.
  • A. Seneviratne.: Ancient Anuradhapura The Monastic City, Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. p. 310, 1994.
  • S. M. Burrows, The Buried Cities of Ceylon - A Guide Book to Anuradhapura and Polonaruwa Reprint, p. 120, 1999.
  • Philippe Fabry, the Essential guide for Anuradhapura and its region, Negombo, Viator Publications, 2005, 199 p., ISBN 955-8736-05-8
  • Senake Dias Bandaranayake, Sinhalese Monastic Architecture - The Vihâras of Anurâdhapura, E. J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, 1974
  • James G. Smither, Architectural Remains, Anuradhapura, Ceylon; Comprising the Dâgabas and Certain Other Ancient Ruined Structures, Ceylon Government Press, London, 1894
  • H. E. Weerasooria, Historical Guide to Anuradhapura’s Ruins, Asian Educational Services (AES), New Delhi, 1995
  • Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures of Sri Lanka. X. Monuments of Anuradhapura: 553–619. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd., 1990). ISBN 962-7049-05-0 / ISBN 978-962-7049-05-0
  • Ulrich von Schroeder, The Golden Age of Sculpture in Sri Lanka – Masterpieces of Buddhist and Hindu Bronzes from Museums in Sri Lanka, [catalogue of the exhibition held at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D. C., 1st November 1992 – 26th September 1993]. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd., 1992). ISBN 962-7049-06-9 / ISBN 978-962-7049-06-7


  1. ^ Deraniyagala, SU. The Prehistory of Sri Lanka, Vol II, Department of Archaeological Survey, Colombo: 1992. p435.
  2. ^ Buddhaghosa. (1999). The path of purification : Visuddhimagga. Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu, -1960. (1st BPE Pariyatti ed.). Seattle, WA: BPE Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1928706002. OCLC 44927676.
  3. ^ Culavamsa, tr. W.Geiger, London PTS 1971, pp.31-41.
  4. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  5. ^ Robert Knox (1681), Historical Relation chapter 2, full quote "There are besides these already mentioned, several other ruinous places that do still retain the name of Cities, where Kings have Reigned, tho now little Foot steps remaining of them. At the North end of this Kings Dominions is one of these Ruinous Cities, called Anurodgburro, where they say Ninety Kings have Reigned, the Spirits of whom they hold now to be Saints in Glory, having merited it by making Pagoda’s and Stone Pillars and Images to the honour of their Gods, whereof there are many yet remaining: which the Chingulayes count very meritorious to worship, and the next way to Heaven. Near by is a River, by which we came when we made our escape: all along which is abundance of hewed stones, some long for Pillars, some broad for paving. Over this River there have been three Stone Bridges built upon Stone Pillars, but now are fallen down; and the Countrey all desolate without Inhabitants. At this City of Anurodgburro is a Watch kept, beyond which are no more people that yield obedience to the King of Candy. This place is above Ninety miles to the Northward of the City of Candy. In these Northern Parts there are no Hills, nor but two or three Springs of running water, so that their Corn ripeneth with the help of Rain."
  6. ^ John Davy (1821), An Account, full quote: "Anooradapoora, so long the capital of Ceylon, is now a small mean village, in the midst of a desert. A large tank, numerous stone pillars, two or three immense tumuli, (probably old dagobahs,) are its principal remains. It is still considered a sacred spot; and is a place of pilgrimage. This information was collected partly from the natives, and partly from an officer who visited it during the rebellion."
  7. ^ Department of Archaeology - Sri Lanka Archived 2017-11-14 at the Wayback Machine: "The first methodical excavation of the Department of Archaeology had been carried out by Mr. S.M. Burrows in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa during 1884 to 1886. Subsequently, the exploration and excavation activities were undertaken mainly in Anuradhapura and Sigiriya with the guidance of Mr. H. C. P. Bell in 1890. Similarly, archaeological excavations in Anuradhapura and other areas of the island were carried out under the supervision of Mr. E. M. Ayrton (1912-1914) and Mr Raja De Silva (1983). Mr. E. M. Hocart who was appointed as the Commissioner of Archaeology in Sri Lanka in 1926, carried out excavations using the method of stratification, in places such as Mathota, Pomparippu, Anuradhapura inner city and Ambalantota."
  8. ^ How Freeman won the NCP seat. Island (Sri Lanka), Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  9. ^ Vote of Condolence to Dr.Nissanka Wijeyeratne by Parliament of Sri Lanka 10th June, 2011
  10. ^ වැඩ ගොඩක් හැඩ කළ නිශ්ශංක ලකුණ. Dinamina (Sri Lanka), Retrieved on 20 August 2021.

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