A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Anuradhapura was the cradle of glorious Sinhalese Buddhist civilization. The pride of place in Anuradhapura was taken by the ancient stupas and ancient reservoirs. Towering stupas (dagobas) of stupendous domes, the marvels of ancient civil engineering, were built having taken into the account the effects of lightening on high rise constructions, among numerous other engineering factors. The vast rainwater reservoirs built by crossing rivers with enormous dams and controlling the outlets with “Bisokotuwa” (Sinhala: Queens enclosure-no entry, of course) valve pits (sluice gate), extend lifeline to Anuradhapura district to date.
Anuradhapura and the city of Polonnaruwa are the vitally important “must visit” twin tourist attractions of Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle. Anuradhapura, the greatest monastic city of the ancient world that date from the middle of the 5th century B.C. remained the proud seat of kingdom of Sri Lanka until the 11th century A.D. Today Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is replete with renovated Buddhist monuments, restored edifices, preserved ruins and historical sites where the archeological excavations are still being continued.
Among the other tourist attractions at Anuradhapura are magnificent rock carvings of monumental richness and remarkable grace; colossal stone pillars that stand proud amidst the ruins of royal palaces, Buddhist monasteries and temples; magnificent stone cut swimming pools of sophisticated hydrology.
This flourishing state of art proves wealth and taste, and there are enormous conical buildings of brick, called Dagobas, whose Egyptian dimensions and durability show that they must have been built by a numerous and laborious race. The immense tanks, of which I saw the ruins, and by which the country was irrigated, were the cause of its permanent fertility so long as they were kept in repair.” Colebrooke, Sir William Macbean George (17871870), 1832
Sri Lanka’s northwest
Sri Lanka’s northwest (of which Anuradhapura is a major city) also known as the dry zone is arid, rolling, open country coloured in shades of dusty brown earth and golden ripening rice fields. Farming here depends on artificial irrigation, and the countryside is dotted with great ancient artificial reservoirs to retain rainwater and allow crops to thrive through the dry season.
Three great rainwater reservoirs & River Malwatu
The ancient city of Anuradhapura is surrounded by three great man-made lakes, Nuwara Wewa reservoir to the east & Tissa Wewa reservoir together with Basawakkulama Wewa reservoir to the west with two directions of the city being defined by River Malwatu Oya that flows through it. We have Anuradhapura new town to the east of the river & sacred ancient city to the west of the river. It cannot get any better.
History of Anuradhapura
From the origins as a settlement by Minister Anuradha in the 6th century BC, Anuradhapura was developed at a rapid pace & was made the capital of the island by King Pandukhabaya (437-366 BC), who took a leaf out of the book of King Abhaya (474 BC), the builder of the first rainwater reservoir of Lanka. King Pandukhabhaya commenced the irrigation schemes in a larger scale providing the lifeline to the fledging Aryan civilization of the Sinhalese. By the mid-3rd century BC , fame for the excellence of its temple art and palace architecture, the ingenuity and skill of its irrigation engineers, noble elephants, precious gems, fine spices and its military prowess had spread as far as the Roman-Hellenistic world.
The greatest monastic city of the ancient world
It was not only one of the most stable & durable political power & urban life in South Asia, but also the greatest monastic city of the ancient world, the cradle of the island’s temporal & spiritual power. The city attained its highest magnificence in the beginning of the Christian era. At the height of its glory, Anuradhapura ranked beside Nineveh & Babylon in its colossal proportions – its four walls, each 26 km long, enclosing an area of 663 sq. km – in the number of its inhabitants, & the splendour of its Buddhist shrines & public edifices.
The Stupas second only to great pyramids of Khufru & Khafra at Gizeh
The temples & monumental dagobas, amongst greatest architectural feats of its age, have been surpassed only in scale by the great pyramids of Khufru & Khafra at Gizeh.Jetavana Dagoba, Abayagiri Stupa & Ruwanweliseya Stupa.
Crowning glory: Agricultural prosperity
Together with stupas, temples & monasteries of Buddhism, the crowning glory surfaced: irrigation. Colossal rainwater reservoirs were constructed by way of man power & at once the bulldozer & bulldog of the nation, elephant. With the concept of saving rainwater by means of reservoirs, the island became self-sufficient in rice, the staple diet of the Sinhalese. Almost all of these tanks have been restored & even to date provide the lifeline to farmers, the irrigation of the province.
Great man-made rainwater reservoirs
Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura is of enormous irrigation and hydraulic achievements. Nuwara Wawe (7 km across) to the east, Tissa Wewa (spanning 65 hectares) & Baswakkulama Wewa to the west constructed to preserve the monsoon rains, supplemented with a system of sluices (valve-pit) (Bisokotuwa) were put in place to feed the thousands of smaller reservoirs that were built in the concept of “Ellangawa” (cascade of water) to keep the rice paddies productive. In the numerous minor irrigation networks, the systems provide water for irrigation, for domestic use & livestock, wildlife & recharge of groundwater while enhancing the village environment: multiple dimensions of the value of water.
Basawakkulama Wewa reservoir spreading an area of 205 acres today was built by King Pandukhabaya [437-367 BC]. In the ancient time this reservoir was called Abhayavava. Tissa weva reservoir built by King Devanpiya Tissa [307-267 BC] could had been a smaller tank in the beginning. However it is believed, in the fifth century Basawakkulama Wewa reservoir was enlarged to accommodate waters of vast Kalavava [Kala Weva] reservoir built by King Dathusena [461-479 AD], father of Sigiri Kassapa or Kashyapa [479-497 AD], the builder of Sri Lanka Holidays Sigiriya Lion Rock Citadel. Nuwara Wewe reservoir, which was called Nakaravavai in the ancient times, was built by King Gajabahu [113-135 AD].
The world’s first hospitals for the animals as well as to the humans: the gentle sway of Buddhism
The gentle sway of Buddhism, the concept of tolerance & doctrine of compassion, led the Sinhalese to build the world’s first hospitals. The respect of right to life of all living beings, inherent in Buddhism, was to become a cornerstone of the Aryan Sinhalese civilization.