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The Ancient Cities/Sri Lanka

Introducing The Ancient Cities

North of the Hill Country, in one of the driest parts of the country, lies the original heart of Sri Lankan civilisation. During the golden age of Sinhalese civilisation, it was called Rajarata – the Land of Kings. For 1500 years of dynasties, wars, invasions and religious missions to Asia, increasingly ambitious dams and irrigation systems supported two great cities – Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa – and many other magnificent examples of the region’s Buddhist culture. For almost a thousand years the jungle did its best to reclaim them, but major archaeological excavations over the past century have partially restored their glory. Engineers, too, have patched the irrigation system, marvelling at the skill of the original builders.

A long-running partnership between the Sri Lankan government and Unesco continues to restore the region’s ancient sites. The Cultural Triangle project centres on the old capitals of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, which are the focus of much local and international tourism.

Kandy is a good starting point for visiting the ancient cities; afterwards you could also continue up the east coast through Ampara, or inland along the fine roads of the Mahaweli irrigation scheme area. You can comfortably explore the area while staying in either Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, or you could easily spend a few days in each. Some visitors base themselves Sigiriya or Habarana, which are more or less centrally located for visiting the sites.