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Introducing Anuradhapura

For over 1000 years, Sinhalese kings – and occasional South Indian interlopers – ruled from the palaces of Anuradhapura. It was the most extensive and important of the Sri Lankan royal capitals, but its size and the length of its history, and the length of time since its downfall make it more difficult to comprehend than younger, shorter-lived Polonnaruwa. Current-day Anuradhapura is a rather pleasant, planned city. Mature trees shade the main guesthouse areas, and the main street is orderly compared to the ugly concrete agglomerations seen in so many other regional centres.

The modern town was developed in the 20th century. In recent years a seamier side of the sacred city has emerged; the large army population (the town was a staging post for the northern battlefields) has brought an influx of prostitutes. The town has a huge number of guesthouses, many of which cater to the rent-by-the-hour market. The town was also a centre for war profiteering: political and business alliances conspired to loot the nearby forests of valuable timber. Some of the timber came from areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – evidently the Tigers were happy to cooperate in return for a cut.