Kantaka Chetiya

The Ancient Cities

At the first landing, a side flight of 100 steps branches right to this partly ruined dagoba, one of the oldest at Mihintale. It’s 12m high (originally more than 30m) and 130m around its base. A Brahmi inscription decrees that funding for the dagoba came from taxes on a nearby water tank. Four stone flower altars stand at the cardinal points, and surrounding these are sculptures of dwarfs, geese and other figures.

While exactly who built it is open to conjecture, it was likely not long after King Devanampiya Tissa (r 307-267 BC) had 68 cave monasteries built nearby. King Lajjitissa later enlarged the stupa in the 1st century BC.

South of the Kantaka Chetiya, where a big boulder is cleft by a cave, if you look up you’ll see what is thought to be the oldest inscription in Sri Lanka, dedicating the mountain to Buddhist meditation. Through the cave, ledges on the cliff face acted as retreats for the numerous monks once resident here.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby The Ancient Cities attractions

1. Stairway

0.07 MILES

In a series of flights, 1843 ancient granite slab steps lead majestically up the hillside, passing the occasional rock inscription and side trail. The…

2. Quincunx

0.11 MILES

The remains of a quincunx of buildings, laid out like the five dots on a die, sits beside the path leading from the museum to the stairway.

3. Mihintale Ruins

0.11 MILES

The sleepy ruins of Mihintale are closely associated with the earliest introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. A ceremonial staircase climbs past pools,…

4. Sinha Pokuna

0.12 MILES

Just below the monks’ refectory on the second landing, and near the entrance if you are coming via Old Rd, is a small pool surmounted by a 2m-high rampant…

5. Monks’ Refectory & Relic House

0.12 MILES

On the second landing is the monks’ refectory with huge stone troughs that the lay followers kept filled with rice for the monks.

6. Assembly Hall

0.13 MILES

On the same level as the relic house, this hall, also known as the convocation hall, is where monks met to discuss matters of common interest. The raised…

7. Naga Pokuna

0.18 MILES

Halfway back down the steep flight of steps from the Ambasthale Dagoba, a path leads to the left, around the base of the hill topped by the Mahaseya…

8. Dagoba

0.21 MILES

To the side of the Mahaseya Dagoba is this older, smaller brick dagoba, one of the oldest in Sri Lanka and yet largely ignored by visitors.