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Top 5 Historical Sites in Sri Lanka

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Top 5 Historical Sites in Sri Lanka

ChristieBy Christie   Posted 23rd Jun 2020

Welcome to Sri Lanka, where the tales of old are etched into every corner of its majestic landscapes. Crisscrossed by historic trade routes, this island has played host to a symphony of cultures, each leaving a mark and shaping what we love about the place today.

From the bold adventurers of India and the diligent merchants of East Asia to the far-reaching explorers of Europe, they've all had a chapter in Sri Lanka's ongoing story. With a proud collection of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Sri Lanka is a paradise to explore!

Join us as we shake hands with the past, tracing the footsteps of kings and the daily strides of locals.

1. Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

Sigiriya, once a thriving capital, may have been short-lived, but its legacy endures. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to the ingenuity of Sri Lanka's ancient civilization—from its origins as a royal residence to its transformation into a peaceful Buddhist monastery.

The towering rock fortress, aptly nicknamed "the Fortress in the Skies," was a marvel of both audacious architecture and natural splendor. At the heart of this historical masterpiece was King Kshyapa (477–595 AD), who chose this monumental 660-foot (200 meters) rock column as his capital. His vision went beyond mere location; he adorned the fortress with enduring frescoes*—eighteen of which still captivate visitors today.

*Frescoes are wall paintings on wet plaster, allowing the color to bond with the wall.

Today, the remnants of majestic staircases and the colossal lions paws which formed the ancient gateway invite travelers to step back in time. Ascend to where luxurious pools and lush gardens once flourished and encounter the Mirror Wall. This polished stretch of history, spanning a hundred meters, reflects the grandeur of its era with inscriptions from as early as the 8th century.

Despite its brief period as a capital, abandoned after King Kshayapa's death, the site later served as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Even in ruins, Sigiriusembodies a 1,500-year-old legacy of architectural brilliance, celebrated in legends such as the Ramayana, where it is dubbed "The City of Gods."

Discover Sigiriya's ancient wonders up close with Grasshopper Adventure's guided bike tours.

2. Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa)

Nestled in the south-central part of the island, Kandy is a city that wears its spiritual heart on its sleeve, cradling Sri Lanka’s most precious Buddhist relic — the tooth of the Buddha. Encased within an elaborate golden-roofed temple, this sacred tooth has a vantage point overlooking the serene Kandy Lake.

Legend holds that the guardian of the Buddha's Tooth commands the destiny of the nation, a belief that underscores its monumental importance and its UNESCO World Heritage status. As the spiritual epicenter of the island, the temple's significance in the Buddhist realm is monumental, marked by weekly ceremonies where the tooth is bathed in fragrant water and flowers, sharing its blessed healing waters with devotees.

The tale of the tooth traces back to the cremation of Gautama Buddha in India, from where it was rescued and delivered to King Guhasiva. In a tale of intrigue and devotion, Princess Hemamali smuggled the relic into Sri Lanka, concealed within her hair, and presented it to the king in Anuradhapura in 313 AD. Since then, the tooth has been venerated and zealously guarded by Sri Lankans, its story woven into the fabric of the nation's history.

Visiting Tips: Ensure your tickets are bought directly at the entrance. Embrace local traditions by removing your shoes and dressing modestly, with knees and shoulders covered, as you step into a realm of spiritual sanctity.

Photographs may capture memories, but inside this temple, the experience itself is your most precious keepsake—photography is respectfully discouraged.

Feel free to join in the ceremonial washing rituals held at dawn (05:00) and dusk (18:00), an experience that allows you to connect deeply with the soul of Sri Lanka.

3. Polonnaruwa

Nestled east of Sigiriya, the Polonnaruwa archeological park serves as a shining beacon of the ingenuity and vision of Sri Lanka’s ancestral monarchs. As a designated World Heritage site, it holds a masterfully preserved city of archaeological wonders amidst a blend of nature’s allure.

Here, amid the embrace of greenery, a treasure trove of ancient majesty awaits—statues that whisper tales of old, temples that stand as pinnacles of devotion, and stupas that reach silently towards the skies. This former heart of commerce and spirituality, which proudly held the title of Sri Lanka's second capital between 993 and 1200 AD, now invites the footsteps of explorers spanning its over 3km expanse.

Your journey through time begins with a ticket from the City Library, serving as your portal to the past. Venture forth to discover grand palaces, sacred temples, and the Quadrangle—a remarkable cluster of ruins showcasing the zenith of ancient Sri Lankan architecture. If your curiosity is not yet sated, the museum beckons with its rich collection, offering deeper insights into Polonnaruwa’s storied legacy, from iconic statues to artifacts of ancient healing practices.

Beyond the echoes of history, Polonnarya is also a sanctuary for the wild heart. Venture to Wasgamuwa or Angammedilla National Parks. Wasgamuwa is a bastion of wildlife conservation, where elephants roam free, and leopards prowl the shadows. Angammedilla is a haven of biodiversity, with its thick forests and tranquil waters crafting a serene retreat from the world.

4. Galle Fort

Galle Forte ranks among the top five historical sites in Sri Lanka, serving as a crucial maritime hub for over 200 years. The fort-city encapsulates the architectural and cultural legacies of its Portuguese and Dutch colonial periods. Located at the southwestern tip of the Sri Lanka, Galle stands proudly as the largest remaining European-built fortress in Asia, distinguished as another World Heritage site that invites visitors to explore the island's exotic past.

The Fort has earned a reputation for captivating explorers with its well-preserved structures, thanks to a government commitment to its restoration. Covering 90 hectares, the Fort's journey begins at the Main Gate in the north and stretches across the peninsula to the south. Here, old European buildings set against a tropical backdrop create a surreal visual experience, celebrating a blend of different religions and cultures. A complete tour around the fort and its walls offers a wonderful perspective of the city and takes about 2 hours.

Recently, Galle has experienced a renaissance. Trendy cafes, unique boutiques, and modern accommodations now line the coast, adding a contemporary flair to the city's historic charm. While exploring, visitors should take time to discover the lighthouse, mosque, outdoor entertainment venues, and historical Dutch hospital. The fort's western walls are especially popular at sunset, offering a spectacular end to a day of exploration.

In Galle, history is alive and well, intermingling with modern elements that invite travelers to explore this enchanting city's layered history and cultural richness.

Take a walking tour through Galle Fort before strolling on the nearby Unawatuna Bay on a Grasshopper Adventures bike tour of Sri Lanka.

5. Nuwara Eliya (Little England)

Nuwara Eliya, often referred to as "Little England," transports you to a world where time travel seems tangible. Established in 1846 and meaning "city on the plain" or "city of light," it nestles in a stunning landscape complemented by a mild climate.

This locale is celebrated as the most significant area for tea production in Sri Lanka, with domestic travellers frequently visiting, especially during the peak flowering season that beautifully aligns with the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year celebrations in April.

The city is adorned with colonial British architecture, and the 19th-century buildings, ranging from residential to civil service structures, add to its charm and historical depth.

Explore Nuwara Eliya by bike and then venture on a safari to see leopards and elephants with Grasshopper Adventures on a bike tour of Sri Lanka.

Nestled among a sprawling 100-acre garden that echoes the charm of an English countryside, the Queens Cottage (also affectionately known as the Lodge), serves up a hefty slice of sophisticated history. As the 19th century came to a close, it stood as a haven for the governors of Ceylon and their esteemed guests. Within its welcoming walls, the seeds of Ceylon's first constitution were sown back in 1947. Now, it's graced by His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, the President of Sri Lanka himself.

Take a stroll down memory lane with nearby landmarks like the Post Office and the dignified Hill Club, standing tall as testimonies to a bygone era. Don't miss a peek at General’s House, where tales of the British General echo amidst whispers of its somewhat spirited past. Take the stories of room number 16, for example, where legend has it that an English lady's presence lingers long after her untimely departure.

Venture outside the town's cozy embrace, and you're greeted by nature's grand canvas, the wildlife reserve to the north and Horton Plains National Park to the south. Here, the World’s End cliff plunges dramatically, revealing sweeping vistas that blur the lines between the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. Just a stone's throw away, Baker’s Falls cascades with a grace named after the city's founding explorer, Samuel Baker.

Uncover Sri Lanka’s Ancient Mysteries with Grasshopper Adventures

If you're itching for a journey that packs in both the thrills of the great outdoors and the whispers of ancient corridors, look no further. Grasshopper Adventures is here to guide you through the lesser-known paths and reveal the stories etched into the land. Connect with us for your next Sri Lanka tour, and let's make some memories of a lifetime.

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