Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Archaeology Travel Guide Sri Lanka

The ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’ is an island of striking natural beauty with a documented history of over 3,000 years; from the time of the ancient Silk Road to World War II. Sri Lanka is specially known for its Buddhist heritage, and it was on the island that the first known writings of Buddha were composed. But the archaeology of human occupation on the island goes back many, many thousands of years to early Homo sapiens.

Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura, dagoba Ruvanvelisaya, Sri Lanka

Ancient Fortresses & Palaces,

Colonial Architecture,

Statues of Buddha,

… and Cultural Festivals.

Interesting Things to Know About Sri Lanka

Buddhism is the largest religion in Sri Lanka and plays an important role in the country’s heritage. Several of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites reflect this. The Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple has for instance been used by Buddhist monks since the 3rd century BCE while the ruined city of Anuradhapura contains various prominent Buddhist stupas, a form of mound typically containing relics.
It is because of the island’s Buddhist heritage that Sri Lanka can claim possession of the oldest living tree known to have been planted by humans. Planted in 288 BC/BCE, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura is a sacred fig tree. Its devotees believe that it began life as a cutting from the Bodhi Tree, the plant under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in India.
Sri Lanka is home to two separate ethno-linguistic groups, the Sinhalese who are largely Buddhist and the Tamil speakers who more commonly follow Hinduism or Christianity. Several heritage sites have strong links with the minority Tamils, including Hindu places of worship like the Koneswaram Temple at Trincomalee and Ketheeswaram Temple in Mannar.
From the 16th to the 20th centuries, Sri Lanka was largely under the domination of West European empires. The Portuguese were the first to establish a firm presence, but were later replaced by the Dutch and finally the British. The European influence is very evident at sites like the British Garrison Cemetery in Kandy and the fortified Old Town of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sri Lanka has the distinction of having had the world’s first elected female head of government. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was Prime Minister from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1977 and then 1994 to 2000. As leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, she pursued socialist policies that included the nationalisation of industries and non-aligned neutrality amid the Cold War.

Find Places to Visit in Sri Lanka

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The ancient site of Polonnaruwa was a capital city for different civilisations between the 8th to the 12th century. From the 8th century until the sack of Anuradhapura, the site was a temporary royal residence after which it became a capital city. During this time a number of Brahmanic monuments, including Temples to Shiva, have been excavated. The beautifully laid out garden-city we see today, and stunning examples of Sinhalese art, dates to the 12th century.

Ancient City of Sigiriya - Lion Rock

Sigiriya was a 5th century capital city, that still has remains of many extraordinary features. These include the city’s defensive moats and fortifications, expansive and elaborately landscaped gardens, and a monastery. A two-hundred metre high rock that stands out from these ruins is, however, undoubtedly the star attraction. The flat-topped, granite outcrop has the remains of a royal palace, while one of the rock shelters has exquisite frescoes of female figures, often referred to as ‘the Maidens of the Clouds’.

Avukana Buddha Statue

At fourteen metres high with a delicately carved closely worn robe, this statue of Buddha is generally accepted to be one of Sri Lanka’s finest. The statue is not far from the village of Avukana, from which it takes its name. It was carved out of a large granite outcrop in the fifth century. It is not entirely free standing, there is a strip of rock at the back that joins the statue to the original parent rock. The statue stands on a lotus-shaped pedestal, and was once part of a shrine built of brick and stone – remains of which can still be seen today.

Dambulla Cave Temple

The cave temple complex at Dambulla is widely thought to be one of the finest examples of religious art in South-East Asia. Five sanctuaries make up the Buddhist monastery, that is by far the largest and best-preserved ancient cave-temple complex in all of Sri Lanka. Although Dambulla is still a functioning religious centre, tourists are nonetheless able to visit the caves to witness the extraordinary mural and the 157 religious statues a variety of poses – the largest being 15 metres long.

Sacred City of Anuradhapura

According to Buddhist teachings the sacred City of Anuradhapura was founded in the fourth century BC around the ‘tree of enlightenment’ – grown from a cutting of the Buddha’s fig tree. For some 1,300 years Anuradhapura was the political and religious capital of the Sinhalese civilization. During this time many splendid religious monuments, including stupas and palaces were built. The ancient city is still sacred to Buddhists, and is surrounded by numerous monasteries.

Sacred City of Kandy

A picturesque modern city that was the last capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka. As the capital Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic – which houses the relic of the Tooth of Buddha. Since ancient times, it was believed that whoever has the relic also holds political power. Today ceremonies are still held at the Temple, three times a day – at dawn, midday and in the evening. Also in Kandy is the National Museum, with exhibits from the ancient Kandy and the British Colonial period.