Sri Lanka may be a small island country, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in seriously incredible history. There are ruins, temples, monasteries, cityscapes, mountains, plains, viewpoints and endless wilderness areas. These spots are so unique that they are considered to be of utmost global importance. There are a grand total of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, and all of them can easily be touched on during a two-week holiday in Sri Lanka. If you hit all eight sites, you’ll experience the incredibly diverse range of what Sri Lanka has to offer the world. By the end of your holiday, it’ll be the perfect time to rest and unwind—maybe on any of Sri Lanka’s fabulous beaches? Get planning, pick your favourites and head to Sri Lanka for a historical holiday you won’t soon forget.
Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient city of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms; Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 CE to reunite the country once more under a local leader. While Vijayabahu’s victory and shifting of Kingdoms to the more strategic Polonnaruwa is considered significant, the real Polonnaruwa Hero of the history books is actually his grandson, Parakramabahu I, who beautified the capital, constructed irrigation systems and encouraged the arts.
Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom’s first rulers. Polonnaruwa was designated a World Heritage site in 1988.
While it’s not quite as grandiose as Burma’s Bagan or as mysterious as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the ruins of Anuradhapura remain one of South Asia’s most important sights. The sprawling complex of picturesque ruins contains a collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous, bell-shaped dagobas, soaring brick towers, ancient pools and sacred temples, built during Anuradhapura’s 1,000 years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today there’s a quiet energy reverberating throughout as several of the sites remain in use as holy places and temples.
According to UNESCO, “founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, before the arrival of the British. It is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions.” Galle (pronounced 'gawl' in English, and 'gaar-le' in Sinhala) is the big “don’t-miss” destination in the south. It's at once endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly interesting.
Just wandering the old walls and streets at random yields one architectural surprise after another as you explore the amazing collection of structures dating back through the centuries. Above all else, Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. Today the historic Fort area is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets.
Galle is easily reached as a day trip from Colombo and is quick drive from the nearby beach towns of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna, but to really savour the place, stay within the atmospheric walls of the Fort.
This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings. Kandy preserved its independence until it finally fell to the British in 1815. The British deposed the king, Sri Wikrama Rajasingha, and all claimants to the throne, thus ending the last traditional monarchy of Sri Lanka, and replaced it with their monarchy. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, a famous pilgrimage site.
The Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a temple in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka. It was built within the royal palace complex which houses the only surviving relic of Buddha, a tooth, which is venerated by Buddhists. The relic has played an important role in the local politics since ancient times, it’s believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country, which caused the ancient kings to protect it with great effort.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla is a sacred pilgrimage site and has been for a full 22 centuries. There are five sanctuaries, though the main cave monastery is the largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in all of Sri Lanka. In addition to the temple, there are extensive mural paintings and upwards of 150 statues in the Golden Temple complex that adds to its historical significance. UNESCO says it best as they describe the Golden Temple as “an outstanding example of the religious art and expression of Sri Lanka and South and South-East Asia. The excavated shrine-caves, their painted surfaces and statuary are unique in scale and degree of preservation. The monastery includes significant masterpieces of 18th century art, in the Sri Lankan school of Kandy.
As one of Asia’s richest treasure troves of natural and man-made wonders, it’s no wonder history buffs flock to Sri Lanka. Royal and sacred cities, colonial strongholds, untouched forests and endless temples and monasteries all add to the charm of the country. It’s easy to get lost in the facts and stories of the past, but be sure you don’t get lost without a travel insurance policy to back you up if something goes awry during your holiday. Trust Cover-More to be there if you ever need assistance.
Image courtesy of Flickr user kwan kwan