Ancient Cities

Ancient Cities, Temples, History and Culture.

Sri Lanka has a rich 2500 year old culture and history that can be seen in its ancient cities and temples. You can see destinations such as these with Isle of Smiles Tours:

Anuradhapura (Sacred City)

Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (Stupa) in Anuradhapura

Settlers from North India travelled to Sri Lanka in the 1st century BC. Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka and its reign lasted for almost 1200 years. King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC), was responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura was famous for its economy, trade, architecture and hydraulic engineering. Huge stupas or dagobas like the Ruwan Weli Seya and Jetvana can still be seen today. Large man-made lakes, called tanks with their intricate spill gates and irrigation channels are still being used in modern Sri Lanka supplying water to rice fields and other agricultural crops.

Sigiriya (Lion Rock Fortress)

King Kasayapa wrested the rule of Sri Lanka from King Dhatusena. He ruled Sri Lanka from 477 to 495AD. King Kasayapa built Sigiriya as a fortress city to protect himself from foreign invasions. From his palace on top of the rock, King Kasayapa could view the surrounding countryside in case of military attack. Sigiriya, too, is famous for its hydraulic engineering. Fountains and water gardens are fed from water supplied under pressure from the top of the rock fortress. It is also famous for the well preserved frescoes of the king’s concubines.


In order to protect it from foreign invasions, the Sri Lankan capital was moved further inland to Polonnaruwa in the 10th century AD. Like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa was famous for architecture, engineering and trade. It was also a city dedicated to the monastic life of Buddhist monks. The famous kings of Polonnaruwa include Vijayabahu I and Parakramabahu I (Parakramabahu the Great).


Unlike the other famous ancient cities of Sri Lanka, Dambulla was never a capital of the country. The famous Dambulla Cave Temple with its well preserved statues and cave paintings dates back to the 1st century BC. King Valagamba took refuge from his enemies in Anuradhapura at the Dambulla Cave. While in exile he was protected by the Buddhist monks of the Dambulla Cave Monastery. When he returned to Anuradhapura in the 1st century BC, in thanks to the monks who protected him, King Valagamba built the Dambulla Cave Temple.

Kandy (Sacred City)

In about 1592, Kandy (world heritage listed city) became the last kingdom capital of Sri Lanka. In 1815, King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was removed from the throne by the British. A treaty was signed making Sri Lanka (Ceylon) part of the kingdom of Britain. The Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth is a world centre for Buddhism. It is said to house the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The oldest pageant in the world, the Kandy Perhera, held in July or August each year, is the grand parade of 100 or more adorned elephants and thousands of drummers and dancers. One of the adorned elephants carries the tooth relic through the parade. Kandy Lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains with lovely views all around the city. While in Kandy, you can visit the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and experience a cultural show with traditional dancers, drummers and fire walkers.


Galle has been a trading port for ancient sea farers for centuries. In 1505, the Portuguese took and occupied Galle city by force. In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered Galle to the Dutch who built the now famous Galle Fort in 1663. Galle Fort is a world heritage listed city and is still well preserved. Galle is famous for its gems and jewelry, shipping and trade. Many Sri Lankan families with European ancestry came from the early settlers of Galle, particularly those of Portuguese and Dutch origins.

Sri Lanka has many other historical destinations that can be added to your tour.

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All images are property of Isle of Smiles, Sri Lanka.

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