World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

The historical, cultural or even scientific importance of any monument gets enunciated when it is declared a heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A country such as Sri Lanka whose history dates back to as early as 28000 BCE offers various heritage sites from different eras. Located in multiple historically prominent parts of Sri Lanka, six sites hold cultural importance, two of which exist naturally. The World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka indeed speak volumes of the deeply rooted and connected cultural traditions in Sri Lanka and their interpretations by the locals.

Here are the eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka that you must add to your next itinerary:

1. The Sacred City of Kandy, Kandy

Home to the Sri Dalada Maligawa or commonly known as The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Located inside the royal palace compound revered by the local Buddhist community, the Tooth Relic holds mythological importance that whosoever holds it will be the most powerful in the country. Hence, kings in ancient times and people in power in recent years have staunchly committed to protecting it. The sacred relic is immersed in a herbal preparation of flowers and fragrant water on Wednesdays as a symbolic bathing ritual. This water, called Nanumura Mangallaya, is believed to possess healing properties and is distributed among visitors. One of the reasons that the Sacred City of Kandy was declared as a World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka in 1988 was to conserve those temple premises which have witnessed immense violence and to restore to its original form.

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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2. The Old Town of Galle and its Forts, Galle

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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The beautiful town of Galle owes its courtesy to the Dutch who built it in the 16th century before which it was named Gimhathiththa. Located in the southernmost part of the country, Galle is characterised by solid fort walls built to secure goods owned by the Dutch East India Company. Galle is an exemplary piece of European and South Asian architectural styles. The entire fort complex became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

3. The Ancient City of Sigiriya, Matale

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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Known to the world as the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriya was where King Kashyapa lived in his castle in the 5th century AD. The rocky mountain in Sigiriya holds palace remnants such as the upper palace deck accessible by stairs, the Lion Gate in the mid-terrace, the Mirror Wall and some contemporary mural paintings. Tourists can get a panoramic view of the jungle below once they reach the top of the rocky mountain. Another great attraction is the famous water reservoirs that collect rainwater to this day. Sigiriya became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka in 1982.

4. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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Since the time civilisation began in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura was the first capital of the country. Located 200 km away from the northern side of Colombo, Anuradhapura is a sacred site for the Buddhist community. There are several religious centres and temple ruins along the Malwathu Oya. The sacred Bodhi tree worshipped by the Buddhists is also in Anuradhapura. It is believed that Buddha received his enlightenment under the same tree. UNESCO titled the city as a World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka in 1982.

5. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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In the 1st century, after Anuradhapura was destroyed during the war, Polonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka. The city forms the famous Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka along with the city of Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. Polannurawa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka in 1982 and consists of the ruins of Bhramanic establishments during the 12th century Chola era. Among these constructions, the Parakrama Samudra, a human-made lake built in 1200, is vastly popular among tourists.

6. Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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Serving as one of the most eminent pilgrimage sites for the past 22 years, the Golden Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest known and well-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. To preserve the majestic wall paintings and over 150 statues of Buddha and other holy sculptures, UNESCO declared this site as a World Heritage Site in 1991.

7. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka          

World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
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A natural UNESCO declared World Heritage Site in 1988, Sinharaja Forest Reserve has been noted as the last rainforest on the island. The forest name which translates to “Kingdom of the Lion” has been largely inaccessible to the miscreants because of its hilly terrain. Housing several rare species of animals, birds and endemic trees, Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a must-visit place for nature lovers. The Purple-Faced Langur is the most common mammal in the Forest Reserve.

8. Central Highlands, Sri Lanka

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The second natural UNESCO World Heritage Site to join the list in 2010, the Central Highlands includes the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. Situated 6562 feet above the sea level, Central Highlands remains a vast attraction to adventure enthusiasts and nature-admirers.

With plenty of World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, there is not just one but many reasons to celebrate the natural and cultural heritage that has put the teardrop-shaped island on the tourism map internationally. 

How many of these UNESCO stamped sites have you been to? Have we missed out on any of your favourite world heritage site in Sri Lanka? Let us know in the comments below!

This post was published by Deepshri Mishra

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