Sacred City of Anuradhapura

As trailed in previous posts, my last WHS in Sri Lanka was Anuradhapura where, learning from my experience in Polonnaruwa, I opted to hire a bike for two days to get around the extensive remains of this ancient capital. And delightful it was too, as I sailed along mostly flat and mostly empty roads happily singing my latest earworm (Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Cadillac Ranch’).

Anuradhapura - Jetavana monastery

Anuradhapura – Jetavana monastery

Founded in the third century BC around a cutting from the Buddha’s tree of enlightenment in India, Anuradhapura flourished for 1300 years, before suffering extensive damage in wars at the end of the tenth century.



Still a sacred Buddhist site, there are around forty square kilometers of monastery remains, representing dozens of separate establishments housing up ten thousand monks (these numbers have been taken from a variety of sources, so don’t take them as gospel). Of course, with so many people living together, things can get nasty if waste isn’t well managed, but this seems to have been taken care of, with stacks of ceramic jars full of rocks buried under urinal stones, to channel liquid downward. The museums had quite a few urinal stones on display – many finely carved, which was apparently to allow the monks to demonstrate their disdain for worldly things.

Anuradhapura - urinal stone

Anuradhapura – urinal stone

The city itself was bigger still and was known of across the ancient world (it was apparently marked on Ptolemy’s world map in the second century) whilst archaeological remains show it had a wide trade network.

Anuradhapura - Sri Maha Bodhi

Anuradhapura – Sri Maha Bodhi

The most impressive remains of the sacred city are a number of huge stupas, including one that is the biggest brick structure in the world. This along with the ancient Bo tree (the Sri Maha Bodhi) are the subject of great veneration and are active centres of Buddhist worship and so that means shoes-off, leading to more wincing and swearing from me. I suppose I could have taken some socks with me, but that just seemed too wimpy.

Anuradhapura - sharp gravel is not my idea of a bare-foot friendly surface

Anuradhapura – sharp gravel is not my idea of a bare-foot friendly surface

Around the stupas are the mostly ground level remains of monastery buildings, some dotted amidst woodland , including shrines (many with a beautifully carved semicircular ‘moonstone’ at the bottom of the steps), small residential buildings (arranged in groups like the five dots on a dice) and refectories with enormous troughs to hold the rice given in alms for the monks.

Anuradhapura - trough for rice

Anuradhapura – trough for rice

As at Polonnaruwa, there was a great deal of hydraulic engineering here. The city is surrounded by three man-made lakes (generally referred to as ‘tanks’) and dotted with smaller bathing pools including a huge one referred to as the elephant pool.

Anuradhapura - elephant pool

Anuradhapura – elephant pool

The Lego model really had to be a stupa, white like the biggest one, with a subsidiary stupa at each corner of the square platform. Unfortunately I don’.t have a decent whole photo of it, so you’ll have to piece it together in your head, like I did.

Anuradhapura - Ruvanvalisaya stupa

Anuradhapura – Ruvanvalisaya stupa

Anuradhapura - Ruvanvalisaya stupa

Anuradhapura – Ruvanvalisaya stupa

I’ve not had much practice at building brick curves, and don’t have many parts to use, so the result is not as great as it could be.

Lego Anuradhapura

Lego Anuradhapura

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