Three lost cities of Sri Lanka you need to find now!

Amazing ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka…

Timelines like these. 200 million years ago, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica were connected in one land mass, the Gondwana. Sri Lankan Tamils (Indians by origin) have occupied Ceylon since 3000 years. And the country has been a bastion of Buddhism since the 3rd-century, when Mahinda, son of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, introduced a new religion to the island. Flashbacking inspirations? Go, seek the spectacles of Sr Lanka’s Cultural Triangle.

Dock in Jetwing Blue, Negombo where lake-facing suites pamper you with balcony jacuzzis, handmade soaps, casually-parked beach boats, and a lavish spread in a palm-shaded breakfast space. Indulge in a heavenly 3-hour drive through lush green countrywide overflowing with mangroves and palms, coconut bunches, dangling jackfruit, paddy fields, lotus ponds, colourful cottages, mountains, mist and sun sparkle, till you reach the first of the fascinating ancient capitals. What? Already?

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Sigiriya: Fortress on a rock

Puncturing the green of the deep, dense jungles, stands a steep 656-foot monolithic rock doubling as a monumental 5th-century lion-shaped stronghold. A terraced city sprawls at its feet and a palace crowns its summit. Machu Picchu fan base alert! Dare you to miss Sigiriya.

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Know the story: King Kashyapa relocated the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, driven by throne paranoia and divinity delusions. After his defeat in 495, the citadel fell into ruin. Palace to pilgrimage to UNESCO World Heritage site…its journey has been anything but exciting.

Find the favorite feature: Sigiriya is an engineering feat and example of miraculous ancient urban planning. Flaunt-worthy are Asia’s oldest surviving landscape garden and a sophisticated pumping system located in the complex.


Stock up on artistry: The oldest and best-preserved examples of Sinhalese wall graffiti half-way up the rock, on a polished wall enough to be deserve the name Mirror Wall. Think divine maidens decked with jewellery and flowers in complexions of red, yellow and green, painted more than 1,000 years back!


Go deeper, immerse: Climb 1,200 steps up a stone stairway through the lion’s giant paws, mouth and throat to mount a plateau of ruined palaces and pools overlooking a sprawl of wild jungles. Breathe. Gasp. Wonder. Alternatively, for an offbeat adventure, hire a tuk-tuk and score high on 360-degree Sigiriya through the surrounding jungles, stopping at vantage points with different angles to gape at the hardened magma of the extinct and long-eroded volcano, with near-vertical walls reaching for the skies.


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Polonnaruwa: Sprawling lost city

Its an ancient garden city filled with palaces, pleasure gardens, Buddhist monuments and Hindu temples, sheltered in a serene 4-km woodland, enclosed by three concentric walls, on the east shore of a centuries-old 2100-hectare artificial lake. Ruin-lovers, pin Polonnaruwa on your travel map.

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Know the story: King Parakramabahu’s 12-century majestic capital replaced Sri Lanka’s long-standing power centre, Anuradhapura…and with such aplomb! Sadly, the city’s golden era was short-lived, courtesy a Chola king from North India. Classic plunder-and-rule. End of story.

Find the favorite feature: Eye-popping structures are scattered all over, but the piece-de-resistance is the Rankoth Vehera Dagoba. A stunning 55-fit brick masterpiece that resembles an over-sized bell is simple and unadorned, except for four engraving-rich altars at the centrepiece. Jaw-dropping continues at Gal Vihara, where four colossal Buddha carvings deck a granite boulder…including a 46-feet reclining figure.

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Stock up on artistry: Swoon over the best preserved moonstone (Sandakadapahana) that adorns the northern entrance to the upper terrace of the Vatadage. A conventionalised half-lotus dominates the centre and is enclosed by concentric bands, decorated with processions of lions, horses, elephants and bulls. Contemplate its deep symbolism of shunning worldly temptations and striving for nirvana.

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Go deeper, immerse: Walk or cycle all over the royal palace complex and the cluster of religious buildings (Sacred Quadrangle), gloating over the finest ancient architecture in all of Sri Lanka. Buddhist monasteries rub shoulders with Hindu temple. Look for the horizontal level decorative sculptures in dancing positions, inspired by the classical Indian dance form, Bharata Natyam. Culture cauldron.

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Yapahuwa: Staircase to heaven

An isolated corner of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, enveloped by secluded countryside calm hides a temple carved halfway up a 100-ft high rock, protected by double ramparts and a 10-km long moat. Cambodian fantasy-seekers, Yapahuwa is a dream come true.

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Know the story: King Buvenekabahu set up a a rock-fortress capital here in the late 13th-century to safeguard the Sacred Tooth Relic. Years of flourishing followed, replete with close diplomatic ties with countries including China. After his death, a sweeping famine and Pandyan invasion, the Tooth Relic and other treasures were looted. In the mid-16th century, the Portuguese struck the last blow and destruction was complete.

Find the favorite feature: Three sets of narrow, precipice-steep flights of steps up an ornamental stone stairway. First two are functional and the final one is embellished with exquisite art with distinct South Indian influence…exultant dancers, joyful musicians, playful dwarfs, mythical animals. Two magnificent lions guard what was Lanka’s most precious possession in grim silence, the only ones of its kind in the country.

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Stock up on artistry: The elaborate doorway is flanked by heavy stone walls and two empty frames occupy what used to be two intricately carved windows, greco-style columns and extravagant sculptures. This is the Foundation of the Temple of the Tooth. Or the crumbling, proud remains of its glorious past.

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Go deeper, immerse: Stand at the threshold of the stony doorway, trying to reconstruct remains of its elegance and grandeur. Visualise devoted believers ascending the steps. Study the minute details carved in stone. Feel the quiet. Be. Then scale the summit of the Yapahuwa rock by a rough path leading off from the left of the temple to witness more ruins and remains. Feel the rambling jungle, rolling hills and sunbathed rocks below. Invincible much?

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Amazing ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka

48 thoughts on “Three lost cities of Sri Lanka you need to find now!

  1. Sigiriya looks so interesting. Did you say that the wall paintings date back to more than 1,000 years? It’s really fascinating, love how it’s named the Mirror Wall. And it must have been great to climb all the way up those 1,200 steps. I can only imagine the view from up there. 🙂
    Love your photos and all these magnificent relief details!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sri Lanka has been on our list for about six years now ever since we had a layover there on our way to the Maldives. Between the beaches, diving, safaris with leopards and elephants and beautiful spots like Sigiriya, I’m certain I’d love Sri Lanka. Thanks for sharing a few others I hadn’t heard about yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love Sri Lanka. My husband and I have been there twice: once this year and once last year. I think, of the ancient cities, Polonnaruwa was my favorite! Anuradhapura was really cool but so big that it felt hard to see everything. Polonnaruwa was big too, but easier to get around on a bike, in my opinion. I love your description of the Sri Lankan countryside. I totally agree: it is lush and green and so beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like how you have this set up, how you define the place, give the story and then what to look for. I think my favorite place on this list would be Sigiriya because (as you stated) I’m a Machu Picchu fan. But my eye was also very drawn to the Sacred Quadrangle, particularly the sculptures in dancing positions! You have a great eye for composition! I haven’t visited Sri Lanka…yet! And, I wasn’t aware of these ancient kingdoms, but I’m quite interested in them now!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but I’ve always found it so intriguing – and your lovely photos and article further demonstrate that! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sri Lanka has been high on my list of places I want to visit for a very long time now. It seems like such an interesting, wonderful place and these lost cities seem amazing to explore. Great photos and descriptions – I’ll have to make sure I visit them all!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so incredibly stunning!! It absolutely amazes me to realize what people were able to craft and build so many years ago before all the ‘comforts’ and tools we have now! And the fact that they have lasted so long is just as amazing. I would love to visit here and will save your post for future planning!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My husband was lucky enough to work in Sri Lanka for a while, Sadly I was not able to visit when he was there, so it has been on my bucket list for ages. He always tells me how beautiful Sigiriya is at sunrise. I love your pics. It makes me want to pack a bag and jump on the next plane. Great read!

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  9. I visited Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya last year when I visited Sri Lanka. Missed out on Anuradhapura and Yapahuwa due to time constraints. I’m guessing you had a bit of rainy weather. I had some really intense sun, and almost fainted climbing up Sigiriya.

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  10. Aww, all the lush greens! We came to Sri Lanka after spending a year in the desert and it’s brilliant green made us so happy! We skipped Sigiriya in favor of Dambulla (I can only hike so much and we had a 2-month-old with us). Your pictures make me wish we got to visit both!

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  11. I have a bunch of friends from Sri Lanka and I am hoping to go visit one day with them so they can show me around. It looks so beautiful and lush with so much history. It is interesting to try and look at remains and reconstruct what they were and the people going in and out of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow these all look like incredible places to visit. I love the Sinhalese wall graffiti, but the carvings and statues in Polonnaruwa are stunning! Sri Lanka is definitely on my list places to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Isn’t our planet amazing? No matter where we travel we are bound to find some lost city or even civilization.  At the same time, a thought of losing in the future the cities we are building today is very daunting. I imagine this is a course of life. Happy travels. Eva

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sigriya is so similar to Badami in Karnataka. This steps up to the top and the sculptures around the rocks. Definitely my kind of place. Negembo too, appeals but I love the unexplored Polonnaruwa. Lost palaces and undiscovered sculptures are my kind of thing. Guess i need to plan a nice trip to Sri Lanka to discover this for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Absolutely amazing! I had no idea Sri Lanka housed such ancient wonders. Like others, Sigriya caught my eye specifically. I spent a while looking at those giant paws and the tininess of the people climbing up it. It must have taken an army to carve all that out of the stone.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m hoping to visit Sri Lanka in October, and this has really caught my interest! I’ll have to add these places to my itinerary, and can’t wait to see the stairs up through the paws myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. First off, the place you stayed at looks INCREDIBLE. I’d love to wake up to that view every morning! The history behind these lost cities just fascinates me and I’d want to explore all three of them. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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