Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura attests in a unique and specific way to the Sinhalese civilization. On numerous occasions the city was submitted to the assaults of invaders from southern India - Tamils, Pandyas, Cholas, etc. It stands as a permanent manifesto of the culture of Sri Lanka, impervious to outside influences. The sacred city exerted a considerable influence on the development of architecture during several centuries. It includes remarkable monuments, particularly the Dagabas of colossal size, placed on circular foundations and surrounded by a ring of monolithic columns, characteristic of the Sinhalese stupas.
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
The city is one of the principal shrines of Buddhism. The cutting from the fig tree of Buddha, brought there in the 3rd century BC, has flourished and, today, the Bodhi tree spreads out over the centre of the site from a sanctuary near the Brazen Palace. The relics of Siddharta have, moreover, shaped the religious topography of Anuradhapura, where the Dagaba Thuparama was built by King Tissa in the 3rd century BC to house the clavicle of Buddha, an important religious relic presented by Ashoka.
Founded during the 4th century BC, Anuradhapura quickly became both the capital of Ceylon and the sacred city of Buddhism on the island. The Chronicles of Mahanam, a narrative written 1,000 years later, affirms that it was founded in 380 BC by Prince Pandukabhaya.
Towards 250 BC, King Ashoka sent his son Mahinda to convert Tissa, the grandson of Pandukabhaya, and the latter became the first Buddhist sovereign (devanampiya) of Ceylon. A second mission, led by Sanghamitta, Buddhist nun and daughter of Ashoka, brought Tissa a cutting from the Ashvattha, the sacred fig tree of Bodhgaya, under which Siddharta attained spiritual enlightenment and supreme wisdom.
With the exception of the period of the invasion of the Tamil princes, at the beginning of the 2nd century BC, Anuradhapura remained the political and religious capital of Ceylon during 10 centuries. Its apogee was reached under the reign of Dutthagamani who, in 161 BC, expelled the Tamil invaders, re-established Buddhism in the place of Brahminism and endowed the site with extraordinary monuments: Dagaba Minisaweti, Dagaba Rubanwelisaya, the Brazen Palace, etc.
Anuradhapura was sacked and taken by the Pandyan kings during the 9th century and then returned against payment of a ransom.
The majority of the monuments were restored but the city never recovered after its destruction in AD 993 by King Chola Rajaraja I. Having lost its position as capital, it was deserted in favour of Polonnaruwa.
Ancient City of Sigiriya
Sigiriya is a unique witness to the civilization of Ceylon during the years of the reign of Kassapa I. The site of the 'Lion Mountain' was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers. The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the 'Sigiri graffiti,' are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, and thus show the considerable influence exerted by the abandoned city of Kassapa I on both literature and thought.
Ancient City of Sigiriya
In the heart of Ceylon, the extraordinary site of Sigiriya, a lofty rock of reddish gneiss dominating, from a height of some 150 m, the neighbouring plateau, has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, as attested by the graffiti which proliferate in the grottoes and the shelters of the Buddhist monks. The fame of the 'Lion Mountain' is, however, due to one single factor: during a short period in the 5th century AD, a sovereign established his capital there. King Kassapa I (477-95), son of Dhatusena, only came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.
Justly fearing the vengeance of the latter, Kassapa had a fortified palace built on the rock of Sigiriya which was reputed to be impregnable. However, it was there that he was defeated after a short but cruel battle in 495, following which he cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Moggallana returned the site of Sigiriya to the monks, thus condemning it to progressive abandonment. During the eleven years that Kassapa resided in Sigiriya, he created a residence of exceptional splendour and founded his capital there, impressive vestiges of which are still extant.
At the summit of the rock is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures. At the foot of the rock are the two quarters of the lower city which are defended by a massive wall: the eastern quarter (perhaps postdating the 5th century), which has not been sufficiently excavated, and the aristocratic quarter of the capital of Kassapa I, noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains, as well as for numerous monumental remains which have been disengaged from the forest which had invaded the ruins.
Halfway up the rock, within an inaccessible rocky shelter in the vertical wall of the western face are rock paintings which have brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya - 'The Maidens of the Clouds', 21 non-identified female figures, comparable to the most beautiful creations of Ajanta.
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa bears witness to several civilizations, notably that of the conquering Cholas, disciples of Brahminism, and that of the Sinhalese sovereigns during the 12th and 13th centuries. This immense capital created by the megalomaniac sovereign, Parakramabahu I, in the 12th century, is one of history's most astonishing urban creations, both because of its unusual dimensions and because of the very special relationship of its buildings with the natural setting. It is also a shrine of Buddhism and of Sinhalese history. The tooth of the Lord Buddha, a remarkable relic placed in the Atadage under Vijabayahu, was considered as the talisman of the Sinhalese monarchy: its removal by Bhuvanaikabahu II confirmed the decline of Polonnaruwa.
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
After the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 by Rajaraja, Polonnaruwa, a temporary royal residence during the 8th century, became the capital. The conquering Cholas constructed monuments to their religion (Brahmnism), and especially temples to Shiva where fine bronze statues, today in the Museum of Colombo, were found. The reconquest of Ceylon by Vijayabahu I did not put an end to the city's role as capital: it became covered, after 1070, with Buddhist sanctuaries, of which the Atadage (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the most renowned.
The apogee of Polonnaruwa occurred in the 12th century AD. Two sovereigns then proceeded to endow it with monuments. Parakramabahu I (1153-86) created within a triple-walled enceinte a fabulous garden-city, where palaces and sanctuaries prolonged the enchantment of the countryside. The following monuments date from this reign: the Lankatilaka, an enormous brick structure which has preserved a colossal image of Buddha; the Gal Vihara, with its gigantic rock sculptures which may be placed among the chefs-d'ouvre of Sinhalese art; the Tivanka Pilimage, where wall paintings of the 13th century illustrate the jataka (narratives of the previous lives of Buddha), etc. Nissamkamalla hastily constructed monuments that, although less refined than those of Parakramabahu I, were nonetheless splendid: the Rankot Vihara, an enormous stupa 175 m in diameter and 55 m high, is one of the most impressive; its plan and its dimensions are reminiscent of the dagabas at Anuradhapura.
After this golden age, Polonnaruwa underwent a century of difficulties, before its final decline. The city which was invaded by the Tamils and the Maghas, then reconquered in a precarious manner, was only periodically the capital before the end of the 13th century when it was captured in an assault by Bhuvanaikabuha II, who set up his government at Kurunegala.
Golden Temple of Dambulla
The ensemble of Dambulla is 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.
Golden Temple of Dambulla
The rock of Dambulla is the centre of a Buddhist cave-temple complex established in the 3rd century BC and occupied continuously until today. Its location has marked a transportation node between the Eastern and Western Dry Zones and between the Dry Zones and the central mountains throughout the history of Sri Lanka. The cave-temple complex is established on an inselberg or erosional remnant of importance in the study of the island's geological history. The site also includes evidence of human occupation going back to the prehistoric period, including the megalithic cemetery at Ibbankatuwa.
The site has been in continuous use for over 22 centuries, when it was occupied by a Buddhist monastic establishment, following the arrival of Buddhism on the island. Remains of 80 rock-shelter residences established at that time on the site have been identified. Most probably in the 1st century BC, the uppermost group of shelters on Dambulla's south face was transformed into shrines. These transformations continued and were intensified between the 5th and 13th centuries: cave-temples were extended into the sheltering rock, and brick walls constructed to screen the caves. By the end of the 12th century, with the introduction by King Nissanka Malla of sculpture to the caves on the upper terrace, echoing the rock carving that had preceded it, the caves assumed their present general forms and layout.
The next major phase of development took place in the 18th century when, following a long-standing tradition, the upper terrace was restored and refurbished. All the painted surfaces within the caves were painted or overpainted in a style characteristic of the Kandy school of the late 18th century. At that time, the modest Buddhist figures in the caves were repainted, maintaining original details and iconography; the fronting screen walls were rebuilt and roofed to form an outer veranda. Throughout the 19th century, following the loss of royal patronage in 1815, periodic repainting of sculptures and deteriorating surfaces continued. In 1915, thanks to the efforts of a local donor, cave No 5 was entirely repainted. In the 1930s, the veranda was rebuilt incorporating a mixture of European and Asian detailing, and the complex's entrance porch was reconstructed in a conjectural 18th century style.
This cultural landscape is an extraordinary and unique complex: the cave-temple, rock paintings in five caves and 157 statues of various sizes. Dambulla bears witness in its richly layered composite nature to the use of the entire site for close to four millennia. The larger site incorporates a set of individual units reflecting all phases of site development from the megalithic period to the present day, including a monastic chapter house, bo-tree temple, dagoba and the earliest known village revealed by archaeological research in Sri Lanka. Those are located within a site of considerable natural beauty and power.
Particular care has been taken in developing approaches to conservation which are in tune with the site's qualities, and the capacities of available conservators. One of the site's distinguishing characteristics is the regular renewal of decorated surfaces over time; conservation measures devoted to stripping back layers of later painting on wall surfaces or sculpture to reveal earlier images, would be ignoring the worth of the ongoing tradition which has regularly ensured complete repainting of surfaces.
As well, the physical nature of the cave setting, with its latent moisture and migrating salts problems, has prompted much of the painting 'repair' that has taken place. Equally, limited tests, during conservation efforts, suggest that little earlier work survives, most later overpainting having prompted reinstatement of new base surfaces and obliteration of the old. The Jeevan Naide family, charged with care of the wall paintings since early in the 18th century BC, is still employed, working with ola leaf manuscripts which provide a clear idea of the complex layout and associated painting techniques. Technical missions to the site in 1990 and 1991, working with local apprentices and the Jeevan Naide family, brought science and tradition together in treatment of the site.
Sacred City of Kandy
The monumental ensemble of Kandy, rebuilt in the reign of Keerti Sri Rajasimha, is an outstanding example of a traditional type of construction in which the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth of Buddha are juxtaposed. The Temple of the Tooth, the palatial complex, and the sacred city of Kandy are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the spread of Buddhism, one of humanity's great religions. Built to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha, which had come from Kalinga (Orissa State, India) to Sri Lanka during the reign of Sri Meghavanna (310-28), when it was transferred a final time, the Temple of Kandy bears witness to an ever flourishing cult.
Sacred City of Kandy
Kandy, founded in the 14th century, is the southern tip of Sri Lanka's 'Cultural Triangle'. The city became the capital of the kingdom in 1592, during a troubled time when many of the islanders were fleeing to the interior, away from the coastal areas the European powers were fighting over. Although taken several times, the city remained one of the bastions of Sinhalese independence until the British troops entered it on 14 February 1815. From Vimala Dharma Suriya I (1591-1604) to Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (1798-1815), it was the last seat of royal power. It remains the religious capital of Buddhism and a sacred city for millions of believers. Enshrined in the Dalada Maligawa is the relic of the tooth of Buddha which has long been greatly venerated. The ceremonial high point each year is the splendid ritual of the great processions on the feast of Esala Perahera.
Built in a small wooded valley deep in the hills around an artificial lake created by Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe between 1803 and 1807, the city has much charm. The monumental zone includes, on the northern shores of the lake, the remains of the Royal Palace with the great Audience Hall, Temple of the Tooth, Palace of Sri Wickrama, queen's apartments and bathing house, Palle Wahala and Ran Ayuda Maduwa. Three other monumental groups (Dewala, Malwatte Vihara and Asgiriya Vihara) are the final elements of this important complex.
As a result of more recent modifications the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth date from the reign of Keerti Sri Rajasimha (1747-82). A first temple was built in 1603, destroyed by the Portuguese in 1637, and rebuilt in 1697. As a reference to the great architecture of Anuradhapura, the first historic capital, the present grander edifice was built upon a granite substructure. In addition to granite a wide variety of materials were used for this extraordinarily rich building: limestone, marble, sculpted wood, terracotta, metal and ivory. The painted decorations vie with the sculpted decor, and include purely decorative motifs as well as different series of figures (dancers, acrobats, animals) on the beams and ceilings.
Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
Galle provides an outstanding example of an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The most salient feature is the use of European models adapted by local manpower to the geological, climatic, historical, and cultural conditions of Sri Lanka. In the structure of the ramparts, coral is frequently used along with granite. In the ground layout all the measures of length, width and height conform with the regional metrology. The wide streets, planted with grass and shaded by suriyas, are lined with houses, each with its own garden and an open veranda supported by columns, another sign of the acculturation of an architecture which is European only in its basic design.
Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
The bay of Galle lies off the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, sheltered by a rocky peninsula. Mentioned as early as 545 in the cosmography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, it is one of the most ancient 'ports of call of the Levant'. When Ibn Batuta landed there in 1344, it was the principal port of Ceylon. Portuguese navigators settled there in 1505, two years before settling in Colombo. It seems that they preferred Colombo at first. In 1588, they decided to withdraw to Galle and they hastily constructed a rampart and three bastions to defend the peninsula on the northern landside. The seaward side was considered invulnerable and was not fortified.
Few vestiges subsist from a Franciscan chapel that was built in 1543. When the fortified town fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640, they decided to replace the precarious Portuguese defences constituted partially of palisades and earth banks. They encircled the whole of the peninsula with a bastioned stone wall so as to render it impregnable against the English, French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese fleets vying with Holland for the supremacy of the sea.
This fortified city, built by the Dutch, exists still, but with few changes. It has an area of 52 ha inside the walls defended by 14 bastions. The majority of the curtain walls were built in 1663. The northern fortified gate, protected by a drawbridge and a ditch, bears the date 1669. Much of the city, laid out on a regular grid pattern adapted to the configuration of the terrain (north-south peripheral streets are parallel to the ramparts and not to the central traffic axes), dates from this period.
During the 18th century, protected by a sea wall finished in 1729, the city reached full development. It housed 500 families, and a large number of public administrations, trade establishments and warehouses were located there. A Protestant, Baroque-style church, the oldest in Sri Lanka, was constructed in 1775 for the European colonists and a few Christian converts from plans drawn up by Abraham Anthonisz. However, Galle remained essentially a stronghold. In the layout of the city the Commandant's residence, the arsenal and the powder house were prominent features. The forge, carpentry and rope-making workshops, the naval guardhouse, and barracks rounded out a system that closely linked prosperous trade to military security.
The fort of Galle was handed over to the English only on 23 February 1796, one week after the surrender of Colombo. As a British protectorate, Galle remained the administrative centre of the south of Ceylon. A number of unfortunate modifications were then made: ditches filled in, new blockhouses added, a gate put in between the Moon bastion and the Sun bastion, a lighthouse installed on the Utrecht bastion, and a tower erected for the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1883. Other work was undertaken during the Second World War in order to restore the defensive function of the fortifications.
Taken together these alterations, few in number, as can be seen from the above, have not seriously modified the original city plan. Galle remains the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia.