Buddhist monks were bathing in two beautifully carved rectangular stone pools, the Twin Ponds of
, as long ago as the 6th century AD. Begun around 5th century BC, Anuradhapura isthe oldest city in the Cultural Triangle. In its heyday,tens of thousands of people lived in a city of royalpalaces, monasteries, temples topped by glittering jewels,houses of two or three storeys, shops, pleasure gardens,bathing pools and wooded parks.Today, the restored remains of ancient Anuradhapura are dottedamidst peaceful parks to thenorth and west of the moderncity. Among the many bell-shaped dagobas or temples areThuparama (which enshrines a relicof Lord Buddha), and Ruwanweli, rebuilt to itsoriginal 2nd century BC bubble shape.Other dagobas include the 1st century BC Abhayagiriand 3rd century BC Jetawana, both around 120 metreshigh and second in height only to Egypt’s mightiestpyramids at Gizeh. Excavations have unearthed jewellery,sculptures, coins and other rare artefacts including sevenBuddhist scriptures etched into sheets of beaten gold.Stone pillars are all that remains of the1,000-room monks’ residence or BrazenPalace, near Sri Maha Bodhi or thesacred bo tree, a slender fig or Ficusreligiosa supported by iron crutches.
The oldest historicallydocumented tree on earth, it grew froma sapling taken 2,241 years ago from thevery same tree under which Lord Buddhagained enlightenment.
The finest of the carved stone figures protecting gateways(guard stones) at Anuradhapura is at the pavilion of Ratna Prasada. Nearby, at the Queen’s Pavilion, is asuperbly crafted semi-circular stone moonstone set atthe base of the stairs.The Isurumuniya Rock Temple isrenowned for its ancient bas-relief sculptures, including those knownas The Lovers, The Horsemanand a group of elephants playingin water. No less than three vastirrigation lakes, which remainto this day, nourished theagriculture of ancient Anuradhapura, whichoffers numerous otherfascinating sites.