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There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. This list comprises of 6 cultural sites and 2 natural sites. You can learn more about these sites:
- Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (1982)
- Ancient City of Sigiriya (1982)
- Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991)
- Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications (1988)
- Sacred City of Anuradhapura (1982)
- Sacred City of Kandy (1988)
- Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010)
- Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988)
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (1982)
Inscribed in 1982, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa is the first cultural site in this list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. It is the main town of the district of the same name, which belongs to the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is the second most ancient kingdom in the country.
The ancient city that is protected by UNESCO measures at approximately 122 hectares in size. This splendid medieval capital was established as Sri Lanka’s first city in the 11th century AD. Over the course of its history, three Kings dominated this ancient city over three periods in the history. It reached its height of prosperity in the 12th century although it was destroyed by invaders in the following centuries. Despite of its destruction, the remains of the city’s old glory and splendor has remained. These remains are what is protected by UNESCO by naming it as a world heritage property.
Ancient City of Sigiriya (1982)
The ancient city of Sigiriya is another cultural site recognized into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. An ancient rock fortress is the most distinctive feature within this ancient city, which is located in the northern Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka.
This site, which is dominated by a massive column of rock that is up to 200 meters in height, is of cultural and archaeological significance. It is also closely associated with King Kasyapa who ruled Sri Lanka from the 477 to 495 CE. He built his palace atop this rock fortress and decorated his palace with frescoes to the side. Meanwhile, on your way to the top of this rock, he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. But after the king’s death, the palace and the fortress was left in abandonment. It was eventually used as a Buddhist monastery until the 1300s.
Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991)
This cave temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka for its cultural significance. This property is located in the central part of the country and is recognized as Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave temple complex. The rock towers rise up to 160 meters in height that dominates over the surrounding plains. Meanwhile, the towers have about 80 documented caves!
The major attractions within the Golden Temple of Dambulla are distributed over 4 of these caves. Within the caves are culturally significant paintings and statues that are related to the life of Gautama Buddha. In total, there are 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings, and 4 statues of gods and goddesses that can be found within these caves!
Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications (1988)
The Old Town of Galle and its fortifications is the same site that was known as Tarnish of the Bible wherein King Solomon took spices and gems from. In history, the port is known as the site where the Portuguese landed when they first made it to Sri Lanka during the early 16th century. In the 17th to the 18th century, it fell under the rule of the Dutch. This explains why a visit to the Old Town of Galle will remind one of a town in Holland. The Dutch influence in this port town is still very much evident until today.
Within this site are over 90 acres of forts and ramparts that were built in the mid-17th century. You will also find Dutch churches and monuments within this town, together with narrow alleys and old Dutch houses.
Sacred City of Anuradhapura (1982)
The city of Anuradhapura is another major city in the country recognized for its cultural significance. This city is the capital of the North Central Province and one of the country’s ancient capitals. The city is known for the well-preserved ruins of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.
It was named as a world heritage property in 1982 because this served as the center of the Theravada Buddhism for several centuries. This is what makes it sacred to the Buddhist world. In addition to that, it is also one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, not just of Sri Lanka.
Sacred City of Kandy (1988)
The Sacred City of Kandy is the final entry into this list of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. Located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, this city is the last capital of the Sinhala Kings. Under this rule, the Dinahala culture flourished and stayed that way for more than 2,500 years. It is also considered a sacred Buddhist site and a famous pilgrimage site. This city is also home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010)
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka is the first natural site in this list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. This property encompasses three important sites: Peak Wilderness Protected Area, Knuckles Conservation Forest, and the Horton Plains National Park. The site is therefore composed mainly of a rainforest area with a height of up to 2,500 meters above sea level.
This natural site is universally important as it provides a natural habitat to a wide range of mammal species such as Horton Plain’s slender loris, bear monkey, and other sub-species of mammals.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988)
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is both a biodiversity hotspot and national park. It was inscribed by UNESCO in 1988. The Sri Lanka lowland rainforest eco-region is the primary component of this UNESCO property. This area is mainly hilly virgin rainforest in the landscape. The site is largely inaccessible, which was also crucial in preserving the site and preventing commercial logging activity.
Despite being only 21 kilometers in size, it is prized for its collection of endemic species of plants and animals. There are currently 26 endemic birds in Sri Lanka and 20 of them occur in this forest reserve.