The sacred city of Anuradhapura, now in picturesque ruins, was once a major center of Sri Lankan civilization. The 4th century BC capital of Sri Lanka, was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, and a prominent political and trade center for almost 15 centuries. It is the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is known today as the Sacred City. The ruins found in Anuradhapura bear testimony to the prominence given to Buddhism and the development of a great agricultural based society. The fascinating ancient ruins include huge bell-shaped stupas built of small sun-dried bricks, temples, sculptures, palaces, and ancient drinking-water reservoirs
Although people may have lived in this area since as early as the 10th century BC, Anuradhapura became a great city after the arrival of a cutting from the Bodhi Tree ('tree of enlightenment'), the Buddha's fig tree, in the 3rd century BC. The sacred branch was brought to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns.
Anuradhapura went on to become a Ceylonese political and religious capital (4th century BC) that flourished for 1,300 years. In its prime, Anuradhapura ranked alongside Nineveh and Babylon in its colossal proportions—its four walls, each 16 miles (26 km) long, enclosing an area of 256 square miles (663 km²)—in the number of its inhabitants, and the splendour of its shrines and public buildings.
The city also had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world. Most of the great reservoir tanks still survive today, and some many be the oldest surviving reservoirs in the world.
After an invasion in 993 AD, Anuradhapura was permanently abandoned. For centuries, the site lay hidden in the jungle. Rediscovered by the British in the 19th century, Anuradhapura became a Buddhist pilgrimage site once again.
The revival of the city of Anuradhapura began in earnest in the 1870s. The modern city (population 40,000) is a major road junction of northern Sri Lanka and lies along a railway line. The headquarters of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon is in Anuradhapura.
Today, the splendid sacred city of Anuradhapura, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, draws many Buddhist pilgrims and visitors.