Ancient City and Cave Temple of Dambulla (UNESCO World Heritage site)

A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 m2) are of particular importance, as are the 157 statues.

There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are around 153 Lord Buddha statues along with some Hindu Gods which date back to the 12th century, three statues of Sri Lankan kings.

Within Dambulla lies the Namal Uyana, the largest iron wood forest in Asia that was said to have been planted by people who sought refuge within it in ancient times. The Namal Uyana also offers a fascinating trek through the deep Naa Tree forest (Mesua Ferrea), the country’s National Tree. The Namal Uyana also includes the largest pink quartz mountain in Asia.

According to archeological research, the pink quartz in this location has a lineage of more than 550 million years. Namal Uyana is an extremely rare forest replanted with iron wood saplings in the 8th Century AD, that commenced during the reign of King Devanampiyathissa and concluded with King Dappula IV. Evidence shows that during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in the 8th century this forest offered sanctuary to Buddhist monks.

Interestingly, the Ibbankatuwa site near Dambulla is where prehistoric 2,700 year old human skeleton remains were unearthed, providing evidence of civilisation in the area long before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.