Surrounded by the mesmerizing beaches and luscious green landscape, exploring the hidden jewels of this vibrant island country embarks an incredible journey for an architect. Sri Lanka portrays a beautiful blend of many religions, ethnic groups, and architectural marvels, from ancient cities to tropical structures. Traveling within each province of this country offers a heart-stirring view of contrasting landscapes. 

A visit to Sri Lanka gifts an architect both the pleasure of holiday vacation and opportunities to grasp and learn about the heritage and architecture of this great nation! 

So, here are the 10 reasons why you must visit Sri Lanka:

1. Cave Temple of Dambulla

The Dambulla cave temple, commonly known as the ‘Golden Temple of Dambulla,’ is a collection of five caves located under a vast overhanging rock in the central province of Sri Lanka. It is the largest cave temple in the island country and houses 153 Buddha statues and mural paintings on the walls and ceilings. These sculptures and paintings mainly depict the life of Gautama Buddha. 

The surrounding area is documented to have 80 caves and is carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. Being one of the leading pilgrimage sites for Sri Lankan Buddhists, these caves are well preserved and it’s a World Heritage site of UNESCO.

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Dambulla Temple’s Entrance_©Mar Pages
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Entrance to the five caves of Dambulla Temple over an overhanging rock_©Prajwal Madhav
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Interior view of Dambulla Temple_©Prajwal Madhav
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Paintings on the wall of Dambulla Temple_©Fenylo Orsza

2. Sacred City of Kandy

To fulfill the needs of the royal families and nobles, alongside the sacred temples, a medieval city grid that houses royal palaces and botanical gardens, was laid. Constituting 486 historic `buildings, Kandy city in Sri Lanka is enveloped by the beautiful Mahaweli river on its three sides and an impassable mountain to its fourth, adding a layer of beauty to this well-planned city. 

The Sacred Temple of Tooth Relic with the tooth of Lord Buddha is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Kandy. This urban fabric is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a visual treat for all the people.

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Sacred city of Kandy_©Mckay Savage
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Sacred Tooth Temple in Kandy_©A.Savin
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Royal Botanical Gardens of Kandy City_©Jenifer Mugford

3. Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and is famous for its well-preserved ancient Sinhala civilization. This city flourished with monasteries, stupas, statues, and other religious sites. The largest stupa in the world, named ‘Jetavanaramaya,’ is located in this city. Sri Maha Bodhi tree, Ruwanwelisaya, Abhayaghiri Vihara, etc., are the other prominent sites in the town. 

Even though some of the structures were lost over time, UNESCO declared this city a World Heritage Site. And now, most of them are still protected, valued, and worshiped.

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Jetavanaramaya Stupa in city of Anuradhapura_©Wimukthi Bandara
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Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in 1891_©James Ricalthon
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Ruwanwelisaya Stupa in city of Anuradhapura_©Lankapic
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Abhayagiriya Stupa in city of Anuradhapura_©A.Savin

4. Sigiriya

Sigiriya is an ancient fortress that protects the palace ruins, extensive networks of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures built on top of the massive 200-meter high rock by King Kashyapa. Currently one of the World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya used to be a cave shelter and mountain monastery donated by Buddhist monks. 

Also known as ‘the Lion Rock,’ this is one of the best urban planned sites of the first millennium because of its well-thought-out symmetric and asymmetric components, which intentionally interlocks artificial structures and natural form together. The rock carvings and frescoes will keep the mind of an architect in a puzzled state for some time.  

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Sigiriya_©Natalie Khoo
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Courts on top of Sigiriya_©Emmanuel Pivard

5. St. Lucia’s Cathedral

Located in the capital city of Sri Lanka, this cathedral’s considered to be the oldest and largest parish in the island country. The cathedral’s facade is supported by massive Ionic columns and decorated with seven statues on the pinnacle. When the sunlight hits the stained glass window, it creates an in-depth panoramic effect that enhances the church’s transepts. One of the focal points of the building is the 4300-pound bell named Anthony Thomas. The bell’s carved with intricate works of a floral wreath and holy symbols of Christianity. 

The church can host up to 5000 worshipers at a single time. St Lucia’s Cathedral is one of the standout structures from the Buddhist era and can open the eyes of an architect to its beautiful carved structures.

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St Lucia’s Cathedral_©BT Images
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Interior of St Lucia’s Cathedral_©Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham
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Carvings on the bell of St Lucia’s Cathedral_©BT Images

6. Galle Fort

Emerging from the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, the Galle Fort was built by the Portuguese and later fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. Galle portrays a sublime blend of European architecture and South Asian traditions, making it unique and enriching an architect’s experience. Due to this uniqueness, UNESCO declared this as a World Heritage Site under criteria iv of cultural heritage. 

The churches, houses, restaurants, and beaches are the other highlights inside the fort. The city’s natural harbor and National Maritime Museum are other prominent locations to visit.

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Aerial view of Galle Fort_©Rovin Shanila
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Fortified walls of Galle Fort_©Anja Leidel
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Evening street view of Galle_©Justin Cliffe
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National Maritime Museum_©Ji Elle

7. Independence Memorial Hall

Also known as ‘the Independence Commemoration Hall,’ this is a national monument built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule and symbolize the nation’s splendor. Located in Independence Square of Colombo, this space served as an assembly hall for the House of Parliament before it relocated to the New Parliament Complex. 

The paintings drawn inside the wall illustrate the history of Sri Lanka from the day King Vijaya set foot on the land up to the present. Currently, space is utilized for the annual national day celebration, religious events and is open for tourists to learn about the motherland.

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Independence Commemoration Hall of Sri Lanka_©Charaka Ranasinghe
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Independence Square of Sri Lanka_©Dreamstime
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Independence Square_©Nazly Ahmed

8. Red Mosque

Jami Ul-Alfar, or The Red Mosque, is a historic mosque in the Pettah district of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Its tall minarets are seen from any location in the capital, and the mosque’s vertical envelope is used as a landmark by sailors to reach the port of Colombo. The design combines Gothic Revival and Neo-Classical architecture style, complemented with the red and white patterned strips. The inside of the mosque reflects the exterior, and tourists are allowed to enter the mosque under certain dressing conditions. 

The colors, pattern, and architecture are a visual treat for one’s eyes, and the lines draw our view to imagine a more exciting space.

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The Red Mosque_©dreamstime.com
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The gates of Jami Ul-Alfar_©Jade Jensen
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Interior of the Red Mosque_©lovesrilanka.org

9. Lotus Tower

The tower’s construction took place on the waterfront side of Beira Lake in Colombo, taking the design inspiration from a lotus flower. The lotus symbolizes purity among Sri Lankan cultures and also represents the country’s successful development. There are 13 floors in the tower, of which six are in the base of the tower’s podium, and the remaining seven floors are within the flower, all together constituting a height of 350 meters. 

Besides being a transmission and communication tower, it also houses banquet halls, museums, a shopping mall, and a revolving restaurant at the top, which completes one rotation in 90 minutes, providing a scenic view of the city. This tower is one of the gems of Colombo city and must not be missed while touring this city.

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Morning view of Lotus Tower in Colombo_©thrillophilia.com
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Night view of Lotus Tower in Colombo_©Xinhua
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Aerial view of pinnacle of Lotus Tower in Colombo_©thrillophilia.com

10. Geoffrey Bawa’s Impressions

Bawa is one of the most paramount Asian architects of his generation. His creation of the unique and tangible style of design of ‘Tropical Modernism’ created a new wave in architecture. His plans always had a sensitivity for local context and incorporated form-making principles of modernism. His notable works in Sri Lanka include the Seema Malaka Temple, New Parliament Complex, the Kandalama Hotel, Bawa’s Lunuganga Country Estate, etc. 

Bawa paved a new path for architecture in his beautiful country, and his works are a must-see while visiting Sri Lanka.

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New Parliament of Sri Lanka_©Kolitha de Dilva
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Seema Malaka Temple_©Akash KS
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Lunuganga Country Estate_©Sebastian Posingis and Dominic Sansoni
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Lunuganga Country Estate_©Sebastian Posingis and Dominic Sansoni
Kandalama Hotel_©cntraveler.com

References

Chugh, P., 2021. Architecture of Sri Lanka To Explore The Local History. [online] Holidify.com. Available at: <https://www.holidify.com/pages/architecture-of-sri-lanka-2471.html> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Sacred city of Anuradhapura. 2021. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura | Sacred city of Anuradhapura. [online] Available at: <https://sacredcityofanuradhapura.com/general/the-sacred-city-of-anuradhapura/> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Walker, V., 2021. Sigiriya, the ‘Lion Fortress’ of Sri Lanka. [online] History. Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/history-magazine/article/sri-lanka-sigiriya-fortress> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Isle, S., 2021. The Bells of St. Lucia’s Cathedral. [online] Wijitha.blogspot.com. Available at: <https://wijitha.blogspot.com/2006/07/bells-of-st-lucias-cathedral.html> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Jansen, J., 2021. Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid: The Red Mosque Of Sri Lanka – Zafigo. [online] Zafigo. Available at: <https://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/jami-ul-alfar-masjid-red-mosque-sri-lanka/> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Kunkel, P., 2021. Spotlight: Geoffrey Bawa. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/770481/spotlight-geoffrey-bawa> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Explorationscompany.com. 2021. Galle Fort in Sri Lanka – The Explorations Company. [online] Available at: <https://www.explorationscompany.com/asia/experience-asia/sri-lanka/galle-fort> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Worldarchitecture.org. 2021. SRI LANKA PARLIAMENT BUILDING. [online] Available at: <https://worldarchitecture.org/architecture-projects/hfg/sri_lanka_parliament_building-project-pages.html> [Accessed 22 June 2021]. 

Colombolotustower.net. 2021. Colombo Lotus Tower | Colombo Lotus Tower. [online] Available at: <https://colombolotustower.net/> [Accessed 22 June 2021].

Author

Milan Denny is an architecture student who has just begun to explore his way into architectural journalism. He is genuinely passionate about architecture and technology and constantly seeks new experiences to widen his knowledge to blend them. Tea is the shortcut key to his heaven.

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