The history of this island began about 3,000 years ago when it was first inhabited during 6th century BC. Once Europeans discovered the colony, it was ruled by Portuguese, Dutch and British, totaling 181 kings. The British ruled continuously starting in 1815 and independence was finally granted in 1948. In 1972 Sri Lanka assumed status of a Republic, however a devastating civil war began in 1983, lasting for 25 years finally ending in 2009. At first I was hesitant to visit what was said to be one of the most dangerous island nations in the world. I can tell you that the history is what makes this country unique and worth a visit today.
Ceylon is Sri Lanka’s original name. Once a British Crown Colony between 1815 and 1948, during this time Ceylon did not include the Kingdom of Kandy, but from 1817, it too became part of Ceylon before it was named Sri Lanka. Before the island nation was governed by the Dutch, it was divided by the Portuguese Empire and the Kingdom of Kandy, who were in a war for the island as a whole.
Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and most likely the place you will land no matter where you are flying. I went directly from Los Angeles to Heathrow and then directly into Colombo on Sri Lankan Airlines- really a wonderful way to travel. I’m not going to lie, I was not too impressed after touchdown in Colombo. However, never am I too impressed with capital cities. Full of people, poverty and armed guards, I had an eerie feeling when asked to visit a bazaar. Like most of my travels I quickly got out of the capital city to go and explore the countryside. One thing for sure is do not try to drive yourself in Sri Lanka, hire a driver. I wouldn’t bother staying in the city, I’d rather land and drive to the nearby countryside.
Polonnaruwa became the capital of the country during medieval times under the leadership of King Vijayabahu I. But it was his grandson, Parakramabahu I whose reign was called the Golden Age because trade and agriculture flourished. The King believed that water should not be wasted and should be use for the improvement of land so he developed superior irrigation systems and built the Parakrama Samudraya, an artificial lake so big that it is often thought to be the ocean. You cannot see from one side to the other and the lake served as a system of defense along with being a lifeline for the people during the dry season. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was self sufficient during this time. The ruins of the ancient city are found on the east shore of the lake and within the city walls, you can see palace buildings and temples. The palace was destroyed by fire when attacked so that now just ruins remain but at one time there were 1000 rooms and it stood 7 stories high. If you visit any of the temples remember to remove your shoes if you go close and do not take a picture with your back facing Buddha.
The Rock temple is the most significant temple in the area. The full intact statues are beautifully carved in the rock and escaped damage over time from weather and man.
In 1592 Kandy became the capital city of the only remaining independent kingdom after other areas of Sri Lanka had been taken over by Portuguese. Sri Lankans fought off the Portuguese and Dutch until finally becoming colonized by the British in 1815. After that time, the traditional monarchy of Sri Lanka ended and was replaced by the British monarchy.
Kandy became home to the relic of the tooth of Buddha which represents a 4th century tradition that the protector of the tooth was the one who was to rule the land. The Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth were intertwined in administrative and religious functions throughout the city. Kandy remains the religious capital of Sri Lankans and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists throughout the world.