Yapahuwa Rock Fortress holds a key to the magic and mystery of Sri Lanka’s historic past


The citadel Yapahuwa was one of the early capitals of medieval Sri Lanka. Lying midway between Kurunagala and Anuradhapura, it was built around a 100-metre-tall granite rock rising above the surrounding countryside.

In 1272, an invasion by the Dravidians from South India forced King Bhuvenakabahu to move his capital from Polonnaruwa to Yapahuwa, taking the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha with him.

Folklore says that the tooth was housed in Yapahuwa until the citadel was abandoned and converted to a monastery, where monks resided among the ancient ruins.

Yapahuwa holds great archaeological significance among the many ancient ruins that can be found throughout Sri Lanka. Featuring styles reminiscent of Cambodian, India and China style, it is dominated by the stairway leading to the royal palacee.

The porches on the stairway had extraordinarily beautiful pierced-stone windows, one of which is in the National Museum in Colombo, while the other is in the on-site museum.

Adorning the porch above the steps is stonework decorated with frames of exotic dancers, while one of the lions near the top of the staircase appears on the Rs10 note.

On top of the rock are the remains of a stupa, a Bodhi tree enclosure, and a rock shelter/cave used by Buddhist monks, indicating that earlier this site was used as a Buddhist monastery, like many boulders and hills in the area.

There are several caves at the base of the rock. In one of them there is a shrine with Buddha images. One cave has a Brahmi script inscription. At the southern base of the rock there is a fortification with two moats and ramparts.

In this enclosure there are the remains of a number of buildings including a Buddhist shrine. There is also a Buddhist temple called Yapahuwa Rajamaha Vihara built during the Kandyan period.

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