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Must Visit Locations

Yapahuwa Rock (Fire Rock) Fortress

Midway between Kurunagala & Anuradhapura lies the magnificent citadel of Yapahuwa built around a huge granite rock rising abruptly almost a hundred meters above the surrounding lowlands. Yapahuwa was one of the ephemeral capitals of medieval Sri Lanka.

The Fortress
Similar in concept to The Lion Rock citadel (Sigiriya), Yapahuwa is a huge rock fortress located on a very pleasant shaded site. The fort palace & town were built sheltering on the south side of the crag, protected by two ramparts & a moat. The ramparts form a rough semicircle, the ends of which join the foot of the high steep-sided rock.

The outer fortification
The outer fortification consists of an earthen rampart about 20 feet high & half a mile long on which a brick wall once stood. A moat with three causeways across it to the three gates ran around this rampart.

The inner fortification
The inner fortification consists of a stone wall averaging 12 feet in height & about 500 yards long with a moat outside it & with two gates. The homes of the ordinary people would have been between the outer & inner walls while king's palace, administrative buildings & of course then Temple of the Tooth were within the inner wall.

The outstanding ruin, the ornamental stone stairway
The site's outstanding ruin is the marvelous ornamental stone stairway, which climbs with Maya-like steepness up to the palace. The stairway originally comprised of the three flights of stone stairs. The lowest one has disappeared & been replaced by modern cement stairs. Its top flight is a riot of decoration of high quality craftsmanship. Statues of elephants, makara torans (dragon arches), dwarfs, goddesses & pair of goggle-eyed stone lions (one appears on the nation's ten-rupee note) flank the stairs, which are topped by a finely carved doorway & windows. Panels around the base & sides of each window are embellished with stone carvings of dancers & musicians, one playing a Kandyan drum-the oldest pictorial record of Sri Lanka's most famous musical instrument.

Lion Terrace
Finally at the top of the stairway is the impressive & harmoniously conceived doorway that once led into the Temple of the Tooth. There's very little to see now except a couple of brick foundations & a few pillars. However the view from hereon is wonderful: the flat plains far below dotted with huge, saw-toothed mountains.

Small museum
There's a small museum just to the right of the site, set in one of a pair of gorgeous Kandyan-style wooden beams separated by a quaint bell tower. Exhibits include some fine stone windows from the top of the stairway, intricately latticed in quasi-Arabian style. One of the window frames is now exhibited in the Colombo Museum.

Cave temple
Behind the museum is a fascinating cave temple (restored in 1886) that contains some 13th century frescoes. The reposition of images across a geometric grid also appears in ancient Buddhist sites in India, such as Ajanta, inland from Mumbai, & Alchi in Ladakh. Also in the temple are wooden Buddha images &, interestingly, one image made of bronze.

Travails of The Sacred Tooth Relic while at Yapahuwa
In 1272, King Bhuvenakabahu transferred the capital to Yapahuwa from Polonnaruwa in the face of marauding Dravidian invasions from South India, bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic with him. The move proved to be of little avail. Following the death of King Bhuvenakabahu in 1284, the Pandyans of South India invaded Lanka once again, and succeeded in capturing Sacred Tooth Relic too. Following its capture, Yapahuwa was largely abandoned & inhabited by Buddhist monks & religious ascetics. The capital was moved to Kurunagala.

While an envoy was being sent to India by Emperor Kublai Khan of China, with an offer to exchange the Tooth of Relic for a fabulous treasure, King Parakrambahu the third of Lanka himself at the Pandyan court in South India retrieved the Sacred Tooth Relic by means of negotiations in 1288. King Parakarbahu returned to Lanka with The Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha to the immense relief & great rejoicing of the Sinhalese. The relic was enshrined in a newly built temple at the new capital of Kurunagala.

The Chinese connection
During the brief period in which Yapahuwa was the capital of Lanka, it had close connections with China. Among the evidence are finest Chinese ceramics, a large number of celadon pottery parts, 1310 Chinese coins including the 12 Chinese coins found during the excavations by H. C. P. Bell, the first archeological commissioner of Ceylon in 1949.

Ongoing excavations
Some strong evidence of pre-historic settlement is gathered from six acres of flat land on the Yapahuwa rock. It has pre-historic (from 1000 BC to 500 BC) or early historic human settlements & it is the earliest such urban settlement be found on a rock.

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Photo Gallery

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Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

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