Five out of six historical UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka are concentrated in the so-called cultural triangle, in the northern part of the small country. In the midday heat it is somewhat exhausting to reach the Dambulla caves, which are hewn into a rocky cliff about 160 m high above the street.
The Dambulla temple actually consists of five caves, each of them full of Buddha statues (average quality and not very old) and wall and ceiling paintings (many of them amazing). Therefore the caves became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991.
The site has been a place of worship since the 1st century BC, when a king who had to flee the capital in Anuradhapura took refuge in the region of what today is the quite ugly town of Dambulla.
It is said that when the king regained his power in Anuradhapura, he financed the cave temples of Dambulla to show his piety. Later kings took up this tradition and during the 5th to 13th century, the caves continued to develop as a major religious center. King Nisanka Malla had the interior of the caves gilded in the 12th century. And during the later reign of the kings of Kandy some major additions were executed well into the 20th century.
Most of the statues visitors see today seem to be quite new, but many of the paintings are very delicate and beautiful. The site itself is still a pilgrimage site and has a quite relaxing atmosphere.
Compared to the other UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Caves are an undemanding historical sightseeing spot – the focus is on atmosphere and the long religious tradition rather than on historical detail. The visit to the caves of Dambulla takes less than two hours, there is no entrance fee, and Dambulla can be done on the way to Sigiriya (another UNESCO World Heritage site and one of our next blog posts), or in a day trip from Kandy.
+++The trip was organized by ourselves and we did not receive any funding or sponsoring for it.+++