Anuradhapura was capital of ancient Lanka for a thousand years before and after Christ - in effect from Old Testament Nebuchadnezzar to the Normans and William the Conqueror, losing ground to the empire building Chola rulers of the 10th and 11th centuries. Excavations have yielded copper kilns from 900 BC, Brahmi inscriptions, pot burials of centuries before that. It's port Mantai, drew Arab and Chinese traders exchanging silks and ceramics, spices, trade goods. Anuradhapura itself was the centre of a fertile "rice bowl", supported by a vast network of reservoirs and irrigation canals. engineering marvels themselves. With this wealth, successive kings built the massive brick and granite monuments, many lost to invaders and invading jungle: what remains is mostly religious, inspired by the gentle philosophy of Buddhism – part of the missionary efforts of the great Emperor Ashoka Maurya to King Devanam-piyatissa, 3rd century BC.
Anuradhapura's most treasured "monument" is a living thing: through the centuries, the vicissitudes of war, drought, sectarian debate, the Sacred Bo (Sri Maha Bodhi) Tree has been protected and cherished by hereditary families, who reputedly brought the branch from Bodh Gaya, and have guarded it ever since! The Sacred Bo Tree is the world's oldest recorded tree (288 BC), a branch of the very tree under which Gautama, the Buddha attained enlightenment.
There is of course more to Anuradhapura home to some of the most spectacular dagobas (shrines) ever built, including Jethavanaramaya and Ruwanveliseya, which when built were only shorter than the Great pyramids of Giza. There are the ancient pleasure gardens, many shrines, remains of the great monasteries, collegiate bodies which housed, it is said, 3000 – 5000 monks together. There are the associated "service buildings" – the infirmaries, the refectories – some with the huge granite 'rice boats' to hold the mid day meal, all set amidst vast their vast 'campuses, shrines, teaching halls, preaching halls pleasure and meditation gardens. Built in the local granite, they have outlasted kings and conquerors.