Sri Lanka activities and attractions | Architectural legacy


Sri Lanka has an impressive architectural legacy that dates back to the 3rd century B.C. Although partly destroyed, ruins of ancient kingdoms provide evidence of a sophisticated civilization on the island which possessed advanced knowledge of science and technology, town planning and design, and valued the aesthetic beauty of the arts. The influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and British Colonial Period can be seen in the architecture of the churches, forts and homes in the coastal areas as well as in the hill country’s Tea Bungalows. Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka most influential modern architect, was responsible for linking the ancient architecture of this island with that of the modern world.
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Don’t Miss
Anuradhapura’s ancient palaces and hospitals
Temples and rock sculptures of Polonnaruwa
Cave temple, forest monasteries and rock fortresse
Galle’s 17th century Dutch Fort
Negombo & Kalpitiya’s Dutch canals, churches and forts
British architecture in the hill country
Colonial homes and Walauwas
Bawa’s life long project – the Lunuganga Gardens
Dinner at Paradise Road Gallery Café – Bawa’s original office space

Architecture Holidays
We have designed several holiday itineraries that let you experience Sri Lanka’s architectural heritage which includes the Cultural Triangle sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya; Colonial period architecture of Galle, Negombo and Nuwara Eliya; and the creative works of Geoffrey Bawa

• Bawa Gems
• Buddhist heritage & ancient kingdoms
• Classic Cultural tour

Sri Lanka’s architectural heritage
Heritage Architecture:  Although partly destroyed, the ruins of the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura dating back to the 3rd century B.C, Polonnaruwa, and Sigirya provides evidence of a sophisticated civilization on this island which possessed advanced knowledge of science and technology, town planning and design, and valued the aesthetic beauty of the arts. The architectural legacy that remains today includes entire towns, palaces, temples, rock fortresses, monasteries, hospitals, ponds, and royal gardens. Hundreds of years later, the vast irrigation reservoirs built by the great kings remain a precious national resource feeding millions of hectares of farming land with water. (More)

Colonial Period architecture:
The accidental arrival of the Portuguese Lorenzo De Almeida in 1505, when his fleet of ships steered off course following a storm at sea, changed the history of this island nation.  The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in 1640 and then the British in 1796.  With each occupation, the cultural and architectural influences remained.  Forts and townships originally built by the Portuguese in Galle, Matara, Negombo and Kalpitiya were later captured by the Dutch and developed further to include churches, canals, and public buildings.  British Colonial period architecture is seen in Colombo and the hill country.  (More)

Ambalamas & Walauwas:
The original dwelling or living space dating back to the ancient kingdoms was the open sided pavilion with an over hanging roof.  Functioning very much like an umbrella, this basic design provided shelter from the natural elements, at the same time enabling the tropical sun and breeze to permeate through.  From the simple Ambalamas – wayside shelters for travellers to village homes and audience halls of ancient palaces - all followed this basic style. A `walauwa’ – which is a feudal manor house consisting of verandas and a central courtyard referred to as a `Mada Midula’, is typical of the island’s traditional homes.  Portuguese and Dutch architectural influences can be seen in the walauwas of the coastal areas.  Many of the tea plantation bungalows in the hill country were built during the British colonial period. (More)

Temples & Kovils: 
The Buddhist architecture of Sri Lanka which dates back to the 3rd century B.C. consists of cave temples, forest monasteries, Dagobas, and Viharas.  The Dagobas (stupas) are probably some of the largest brick structures known to the pre-modern world.  The Jetavana dagoba considered to be the third tallest building in the ancient world following the Egyptian Pyramids, rises over 120 metres in height and has a diamtere of 367 feet.  The foundations of this dagoba runs 28 feet deep.  These ancient dagobas were built to enshrine sacred relics of Lord Buddha. The Hindu Kovils consists of a prayer hall and the shrine room with a symbolic image of the principal god that the particular Kovil is dedicated to as well as images of other gods.  (More)

Bawa Architecture:
The late Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka most influential architect, was responsible for linking the ancient architecture of this island with that of the modern world.  Bawa had a deep understanding and appreciation of the country’s cultural heritage – the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, to the influences of the Portuguese and Dutch periods.  His travels worldwide also resulted in an appreciation of the more contemporary architectural styles.  Bawa also had a passion for the island’s varying natural landscapes, which he used as the focal points around which he created.  The end result was a unique architectural style that erased boundaries between the `outside’ and `inside’ of living and working spaces.  (More)

Beyond Bawa:
Architecture in Sri Lanka continues to evolve with a strong Bawa influence as well as more contemporary design with young architects experimenting with different design styles and building materials including steel, timber and glass for homes, hotels, and public buildings.  Architects including Channa Daswatte and Anjalendran – protégés of Geoffrey Bawa are much sort after and have created several exquisite boutique villas and hotels in Sri Lanka and in Asia.  Some of Channa’s works includes the refurbishment of Galle Fort Hotel in Galle Fort, Frangipani Tree in Habaraduwa, Kurulu Bedda of the Light House Hotel in Galle.  Anjalendran’s vibrant colours and creative design can be seen at Mirissa Hills and Bamboo villa situated within the Victoria Golf and Country Resort.  (More)
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Useful Links
Sri Lanka Institute of architects
Governing body for Architects in Sri Lanka, listing of architects, upcoming events - Click Here

Arch Net Digital Library
Information on Geoffrey Bawa - Click Here

Architect – Great Buildings Online
Information on buildings created by Geoffrey Bawa - Click Here

Images of old Ceylon
Architectural, landscape, and images of old Ceylon - Click Here

Red Dot Bookstore
On line bookstore with titles on Sri Lanka’s architecture, culture & history - Click Here

Barefoot Bookstore
Books on Sri Lanka’s architecture, culture & history, the arts is available at the Barefoot shop on Galle Road, Colombo 3. - Click Here

ODEL Bookstore
Books on Sri Lanka’s architecture and design, arts, culture and history are available at the ODEL bookshop on Alexandra Place, Colombo - Click Here

Media Reviews

'The architecture of an Island – the living legacy of Sri Lanka'
By Ronald Lewcock, Barara Sansoni, Laki Senanayake, 1998

'Vihares & Varandas Ceylon'
By Barbara Sansoni & Ronald Lecock, 1978

'Sri Lanka Style – Tropical Design and Architecture'
By Channa Daswatte & Dominic Sansoni, 2006

By Geoffrey Bawa

'Geoffrey Bawa'
By Brian Brace Taylor, 1995

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