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World Heritage Sites Sri Lanka

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UNESCO declared the Singharaja Rain Forest in Sri Lanka as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1988. It has also been nominated by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve since 1978. This is the only low lying primary tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka and is one of the few virgin forests of the world. Green Canopy and high Bio-Diversity are the most outstanding values of the Singharaja Forest. More than 60 % of the trees are endemic and many of them are rare.

Horton Plains is situated in the Central Highlands World Heritage Site which has 3,159.8 ha. It has a montane rain forest and open grasslands. Umbrella shaped montane forest patches give more beauty to the plains. The endemic flora and fauna and also the high biodiversity are the most outstanding values of the plains. This has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.

The City of Galle and its Fortifications were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. The Fort belongs to the Dutch period and has followed contemporaty European traditions. The Fort and inner Town with its wonderful architectural creations are being considered as excellent.

Polonnaruwa, a city that rose into prominence in the 12th century, was considered as the capital of medieval Sri Lanka. Some remarkable architectural remains, sculptures and murals can be seen here. The most noteworthy sites of Polonnaruwa are the cluster of Gal Vihara, Thivanka Image House and Alahana Pirivena. Polonnaruwa was declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1982.

Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka, was growing with power and prosperity for more than 1500 years. This city whose antecedents can be traced back to 6th Century BC, spawned a novel culture based on Buddhism that made its advent here in 3rd Century BC. Holding pride of place among the mammoth archaeological sites in the world, Anuradhapura was not only the capital but the city most related to the development of Buddhism. Comprising gigantic temple complexes as the Maha Vihara, Jethavana, Abhayagiri and inner city spreading across about 200 acres, the city’s archaeological remains span about 14 sq. miles. These include some ruins of great architectural value and exquisite pieces of sculpture. Anuradhapura was declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1982.

Dambulla Vihara complex has been built on a giant rock comprising a multitude of caves. It is believed that this complex was first developed and used during King Valagamba’s period (1st century BC). The last one had been during the Kandyan King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe’s time. This edifice considered as the centre of Sri Lankan Buddhist art and sculpture is replete with about 160 Buddha statues, Bodhisatva images and figurines of gods. Murals have been drawn on an area of 20,000 square feet. The murals depict a very stylish form of art developed in the Kandy Period. Dambulla was declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1991.

Kandy was the last capital of the country before British subjugation of Sri Lanka. The city has enriched Sri Lankanculture in many ways. One of the most sacred places of the Buddhists is the Dalada Maligawa, where the “Sacred Tooth Relic Temple” is located. Around it sprawls the archaeological complex of the king’s palace and the old city and many other aligned edifices. Not subject to destruction of edifices as in other capitals, Kandy remains a grandiose reflection of Sri Lankan architecture. Wooden carvings and murals embellish a number of buildings of which the Audience Hall and Dalada Maligawa are glowing examples. UNESCO declared the sacred city of Kandy as a World Heritage site in 1988.

The Sigiriya complex has been developed with and around a 600 feet high monolith and served asthe capital of the country for a short period in the 5th century AD. It was the glorious Art Gallery and Palace cum Fortress of King Kashyapa in the 5th century AD. The Palace was built on the top of the rock, while below shimmered the water gardens, not second to similar gardens in the world. Of a very acute geometrical symmetry, these water gardens are reminders of those in Egypt and Persia. The rock gardens similar to those in far East countries, evoke wonder at the ingenuity of the craftsmen. The Sigiriya paintings, an epitome of the very refined art of the east, together with the Sigiriya graffiti scrawled on the polished rock surface, have made Sigiriya world famous. Sigiriya was declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1982.

Sripada Range is situated in the Central Highlands which have High Bio-diversity and Endemic Flora and Fauna.Considering these most outstanding values, UNESCO declared the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka including Sri Pada is a world hetage site, in 2010. Not only its’ outstanding natural heritage values, it has also, cultural values by way of myths, beliefs, rituals and pilgrimage. It is one of Sri Lanka’s most important religious pilgrim routes. To Buddists, Sri Pada (sacred foot print) is the place where the Lord Buddha placed his last foot print on the top of the mountain where there is now, a temple. The pilgrim period starts from Unduvap full moon poya day to Wesak full moon poya day. Seetha Gangula, Idikatupahana, Mahagiridamba and Lihinipola are the places to visit when on pilgimage to Sri Pada.

This component of the Central Highlands Serial World Heritage property covers part of Matale and Kandy districts divided from the rest of the Central Highlands by the deeply incised Dumbara Valley covering an area of 21,000 hectares. It was established as a Climatic reserve in 1873 and in the year 2000 it was established as a Conservation forest governed by The Department of Forest Conservation. The Central Highlands, including Knuckles Conservation Forest, was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Property in 2010.

UNESCO World Heritage Properties are nominated by relevant state parties because a particular country or a group of countries consider that property to have an outstanding value that reaches far beyond national significance. If the UNESCO agrees to accept these proposed values as of “Outstanding Universal Value”, they declare the particular property as a UNESCO World Heritage Property.
To date, Sri Lanka has 6 Cultural World Heritage Properties and two Natural World Heritage Properties. Out of these, Central Highlands including Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains and Knuckles Range has a unique feature of being a Serial Property. It makes management of this property more complicated than any of the other sites. Different components of this serial property come under different overall management due to its conservation status.
Knuckles Conservation Forest is important due to many aspects. It carries a significant historical value as an important environmental significance. The story of Knuckles (Dumbara Hill) goes back into prehistoric periods. It is said that in ancient times it was referred to as ‘Giri Divaina’ and as ‘Malaya Rata’. There is archaeological evidence that speaks of ancient Yaksha settlement in the area.
The most significant feature of this unique heritage site is that it provides a representation of microcosm of the entire variety of climatic conditions found in Sri Lanka from extremely wet to near arid. The upper reaches are described as cloud forests rich in colourful orchids, ferns and mosses. In between lowland and montane vegetation, on the lower slopes of the hills, tropical sub-montane humid semi-evergreen forests are found. Far drier slopes hold dry sub-montane evergreen rain forests. Luxuriant riverine forests are found along the banks of rivers and streams. Savannas with isolated trees scattered over vast expanse of grasslands can be found on hilly slopes.
This area is considered a super biodiversity hotspot. This forest holds a wide variety of Fauna. Most importantly it is a home to many endangered and endemic species. 247 vertebrate species have been recorded in this area of which 26% are endemic to Sri Lanka, including 14 birds and 9 fish species. More than a 100 of other resident and migrant bird species and mammals namely elephants, leopards, samburs, wild boar, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer and giant squirrel can be seen also total of 1033 flowering plants, belonging to 141 families has been recorded. Among them 255 are tree species, while the balance consists of shrubs and herbs. Of the total number of flowering plants species, 160 are endemic to Sri Lanka while, about 32% are nationally threatened. Though the Knuckles Forest Range covers less than 0.5% of the land area in Sri Lanka, it consists almost one-third of the island’s flowering plant species. There are more than 25 Orchids species in the forest range.
Though it is not a big National Park like Yala and Udawalawe, there are 31 species of mammals recorded in the Knuckles wilderness. Four of them are endemic and nine are nationally endangered. Some of the common species include Wild Buffalo, Wild boar, Black-naped Hare, Jackal, and Toque Macaque & Purple-faced Leaf Monkey (both these primates are endemic to Sri Lanka). Other mammals recorded include Leopard, Fishing cat, Sambur, Mouse Deer and Elephants.
The Knuckles forest region has a rich composition of birdlife and has recorded over 130 species of birds. Over 10 migrant species are also found here. Of the total recorded species 20 are nationally endangered. Some of the endemics seen here include the Yellow-eared Bulbul, the elusive Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush, Sri Lankan Spot-wing Thrush, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Jungle fowl, Sri Lankan Super fowl, Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon, Sri Lankan Green Pigeon, Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeets, Brown-capped Babbler, Crimson-backed Woodpecker, Sri Lankan Wood shrike, Sri Lankan Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lankan Mynah, Bush Warbler and the Sri Lankan White-eye. Some of the migrants include Indian Pitta, Common Sandpiper, Gray & Forest Wagtails, Brown Shrike, Indian Blue Chat, Greenish Warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatchers and the endangered Kashmir Flycatcher.
The Knuckles is the main catchment area of Sri Lanka’s longest river Mahaweli. The Hulu Ganga, Kalu Ganga, Heen Ganga main catchment waterways of the Mahaweli River. In addition, Hasalaka Oya, Theligamu Oya, Heen Oya and Karambaketiya Oya also offer water for the Mahaweli River. These waterways dazzle in the morning sunlight, fascinatingly.
Knuckles is bordered by 77 villages, such as Dandeni Kumbura, Poththetawela, Kahagala, Dammanthenna, Divulgaspathana, Etenwala, Walasmulla, Rambukwewa, Udagala Debokka, Galamuduna, Pallegala Debokka, Meegahamada, Medakele, Meemure, Kaikawala, Gomare, Wadawala Kanda, Nellikele, Narangamuwa. These villages in and around the Dumbara forest region which form a unique bio- cultural landscape and 48% of the population depends mainly on agriculture.
Meemure, the most known village in the range is located by the Meemure Oya stream surrounded by a ring of mountains rising to the sky. Meemure is said to have been a place of exile in the Sinhala kings era.

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Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO (SLNCU) is the government arm of implementing UNESCO Agenda in Sri Lanka. This Commission established on 14th November 1949, comes under the Ministry of Education. There are 35 members in the General Assembly, including representatives of relevant ministries and national bodies concerned with UNESCO’s fields of competence.