When thinking about an ancient Kingdom in Sri Lanka, many think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. But little do many visitors who visit this island know there exist a historic kingdom and its remnants lying in suburban Colombo. A visit to Colombo usually involves a tour of the city, its colonial past and busy markets and streets. Yet around 30 minutes out of the city you will come across several ancient archaeological sites of one of Sri Lanka’s last kingdoms – the Kingdom of Kotte.
Kotte stood in the vicinity of our current suburban-capital of Colombo for over 2 centuries. During its height, the kingdom was one of the most powerful on the island. In the year 1419, Parkramabahu VI succeeded in subjugating the Jaffna Kingdom and ruled over a united Sri Lanka and he was the last native king to do so.
Withstanding internal conspiracies and breakaway fiefdoms, the Kotte Kingdom continued to be the island’s major power for over hundred years, but the arrival of the Portuguese invaders in 1505 soon led to the kingdom’s collapse. The once mighty and powerful city was looted by both the Portuguese and rival local kingdoms. The decline of the Kingdom was quite sudden, and it virtually disappeared into history.
Due to the kingdom being sacked and virtually erased from memory, Kotte does not hold an exalted place as a historic site compared to Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. But taking aside the complexities of historical judgment, searching for remnants of a lost Kingdom in a modern suburb makes for a great day out during your stay in Colombo.
But this tour would not be like walking among revered antiquities as in most cases you might find historical stupas with homeless people sleeping next to them or ancient ramparts with clotheslines running across from the homes right in between them with day to day life carrying on as normal in suburbia.
A visit to the Archeological Museum in Kotte though seldom visited will help to get an idea of where the sites are located.
The Alakesvara Palace Compound is thought to be where the remnants of the foundations of the Royal Palace of which sadly very little remains. But making your way through the wire fence and moving over stone blocks and clearing some long weeds you will see the remnants of a tank and you will feel like a real-life archaeologist exploring a lost kingdom.
Weherakada Ruins are an impressive structure which you will find after bouncing along maze-like lakes in Kotte which are two well-preserved stupas which overlook the lake Diyawanna Oya. With a height of 10 feet, they are made of Kabok stones. From the structure, it does not seem to be a temple but it is believed to be the mausoleum of King Parakramabahu IV.
The Kabok Tunnel has evidence of an ancient tunnel complex which are believed to run down towards several parts of Colombo. This complex was believed to have been built by a princess whose father was held as a prisoner by the Portuguese in Colombo.
Your ancient city tour can end with a visit to the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya. Originally built by King Parakramabahu VI this quiet and shaded temple is home to some well-preserved 15th-century frescoes. The kings of Kotte along with the Portuguese are well depicted on these walls.
The story of this forgotten kingdom can be brought to life by your excellent host from Classic Sri Lanka, we will enthral and showcase a new and unique facet to your stay in Colombo. Two ancient stupas in a clearing overlooking a man-made reservoir. Hemi-spherical red kabook mounds that have weathered the elements for centuries – an out of the way clearing in Anuradhapura you might think, or perhaps somewhere in the plains beyond Kurunegala? Not quite. This is actually suburban Colombo.