Teardrop-shaped Sri Lanka is an island of beauty and diversity. The island’s story begins way back in 35,000 BC with the nation’s indigenous Veddhas (hunter gatherers), and later with Prince Vijaya, founder of the Sinhalese race, who landed on Lankan shores near present-day Mannar. Sri Lanka is blessed with a wealth of national treasures influenced by the island’s two main ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and Tamils, and their distinct religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as early influencers such as Arab traders from the Middle East establishing themselves along the coast, and later, the European colonial powers.
Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are two of Sri Lanka’s most famed royal capitals, rich in Buddhist iconography and early Sinhalese culture. Buddhism, followed by around 65 percent of the population, was introduced to the island at Mihintale mountain in the third century BC. Jaffna, in the north of the island, also developed as an independent Tamil kingdom in the early years and remains the heartland of the Tamil people. Later royal capitals include Kotte (near Colombo) and Kandy, which was Sri Lanka’s last royal capital, finally succumbing in 1815.
The Portuguese discovered Sri Lanka in 1505 and its wealth of spices, (particularly cinnamon), ivory and elephants – riches, which had long since been recognised by Arab and Chinese traders in the centuries preceding. Their ruthless missionaries converted many coastal islanders (Negombo is home to a sizeable Christian population), while the Dutch, arriving a century later, left behind a legacy of canals (for transporting spices), mighty forts (Galle’s is a shining example) and distinctive architecture. The British took Sri Lanka peacefully in 1796, unifying it and ruling until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, leaving her with an efficient road and rail system and a rich legacy of Ceylon Tea.