Kandy Sacred City

World Monuments Watch
Kandy, Sri Lanka

2008 World Monuments Watch

Situated on a central plateau, the sacred city of Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka. Kandy rose to prominence in 1470 when it became the capital of the island nation. To accommodate the needs of the newly resident royal family and nobles, a "Medieval Grid City" was laid out next to the sacred temple area. This grid city is unique in South Asia and contains 486 historic buildings. Kandy remained a civic center and the capital city of Sri Lanka until 1815, when the British conquered the island. Kandy is now best known as the location of the Annual Tooth Relic Procession, a festival that dates back to the fourth century, when the relic, which is said to be a tooth of the Buddha, was brought to Sri Lanka. Every year, five religious institutions of the Theravada, Mahayana, and Hindu faiths produce an elaborate nighttime procession through Kandy that includes 100 elephants and 5,000 drummers and dancers, as well as the procession of the Tooth Relic. Kandy Sacred City was added to the World Heritage List in 1988. Kandy is surrounded by the river Mahaweli on its north, east, and west sides, and by an impassible mountain to the south. For this reason, all traffic through this part of Sri Lanka must pass through the city, causing congestion and pollution. The pressures of urbanization are taking their toll on the medieval grid city, with many of the buildings either having fallen into disrepair or in danger of collapse. This urban fabric is itself a sacred and integral part of the city and it is hoped that placement on the 2008 Watch List will encourage support for its restoration and protection.

Last updated:
July 2008

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