Drive past the quaint town of Kurunegala, ringed by a giant boulder shaped like a kneeling elephant, and you then emerge into a peaceful country where history sleeps. Yapahuwa itself
is a site that had known constant excavation, but as the visitor passes a sleepy air surrounds this royal place that was once the very centre of the country, even if only for a dozen years.
The sprawling complex was a palace and military stronghold in the late 13th Century, home to the king living in fear of an attack. Once, deep moats and thick walls stood up against the enemy, however these have now been bridged or flattened. The phenomenally photographed centrepiece of the bygone kingdom, its symbol today, is a very steep stone staircase. It is frilled by exquisite sculpture.
Mid-climb one will meet two very distinct, large stone lions, inspired by Chinese art. They grimace down at the climber. Beautiful sculpture flourish on both sides. In ancient times, the reign of the Island was closely associated with the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Supreme Buddha. Therefore, when the king vacated the older Polonnaruwa kingdom, he did so with the Relic. The story of the fortress of Yapahuwa is therefore closely linked with the Sacred Relic. Years after its establishment, an army from South India swarmed in and took away the Sacred Tooth Relic, which lead to the kingdom’s collapse.
Climb to the very top of the mount, to discover the remnants of the first residents to live here. They were Buddhist monks. A small, wind-swept stupa is perched by a Bo-tree enclosure as well as a rock cave. The panorama from the very summit of the mountain captures a vast spread, a patchwork of green paddy fields and the forest spreading till the distant blue mountains.
The lowest level of Yapahuwa houses a temple from the Kandyan period. The old walls appear to be thickly painted with horizontal murals while examples of Kandyan Buddha statues bloom out of the dark caves.