Sri Lanka History

Early Times
2nd Century AD
12th Century
16th Century

19th Century
World War 2
Modern Day Sri Lanka
2004 Tsunami

Sri Lanka Highlights..

Sri Lanka is a thousand shades of green, from the concentrated emerald of the coconut palms through mid-hues of bamboo to the tender pallor of young rice. This "Auspicious" or "Resplendent" Land is shaped like a pearl dropped from the sub-continent of India. Precious stones, seas rich in fish, superb beaches, cool highlands and a regal past are part of its appeal.

Here, on a misty peak, Adam is said to have rested and repented after his expulsion from Eden. He left his footprint behind to prove it, though Buddhists will tell you it is the Buddha's mark and Hindus recount what is probably the most appealing version of all-this is where the god Siva's foot struck the ground during the great Dance of Creation.

You'll come across more than a lingering trace of the British Raj: ceiling fans cool old hotels and ancient Morris Minor taxis sputter through Colombo streets. Nearly everyone speaks or understands the English language - a picturesque mixture of 1920s idiom rounded out with the latest jargon. A weighty bureaucracy can probably be blamed on the British, as well as a natural desire to take life easy. It's understandable enough in Colombo, Sri Lanka's biggest city, and in the nearby administrative capital of Sri Jayewardenapura, where the hot, sticky climate is not conducive to doing things any other way.

Some 19 million people occupy an area of nearly 65,000 sq km (25,000 sq miles), slightly smaller than Ireland. In general the people are poor but not unbearably so. Their smiles-shining white or, when they have been chewing betel, a disconcerting red-are sincere. Literacy stands at well over 80 per cent. There are two national languages, Sinhala and Tamil, and four main ethnic groups: the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese, Hindu Tamils, Muslims, descended from medieval traders, and Burghers, whose lighter skins and European names derive from 16th- and 17th-century colonization.

In centuries past the Western powers struggled for control of the island. First came the Portuguese, who left a legacy of Catholicism in west coast fishing villages. The Dutch followed in their wake, bequeathing neat canals and solid forts, while the British contributed gentlemen's clubs and golf courses and tempted the population into the sin of adding milk to their tea.

Elephants are among Sri Lanka's cherished possessions, and high-ranking traffic hazards, bettered in size, strength and potential danger only by a bus at full charge. It's best to keep a respectful distance from both. Some 2,000 beasts roam wild, mostly in nature reserves like Yala and Wilpattu. Another 500 work on buildings sites and in timberland.

Ancient cities, serene holy sites and calm, compassionate statues of the Buddha are the nation's monuments. From the mud and pebbles of Ratnapura (literally "City of Gems") come sapphires, rubies, aquamarines and garnets.

Sri Lanka will leave you with wonderful memories, whether it's the red roofs of the old royal city of Kandy, the lush jungle or the rice paddies, where girls in bright saris bob like lanterns through waterfields blurred with green.

Early Times
The island is settled by colonists from India around 500 BC. The Indian emperor Ashoka (269-232 BC) sends his son Mahinda as a Buddhist missionary. King Tissa is converted.

2nd Century AD
King Mahasena refines and expands the vital irrigation system.

12th Century
The kingdom experiences its greatest prosperity under Parakramabahu, who makes Polonnaruwa his capital.

16th Century
The Portuguese fleet is blown into Colombo harbour in 1505 and courteously received. The Portuguese move in on the island's three kingdoms: Jaffna, Kandy and Kotte (near Colombo). Portugal takes formal control of the island in 1597. Kandy continues to hold out and turns to the Dutch for help.

19th Century
The British make the island a Crown Colony in 1802 and call it Ceylon. Despite the British promise to honour Kandy's independence, Kandy falls (1815) and the king is exiled to India. In 1876, entrepreneur Henry Wickham smuggles rubber seeds from the Amazon to London's Kew Gardens to cultivate trees for transplanting in Ceylon. Tamil labourers are brought in from India to help work the coffee and tea plantations.

Click here for World War 2 and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Modern Day Sri Lanka
Previously known as Ceylon, it became independent on 4 February 1948 from the UK. The name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972 (Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) Sri Lanka administrative divisions are: 8 provinces; Central, North Central, North Eastern, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, & Western.

From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka was subject to a bitter civil war against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist militant organisation who fought for an independent state named Tamil Eelam in the North and East of the island. On 19 May 2009, the President of Sri Lanka officially claimed an end to the insurgency and the defeat of the LTTE. By the final stages of the war had left over 300,000 people displaced. With the end of the war, the government of Sri Lanka started a major redevelopment of the nation, and today over 75%  of the displaced people have now been released or returned to their places of origin.

Current population of Sri Lanka is approximately over 20 million. Growth, partly spurred by reconstruction after the tsunami, reached 5% in 2005 and more than 6% in 2006. Sri Lanka's most dynamic sectors now are food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, port construction, telecommunications, and insurance and banking. In 2005, plantation crops made up only about 15% of exports (compared with more than 90% in 1970), while textiles and garments accounted for more than 60%. About 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, 90% in the Middle East. They send home more than $1 billion USD a year.

GDP in 2006 was estimated at $93.33 billion USD. Since the war ended in May 2009 the Sri Lankan stock market has shown remarkable gains and is amongst the 3 best performing stock-markets in the world. Today Sri Lanka is amongst the highest per capita income in South Asia.
The Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004 caused severe damage and loss of life to several coastal areas of eastern, southern, and south-western Sri Lanka. Lives lost from the Tsunami in Sri Lanka are estimated at 31,000, with more than 6,300 missing and 443,000 displaced, and  an estimated $1.5 billion worth of property destroyed. However, many affected resorts and areas in Sri Lanka have now completely recovered.

Although initial estimates had put the world wide death toll at over 275,000 with thousands of others missing, further analysis compiled by the United Nations lists a total of 229,866 people lost, including 186,983 dead and 42,883 missing. The catastrophe is one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. The disaster is known in Asia and in the international media as the Asian Tsunami, and also called the Boxing Day Tsunami as it took place on Boxing Day.

The magnitude of the earthquake was originally recorded as 9.0 on the Richter scale, but has been upgraded to between 9.1 and 9.3. At this magnitude, it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. This earthquake was also reported to be the longest duration of faulting ever observed, lasting between 500 and 600 seconds (8.3 to 10 minutes), and it was large enough that it caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as half an inch, or over 1 centimetre.

The heroes of Horace Walpole's fairy tale "Three Princes of Serendib" had the happy knack of stumbling across marvellous situations entirely by chance, gifting the English language the term 'serendipity'. Their country is now known as Sri Lanka, and never was a word more appropriately coined.

Sri Lanka Highlights
  The endlessly photogenic and uniquely dramatic 5th Century rock fortress at Sigiriya, rising sheer out of the jungle plains. Climb to the summit (only for the reasonably fit!) for unbroken vistas in every direction, and don't miss the exquisite cave frescoes.
The stunning miles upon miles of pristine beaches and wonderful beach resorts (from Negombo - 15 minutes from the international airport - around to the world heritage Galle area)
vibrant colourful and historically significant cave temples at Dambulla.
The ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (home of the reclining Buddha)- sprawling complexes of romantically ruined palaces, processional avenues, mansions and temples.
The enchanting cultural and religious centre of Kandy, blessed with a mild, temperate climate and clear air.
  The charming elephant orphanage at Pinnawela.
  The consistently outstanding Sri Lanka food - a 'typical' dinner might consist of seven or eight fragrant and spicy dishes, reflecting the cosmopolitan blend of cultures in the country.

Portugese cannon Colombo harbour
Ancient stone heiroglyphic tablets in Polonnaruwa,
ancient Sri Lankan coin from 1st century BC
Ancient Stupa in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka's 11th century medieval capital
Sri Lanka is predominately Buddhist religion
The UNESCO world heritage listed city of Gaul and its fortifications
The Queen and Duke visit Sri Lanka after her coronation in 1954
Cargills - A colonial reminder of the British 19th century rule in Sri Lanka
Stop for Tea - Sri Lanka is one of the leading tea producers in the world
Modern day downtown Colombo

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