National Geographic : 1906 Nov
THE BURIED CITY OF CEYLON BY JOHN M. ABBOT COMPARATIVELY few people outside of Ceylon realize that on that little island in the Indian Ocean was once a civilization which when Christ was born was at its height. After all these centuries little of it re mains except a few imperfect ruins of its most famous city, Anuradhapura. At one time, about 200 B. C., this was the capital of the island. No estimate of its population has ever been made, but some idea of its size can be gathered from the fact that it harbored 96,000 Buddhist priests. In area the city occu pied about 100 square miles, and it was divided into two parts, the inner, wherein are the remains of the temple and the monasteries, and the outer, where lived kings and the laymen. The city was built in the wave of re ligious enthusiasm which struck Ceylon with the advent of Buddhism. Succes sive kings vied with each other to erect monuments worthy of themselves and their faith. But the hand of time and successive invasions by the Hindoo Tamils, who took pleasure in destroying what they could not replace, have left of this once mighty city of Anuradhapura nothing but a few granite posts in the thick jungle. Thirty years ago these even were not visible, but from the Mahavansa, the one literary document in Singhalese history running from B. C. 542 to nearly our own day, the site of the ancient city was known, and so the British government set about the work of excavation. The greater part of the city was found about six or eight feet underground, and it is hard to realize that nature alone has ac complished this task. Two thousand years ago the city was situated on a fertile plain. Water was brought from the mountains, forty miles distant, in a huge canal and stored in large artificial lakes, from which it was distributed to tanks in various parts of the city. One of the first acts of the Tamils was to destroy this system of irri gation, and with that ended the pros perity which the country had enjoyed. For four months of the year Ceylon is deluged by rains; for the rest of the time there is practically a drought. The tanks and lakes serve the same purpose for which the great dam of Egypt has been constructed-to keep back the water in time of plenty for use in time of need, Agriculture was brought to a standstill, and it was only by practically replacing these ancient works that the British gov ernment has made cultivation in this dis trict possible. The Tamils destroyed the city, and Nature completed the work by conceal ing the remains. Like Jerusalem after its final destruction, not one stone re mained above another. The most imposing objects in Anurad hapura are the Dagobas, of which there are four. They are huge mounds of solid brick shaped like beehives and from three to four hundred feet high. They were erected by kings to commemorate different events-one to celebrate the conquest of a rival, another to the glory of Buddha, and so on. In the hot, dry atmosphere of Egypt they would be as perfect as two thousand years ago, but in Ceylon the hot summers and the rainy winters have very nearly proved too much for them. Birds have dropped seed in their flight, and these, taking root in the cracks and crevices of the Dagobas, have grown until they have dislodged huge masses of brick, making frequent restorations nec essary. Originally these mounds were painted white with a composition called chunam, but now they resemble wooded hills from which in places the sides have fallen away, showing the bricks beneath.