Sri Lanka Geography and Arts

By | June 3, 2022

Physical characteristics

Like peninsular India, of which it represents a continuation, the island of Sri Lanka is a fragment of the ancient land of Gondwana. For the 9/10 it is composed of rocks from the Precambrian age (schists and gneisses), which in the northern section give way to more recent rocks of sedimentary origin, similar to those of the southern end of the Deccan.

Overall the orography is rather uneven in the central-southern part, which is occupied by a massif strongly eroded and furrowed by numerous valleys, which culminates in the peaks of Pidurutalagala (2524 m), Kirigalpotta (2395 m) and Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak, 2243 m). A belt of stepped planks surrounds the massif and then fades into a hilly ridge stretched towards N.

According to CAMPINGSHIP, the generally low coasts are mostly fringed by sandy dunes of marine formation. The island is between 6 ° and 10 ° N latitude and therefore has an equatorial thermal regime: high temperatures all year round, with very modest excursions. Precipitation is around 2500 mm per year, but is not uniformly distributed.

The rainfall is intense in the S and SW regions, hit by the summer monsoon (with peaks of 5000 mm on the reliefs), while the N and NE regions are relatively dry, because much of the humidity is lost due to evaporation and of the rapid surface runoff, and because the rains are concentrated in a short period.

The rivers are very numerous but short (the longest, the Mahaweli Ganga, does not reach 350 km). Occupied and exploited for centuries, the natural environment is subject to a considerable process of anthropization. Forests now occupy only 30% of the country, compared to 54% in the 1960s. Over a quarter of the territory, however, is subject to various forms of environmental protection (national parks, forest reserves, wildlife protection areas).


The Mesolithic is well documented throughout the country, while the transition process to the Neolithic is still unclear. In the 1st millennium BC megalithic necropolises (Ibbankatuwa, 400 BC) spread from southern India and apparently fell into disuse during the 4th century. BC Little is known of the burial practices of later periods (Pomparippu, Sigiriya and Tissamaharama).

Sigiriya was the capital of the island and a palace was built there (477-495), still well preserved; the site is also known for its famous murals. A monastery was built nearby, connected with the fortress and the royal court. Other notable sites are Godavaya, at the mouth of the Walawe Ganga, and Tissamaharama.

At the 6th century BC seems to date back to the foundation of Anuradhapura, destined to become the capital of the island, as well as an important Buddhist religious center. The monuments of Anuradhapura constitute the oldest expression of the traditional architecture of the Sri Lanka, with Buddhist monastic complexes consisting of a series of concentric constructions built around a central citadel: the typology of the stūpa. The typical mountain monasteries consist of buildings adapted to natural cavities (Mhintale, Dambulla etc.), contrary to the complex structure of the major metropolitan monasteries which are divided into a large rectangular perimeter and have central stūpa and buildings, in brick and stone, with various functions: sanctuaries (bodhighara), grandiose temples of the image (patimaghara), residences of the priest, etc. Polonnaruwa (Alahena Pirivena), Anuradhapura, Panduvasnuvara, 12th-13th century.

Among the royal residences stands the Parakramabahu palace (12th century) originally seven floors with brick and stone wall structures and stairways etc.

The stone architecture of the 12th-13th century. it is well represented in Polonnaruva, Yapahuva, Dambadeniya, Kurunegala, Galebada. In Polonnaruva the architectural structures are dated by the large amount of Chinese pottery from the Song era (960-1279).

From the 15th century. to the 19th century. the cultural intertwining determined by the persistence of traditional elements and incipient European influences characterized the artistic-architectural expression of the period (buildings of lesser size and complexity such as those found in Kandy, 17th-18th century).

The influences of the Portuguese colonial period (fortifications in Colombo, Galle and Jaffna, 16th century), of the Dutch one (residential and military buildings in Galle, Matara, 17th century; Jaffna, Colombo, 18th century) and, above all, the British one (widely represented by numerous and heterogeneous interventions and by the presence of English architects: JG Smithers, JF Churchill, WA Turnstall etc.) have transformed the usual image of cities.

In the modern and contemporary age, the search for a modern cultural identity is highlighted in art (T. Ranasinghe, Sri Lanka Chandrajeewa, sculptors; among painters, JP Daraniygala, G. Keyt etc.); architecture, even in a search for autonomy, has progressively aligned itself with general international trends: the Parliament in Kotte, by G. Bawa (1982) or the singular Royal Bakery in Colombo, by M. Prematilleke (2000).

Sri Lanka Arts