Ruins of Mahakanadarawa Gal Palama : Stone Bridge (මහකනදරා පුරාණ ගල් පාලම නටබුණ්)

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Roads and bridges of ancient Sri Lanka

The most important feature of the ancient Sri Lankan economy was its village level self sufficiency. The basic needs of the people were satisfied within the village community. Travelling between villages usually took place by foot as people did not usually travel long distances. Therefore there was no need for big roads linking villages.

However, bigger and better roads were required to link the important administrative and commercial centres. During the first few centuries of the Anuradhapura era, the main administrative centres were Anuradhapura and Magama in the Ruhuna. There was a main road linking these two cities. Furthermore, major roads connected Anuradhapura with the ports of Jambukolapattana (Dambakola Patuna) in the Jaffna Peninsula, Mathota or Mahatitta (Manthai) near present-day Mannar and Gokanna (Trincomalee). These three ports were the most important trade centres in the Rajarata at the time.

The Anuradhapura-Dambakolapatuna Road went through Rambewa, Omanthai, Pavatkulam and Vavunikulam. This road had several stone bridges including those near Anuradhapura over the Malwatu Oya and another at Pavatkulam over the canal starting from the reservoir. Stone beams and slabs of these bridges still exist. The most famous site is the remains of a bridge at Periyapulankulama in Anuradhapura, commonly known as Galpalama (Stone Bridge).

The best preserved ancient stone bridge is the Mahakanadarawa stone bridge, built over the Kanadarawa River in the ancient road between Anuradhapura and Gokanna (Trincomalee). The present road connecting the two cities roughly coincides with the ancient road, which is a clear indication of the technological skills of the ancient Sri Lankans.

The existing structure at Mahakanadarawa is 80 feet in length and 10 feet in width. Ten feet long 14 stone beams of the size of 16 by 12 inches have been paved across it. The bridge is supported by 42 columns of 12 by 12 inches fixed on rocks on the bed of the river. The slabs of the bridge vary in size, the largest being eight feet long and 18 inches wide. The thickness of the slabs is six to eight inches. There are ruins of another stone bridge over the Yan Oya near Ratmale but the bridge has not been preserved well. The dimensions of the Mahakanadarawa Bridge clearly indicate that they could support even elephants.

The road to Magama from Anuradhapura was in use from very early times. It went through Polonnaruwa, crossed the Mahaweli River at the Dastota Ford and went through Mahiyangana, Yudanganava, Buttala and Kataragama up to Magama (present day Tissamaharama). King Dutugemunu led his armies against King Elara along this road. As the main link between the capital of ancient Ruhuna and Anuradhapura, this road played an important part in Sri Lankan history.

The ancient city of Anuradhapura had a well-constructed road network. The Chinese monk Fa-Hsien, who visited the island around 415 A.D., states that the roads and streets in the city of Anuradhapura were excellently laid out and beautifully maintained. He further states that there were four principal streets in Anuradhapura and that they were wide and well paved with bricks and lined with walls also built of bricks.

With the decline of the Rajarata and Ruhuna civilizations, some of the ancient roads, apart from those in the South Western parts of the island, were overtaken by the encroaching jungle. New roads were also built through European intervention even before the British conquered Kandy.

The Mahakanadarawa stone bridge and the archaeological site in the extent of 150m around it situated in Mahakanadarawa village in the Grama Niladhari Division no. 01-94 of Rambewa Yaya in Mihinthale Divisional Secretary’s Division in Anuradhapura District, North Central Province was declared as an protected archaeology site on 1st February 2023.

Other Stone Bridges of Sri Lanka

There are many stone bridges discovered in Sri Lanka. These are in various states while some have been conserved to an extent. The most popular is the bridge over the Malwathu Oya.

  1. Alubedda Stone Bridge
  2. Angammedilla National Park Stone Bridge (Polonnaruwa)
  3. Ebawalapitiya Gal Palama (Stone Bridge) over Deduru Oya
  4. Girihandu Seya Stone Bridge (Tiriyaya)
  5. Habagama Stone Bridge
  6. Halpan Ela Stone Bridge (Anuradhapura)
  7. Kayankerni Stone Bridge  (Eastern Province)
  8. Mahakanadarawa Wewa Stone Bridge (Mihintale)
  9. Nirawiya Farm Gal Palama (Thambuttegama)
  10. Palugaswewa Stone Bridge
  11. Pavakkulam Stone Bridge (Vavuniya)
  12. Perimiyankulama Gal Palama over Malwathu Oya (Anuradhapura)
  13. Ritigala Gal Palama (Anuradhapura)
  14. Sukara Nijjara Gal Amuna and Stone Bridge
  15. Thimbiripokuna Palamgala Gal Palama
  16. Thirappane Stone Bridge
  17. Thulawelliya Stone Bridge
  18. Ullukkulama Stone Bridge
  19. Vannadi Palama (Vannadi Stone Bridge) and Amuna
  20. Weliela Mankada Stone Bridge
  21. Yanoya Stone Bridge


  • Wikramanayaka, V. (2023) ‘Monuments to be declared as Ancient Monuments’, The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka EXTRAORDINARY, 2317/57, p. 7A.

Also See

Map of  Mahakanadarawa Stone Bridge

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Travel Directions to Mahakanadarawa Stone Bridge

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Bus

Anuradhapura is easily reached by bus, train or private transport. Air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned buses start at the Colombo Fort Main Bus Station. There are luxury busses which start from various places in Colomb travelling past Anuradhapura, to Vavuniya and Jaffna. However, you need to search the web and book a seat. These luxury buses mostly travel at night reaching their final destination early in the morning.

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Train

5 daily trains are starting from Fort Railway Station to Anuradhapura. Generally, the first train leaves at 9.40 am and the last train at 8.30 pm. Travel time is 4-5 hours depending on the number of stops of the particular train.

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Car or Van

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and through Kurunegala. Travelling from Puttalam, you will pass the scenic Wilpattu area. There are two main routes to Anuradhapura from Kurunegala. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is through Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the most commonly used is the Kurunegala-Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chilaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo : 210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 223 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Narammala – Wariyapola – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :203 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel Time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route from Anuradhapura to Mahakanadarawa Stone Bridge
Through : Mihintale
Distance : 20.5 km
Travel time : 40 minutes
Driving directions : see on google


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