International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property

Sri Lanka


N.B.: General country data and external links have been provided by the Member State.* Uploaded: 06/2020

General Country data

The main cultural assets of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's historical, rich and diverse cultural heritage covers more than 2 000 years where Theravada Buddhism has been playing an integral part in its legacy. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s population is predominantly Buddhists. Known as Lanka - the “resplendent land” - in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, the island has numerous other references that testify to the island's natural beauty and wealth. From enormous dagobas (dome-shaped structures in Buddhist temples) and remains of ancient buildings in the ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, to the awesome cave temple at Dambulla and the rock of Sigiriya’s sensual frescoes of heavenly maidens and remnants of the palace are some of the World Heritage Sites within a compact area called the Cultural Triangle.

The history of colonial occupation and the civilization of Sri Lanka can be dated back to the prehistoric period as far as 28 000 years. With the excavations conducted at Balangoda, it has been revealed that at that time people subsisted by hunting with the aid of stone implements and dwelled in caves. The history of Sri Lanka has been written in the great chronicle “Mahawamsa”, from the day of Vijaya’s landing in Sri Lanka, during the year 543 BC. During the 3rd century BC, Arhat Mahinda who came from India to Sri Lanka introduced Buddhism. King Devanampiyatissa on becoming a good Buddhist, built many religious buildings for the propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Later on King Dutugemunu, during the 2nd century BC, built many vihara complexes including Mirisavetiya and Ruvanveliseya. The capital shifted during the 5th century AD to Sigiriya. King Kassapa who ruled at Sigiriya built two large rampart and moats: an inner one and an outer one for the security of his rock fortress. During the 12th century, Polonnaruwa was the capital city of Sri Lanka and more religious buildings came into existence with multi-storied Palaces. Many tanks were built for irrigation purposes by King Parakramabahu. Then during the 16th century, the Kandyan Kingdom started and during the period between which ran from the 15th to 18th century, the coastal region as well as some inner parts of Sri Lanka had been taken over by the Portuguese, the Dutch and from time to time the British. Due to these European and South Indian invasions many changes had taken place both religiously and culturally.

The legal framework on cultural heritage conservation

The legal framework that comes under cultural heritage is covered by the Antiquities Ordinance No. 09 of 1940, Treasure Trove Ordinance No. 18 of 1887, National Environment Act No. 47 of 1980 and Galle Heritage Foundation Act No.07 of 1994. Natural heritage is covered by National Environment Act No. 47 of 1980 and Natural Heritage Wilderness Areas Act No. 03 of 1988. Some other related acts enforced are Intellectual Property Act, No. 36 of 2003, Cultural Property Act, No. 73 of 1988, Arts Council of Ceylon Act of 1958, National Museums Ordinance, No. 31 of 1942, National Archives Law, No. 48 of 1973, National Library and Documentation Services Board Act, No. 51 of 1998, Town and Country Planning (Amending) Act, No. 49 of 2000, Tower Hall Theatre Foundation Act, No. 01 of 1978 and Central Cultural Fund Act, No. 57 of 1980.

The cultural and natural sites on the World Heritage List

Sri Lanka’s cultural depth is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared six archaeological cultural sites in the country and one natural site. These are: the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the golden temple of Dambulla, the ancient city of Sigiriya, the sacred city of Kandy, the old town of Galle and its fortifications and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve (an ecological treasure) and the central highlands of Sri Lanka as the natural sites. (See: UNESCO World Heritage List).


Adhesion to ICCROM

Sri Lanka is a Member State of ICCROM since 04/09/1958

Within ICCROM

Mandates in ICCROM Council since 1958:

  • 1990-1992: Gamini S. Wijesuriya

ICCROM Staff since 1959: 2

Involvement of Sri Lankan Nationals

Activities in/with Sri Lanka since 2002


Activities details

Activities details


  • 2002 - 1 Mission(s)
  • 2003 - 2 Mission(s)
  • 2004 - 3 Mission(s)
  • 2005 - 1 Technical assistance(s)
  • 2007 - 1 Course(s), 2 Mission(s)
  • 2008 - 1 Technical assistance(s)
  • 2009 - 1 Mission(s)
  • 2010 - 2 Mission(s)
  • 2011 - 1 Technical assistance(s)
  • 2013 - 1 Mission(s)
  • 2014 - 1 Mission(s), 1 Technical assistance(s)
  • 2015 - 1 Course(s), 1 Technical assistance(s)
  • 2016 - 1 Mission(s)
  • 2019 - 1 Course(s), 4 Mission(s)


External links

Governmental Cultural Institutions

Intangible Cultural heritage


* ICCROM reserves the right to moderate the content provided by Member States for country profiles to ensure that they remain within the scope of ICCROM’s mission and pertinent to cultural heritage. However, ICCROM does not take responsibility for the accuracy and validity of the content supplied. The ideas and opinions expressed are those of the Member States.