Art and Architecture of Sri Lanka
A small group tour led by Dr Marie-Louise Lillywhite
Sunday 24 February – Friday 08 March 2019
Dr Marie-Louise Lillywhite
This tour is led by Dr Marie-Louise Lillywhite, lecturer in History at Keble College Oxford. An Art Historian by training, Marie-Louise has travelled extensively across Asia and completed her secondary education in Bangkok, Thailand. She is particularly interested in the art and architecture of the Jesuit missions in Asia, as well as the architecture and garden designs of the celebrated architect Geoffrey Bawa, and his brother Bevis, a subject on which she has published.
Numerous buildings by Geoffrey Bawa are masterpieces of design that demonstrate a profound respect for local materials and crafts, combined with modernist architectural sensibilities. Despite this, the achievements of Geoffrey Bawa are arguably not as well known as they should be, something that is immediately apparent to anyone who visits sites such as his home in Colombo, the Lunuganga Estate or the Seema Malaka temple.
During the tour we will learn about the history of Sri Lankan art and architecture, spanning from the rock fortress of Yapahuwa, the 13th century capital, to the fort of Galle, constructed in 1663, to a number of the buildings and gardens designed by both Geoffrey Bawa and his brother Bevis. We will consider the use of different materials and building techniques in Sri Lanka, how Bawa’s buildings related to their natural surroundings, and their debt to the artistic traditions of the country that was his primary source of inspiration.
London • Negombo • Yapahuwa • Kandalama • Sigiriya • Polonnaruwa • Dambulla Caves • Kandy • Peradeniya Gardens • Temple of the Tooth • Nuwara Eliya • Galle Fort • Bentota • Lunuganga • Colombo • London
(Meals: B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner)
Sunday, 24 February
Fly direct from London to Colombo on Sri Lankan Airlines UL 504, departing from London Heathrow at 21:30.
Monday, 25 February
Upon arriving in Sri Lanka at 1245, you will transfer directly to the Jetwing Beach Hotel, just 15 minutes’ drive from the airport. Set on the shores of Negombo, Jetwing Beach is an oasis of calm with its sophisticated comforts and pleasant attention to detail, and it is just steps from local bars, restaurants, and amenities. B D
Tuesday, 26 February
Yapahuwa and Kandalama
After a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast, you will transfer by road to Yapahuwa. This ancient temple and palace built on a rock, the impressive centrepiece of Sri Lanka’s medieval capital, is considered to be one of the great architectural wonders of the island.
Yapahuwa became Sri Lanka’s capital in the late 13th century when King Buvanekabahu moved here from Polonnaruwa, establishing his military stronghold atop a 90m boulder with commanding views of the surrounding area. The city lasted only as long as the king’s reign, however: when he died, the territory was overrun by Pandyan invaders. Yapahuwa was more or less abandoned, with only a few Buddhist monks and ascetics staying on. You can still see the remains of their stupa, temple, and the enclosure built around the sacred bodhi tree.
For the next two nights you will stay at the magnificent Heritance Kandalama, designed by Bawa in 1994. It is located on the bund (embankment) of a 3rd century tank, and was conceived as an “austere jungle palace”, albeit one with all modern amenities. Here you will be completely surrounded by the magic of nature and have the chance to observe up close Bawa’s mastery of function, materials, and form. B D
Wednesday, 27 February
Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa
Early this morning, before the day becomes hot, you will climb the impressive 180m granite bastion built by the patricidal King Kasyapa. Known as Lion Rock, this natural feature can be seen from miles around. On the summit you will find the 5th century rock fortress of Sigiriya, famed for its fabulously well preserved frescoes of voluptuous maidens. Sigiriya’s landscaped gardens, which include waterways, caves, and terraces, are amongst the oldest sieving gardens in the world.
After lunch you will continue to Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to the 3rd century BC. Polonnaruwa, too, was a medieval capital of Sri Lanka, filled with now-ruined palaces, temples, stupas, and other religious buildings. These undoubtedly inspired Bawa’s own work.
You will first visit the Archaeological Museum to understand what the city looked like during its golden age. Highlights of the Polonnaruwa tour then include the 12th century Royal Palace, the imposing facade of which still stands; the Audience Hall with its individually carved elephants; and the Sacred Quadrangle, which has statues and elaborate carvings in wonderful condition.
You will return to Heritance Kandalama to spend the night. B D
Thursday, 28 February
Kandy and Dambulla
Today’s bright start is a visit to the superb buddhist caves at Dambulla. The largest and best preserved complex in Sri Lanka, these cave temples date from the 1st century BC. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although there are some 80 known cave temples in this area, attention is focused on five of them. Arched colonnades and gabled entrances lead you into intricately decorated caves filled with paintings of gods, goddesses, and the Buddha, as well as hundreds of statues up to 15m in height.
En route from Dambulla to Kandy, you will make two separate stops. The first is at Spice Garden, where you can exported the plantation and taste the spices for which Sri Lanka is renowned; and you will also visit a batik factory. Batik is a tradition of wax resist dyeing which experienced a revival in the late 20th century as Bawa and his followers sparked renewed interest in Sri Lankan crafts.
In Kandy you will spend two nights at the Hotel Suisse, which was originally the residence of Pilimatala Gabada Nilame, the Chief Minister of the Royal Granary. It was built in the 17th century. B D
Friday, 01 March
The lakeside city of Kandy is one of the most charming, photogenic spots in Sri Lanka, and also a hotspot for culture.
Your tour will begin at the Peradeniya Gardens, a former royal retreat which is now one of the most important botanical gardens in South Asia. The undisputed crown of Peradeniya is the Orchid House, where the orchid varieties number in the hundreds and come in every glorious colour of the rainbow.
Towards evening time you will visit the Temple of the Tooth where a sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is enshrined. This is the most sacred site in Sri Lanka, and an important place of pilgrimage for buddhists from around the world. The temple building is ornate and very attractive, with a golden roof, fine woodwork, and wonderful inside frescoes. You’ll meet the temple elephants who live here and are cared for by the monks, then witness a pulsating cultural performance of music and Kandyan dance. B D
Saturday, 02 March
Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is the most verdant part of the island, the slopes bedecked in the dazzling jade green of tea estates and spice plantations. The drive up into the hills is slow and winding but undeniably beguiling, with waterfalls and bustling villages dotted across the landscape.
In Nuwara Eliya you will stay at St. Andrews, a charming colonial style hotel. When you see the architecture and gardens you’ll immediately understand why the British called this area Little England. Their passions for taking afternoon tea on the lawn and a fine Scotch by a roaring fire have endured. B D
Sunday, 03 March
Descending slowly from the Hill Country towards the coast, you will head to the Jetwing Lighthouse – one of the last major projects Bawa worked on. Its architecture and ambience convey a sense of history: take time to admire the vast brass and bronze portrayal of the Portuguese landing in Galle. It dominates the main staircase and lobby.
You will stay at the Jetwing Lighthouse for two nights. B D
Monday, 04 March
Galle is a cosmopolitan port city whose 17th century fortress is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old parts of Galle were built predominantly by the Portuguese and Dutch, so there’s a strong European flavour to the architecture.
You will go on a guided walk to understand the history of Galle Fort, which has attracted traders and travellers from around the world. Walk through the cobblestoned pathways flanked by antique shops and heritage houses, while your host engages you in historical tales of the evolution of these ramparts and the battles that took place in the name of the fort. B D
Tuesday, 05 March
After breakfast you will transfer to Bentota to stay two nights at the Avani Bentota. The hotel was designed by Bawa to capture the architectural design and ambiance of an 18th century Dutch seaside village, and it’s a remarkably peaceful place to wile away the afternoon. B D
Wednesday, 06 March
Lunuganga & Brief Gardens
Today’s excursion is to Lunuganga, Bawa’s own estate and retreat. Creating these gardens was his lifelong passion. Bawa spent more than 40 years developing the house and its grounds, which are filled with delightful pavilions and statues, and when he died in 2003 his ashes were scattered here.
Bawa’s friends still run Lunuganga in his memory, and it is the perfect spot to learn about his legacy. Afternoon visit the Brief Gardens, A barely controlled riot of a Jungle Book garden. The grounds are a lovely place to get lost, while the house, which used to be the home of Bevis Bawa, brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, has an eclectic range of artwork on display. B L D
Thursday, 07 March
On your final day in Sri Lanka you will depart after breakfast for Colombo, Sri Lanka’s modern capital. Bawa has had a significant impact on the city’s skyline, including designing the parliament building in Kotte, commissioned in 1979, with traditional Sri Lankan and South Indian architectural features. You will visit this on your tour, which also includes the Paradise Road Gallery Café where Bawa had his office, a delight of courtyards with columns; and the captivating Seema Malakaya on Beira Lake two island temple pavilions designed by Bawa in 1985. Finally you will visit Geoffrey Bawa's Colombo Residence. Number 11 is a compact, three-storey villa that has been featured in many a book on Geoffrey Bawa and Sri Lankan architecture. It incorporates Bawa’s signature architectural features of courtyards and verandahs.
Tonight you will stay at the Galle Face Hotel, which began life as a Dutch villa which was a meeting place for gentlemen of the colonial era. British entrepreneurs converted it into a hotel in the 19th century, and it quickly became known as the best hotel east of Suez. B D
Friday, 08 March
This morning you will sadly bid adieu to Sri Lanka and board the 1305 Sri Lankan Airlines UL 503 flight direct to London, arriving the same day at 2000. B
- How to Book this Tour
- Travel Insurance
- International flights with Sri Lankan Airlines
- Accommodation at selected hotels with daily breakfast and evening meals included
- Lunch at Lunuganga
- All transportation by private air conditioned vehicle for all included sightseeing
- Services of local English speaking guides
- Water & cool towels on vehicle during tour
- Tips & gratuities for guides, drivers and hotel staff
Cost does not include:
Sri Lanka ETA (Applied online prior to departure for most nationalities, USD35/pax,
Meals are not mentioned
Travel Insurance. You can obtain a competitive price for travel insurance from
Travel & General see link to Travel Insurance
Camera/video entrance fees if applicable
- Any expenses of a personal nature.
- To book this tour , please compete the booking form, sign and e-mail it to us. A non-refundable deposit of £500.00 per person is needed at the time of booking. Balance payments will be due 8 weeks before departure. You can make the deposit payment by debit card or electronic transfers to our bank. Our Bank details are on the booking form. Bookings are confirmed on first come first served basis. When the tour is full we will take about 5 additional names on the waiting list to replace their booking with any cancellations etc.
- If you wish to join the tour and fly from any country other than United Kingdom please contact us for land only arrangements.
It is essential to have adequate insurance in place before your departure. This should be appropriate for your age, health and destination you are visiting.
- It includes comprehensive medical and repatriation cover.
- It provides cover for your whole trip (whether one day or over a year).
- It covers you for all activities.
- Disclose pre-existing medical conditions.
- Take your policy number and the 24-hour emergency contact numbers with you.
- If you are making multiple trips we recommend that you take a yearly travel insurance policy.