The Director-General began her first official visit to Sri Lanka on 14 August 2016 with a circuit around the “cultural triangle”, home to several of the country’s eight World Heritage Sites.
Accompanied by the Minister of Education, the Honourable Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Chairperson of the National Commission for UNESCO, she visited the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa and the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, followed by Kandy's Dalada Maligawa temple, where she viewed the Sacred Tooth of the Buddha relic shrine in the presence of its Custodian and the Chief Minister of the Central Province.
At each of the sites, she commended authorities for their commitment to protect and preserve this heritage of outstanding universal value.
«Cultural heritage has a huge role to place in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation, peace and development process. It carries a powerful message about identity, values and dialogue,» said Ms Bokova. «This is why it is so important to bring this heritage into young hands, so they take pride in its value and understand the importance of its protection.»
She also noted its significance for local people, reflected in the flocks of visitors from around the country touring the sites and adjacent museums.
«Culture also carries real economic benefits. The challenge is to develop sustainable tourism, which benefits local communities, while also sharing these treasures with the world, » said Ms Bokova.
The heritage reflects Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious diversity, artistic refinement and architectural singularity. In Polonarruwa, the country's capital from 11th to 13th century, eminent archaeologist Dr Roland Silva, founder of the country’s Central Cultural Fund, presented highlights of this vast ancient city, including the colossal rock-cut Buddha images at Gal Vihara, the remains of Buddhist and Hindu shrines, the storied royal place and a sophisticated irrigation system.
In Sigirya, one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium, dating back to the 5th century, she viewed the Gateway to the Lion’s Rock, a royal palace and fortress culminating at over 200 meters, its graceful frescoes in a sheltered gallery within the rock’s face and on the ground, one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.
Adjacent to the Dalada Maligawa temple in Kandy, the Director-General also visited the International Museum of World Buddhism and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya.
The Central Province is home also to the country’s oldest and largest institutions of higher learning, the University of Peradeniya, where the Director-General had a rich exchange with Vice-Chancellor Mr Upul Dissanayake and faculty deans on how to bridge gaps between research and policy, between degrees and job opportunities, and between humanities and the sciences.
Against the backdrop of the sustainable development agenda and the forces of globalization, the Director-General encouraged a transdisciplinary approach and the strengthening of inter-university collaboration, including through the UNITWIN programme.
She toured part of the vast campus, counting 12,500 undergraduate students, including the library that holds a collection of palm leaf manuscripts with Buddhist scriptures in Pali, dating back over 1,000 years.
The Director-General was accompanied throughout this visit by the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Mr Tilak Ranaviraja.