Polonnaruwa was the thriving commercial and religious center of Sri Lanka some 800 years ago. It consists of a lot of temples and religious buildings. For three centuries it was the royal capital, of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. In Polonnaruwa, it all started in the late 10th century when the South Indian Chola dynasty had conquered Sri Lanka.The Cholas chose Polonnaruwa as their new capital and moved the capital from Anuradhapura. In 1070 though, the Chola dynasty was overtaken by the Sinhalese kingdom (King Vijayabahu I), which kept Polonnaruwa as his capital.
And it was during this Sinhalese period that Polonnaruwa reached its high glory.The second king (King Parakramabahu I, 1153-86) built many large buildings, beautiful parks, and a huge lake/ tank of water (25 square km). The third king (King Nisanka Malla, 1187 – 96) tried to match his predecessors`achievements, and ended up bankrupting the kingdom in his attempts!In the early 13th century the cities glory was fading, it was abandoned, and the capital moved to the western side of the island where Colombo is today. That was the sad end of the era of beautiful Polonnaruwa as a capital.
Before we went into the ruins of the Ancient City, we visited the Archaeological Museum (next to the ticket office). The museum served as a nice introduction to what we had in front of us, but being anxious to see the real thing, we didn’t spend very much time there. The museum is designed for walking through, with a series of interconnected rooms each dedicated to a particular theme.
They also had scale models of the buildings and temples of the city, showing how they might have looked like in their glory days with the wooden roofs still intact. But if you are in a hurry, and don`t have that much time in Polonnaruwa, then I would recommend skipping the museum. It is much better to see the ruins and temples in real life than on pictures and models at the museum! Here are our top sights of the Ancient City Polonnaruwa.
The first group of ruins you meet after entering the ground of the Ancient City is the Royal Palace Group. This group of buildings dates from the period of King ParakramabahuI (1153 – 1186). The King`s Royal Palace is a massive structure, measuring 31 m by 13 m, once including 50 rooms supported by 30 columns. Even today it is quite an impressive building, but picture it being seven floors tall with 3 m thick walls, as the archaeologist’s claim it once was!
Today only some of the walls are left, with holes to hold floor beams for two higher levels. If the building had four more levels above these stone walls, the archaeologists speculate that they must have been made of wood. Impressive building such a big palace in those days without machines!
The Sacred Quadrangle is a compact group of beautiful and impressive ruins within a raised up platform bounded by a wall. This is the most concentrated collection of buildings in the whole Ancient City, and a must-see for any visitor!
In the middle of the Quadrangle is The Vatadage, a circular relic house typical of its kind. The outermost terrace is an impressive 18m in diameter and has four entrances all flanked by large guard stones in beautiful condition.The four entrances all lead to a central dagaba with four Buddhas.
The swimming pool is situated at the corner of the palace grounds. There are some crocodile-mouth spouts which direct the fresh water into the pool. It is one of the main attractions of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. It is ideal to visit it in the evening owing to the warm weather.
The Audience Hall is a monument having beautiful stone carved elephants alongside each of its walls. Parakramabahu I’s Audience Hall is popular for the array of elephants. All of the carved elephants look different from each another. The steps to the entrance of the Audience Hall are pretty impressive, with some beautiful lions at the top of each of the side.
Lord Buddha figures at Gal Vihara
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the perfect specimen of Lord Buddha statue created with solid stone. It was built during the reign of the great King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 A.C). The reclining Buddha sculpture is 14 m long, which represents Buddha entering the Nirvana stage. The sculptor artist of the Gal Vihara possessed a great deal of skill and expertise in the field of stone sculpture in the land of Sri Lanka.
Buddha statue at Lankatilaka
The Lankatilaka Vihara is said to be one of the emblematic structures of an ancient kingdom of the city of Polonnaruwa. Two great walls created a narrow aisle that led the way to a very impressive, headless Buddha statue is still standing. The height of the statue is almost over 14m high. It was built by the great King Parakramabahu.
Dagaba Kiri Vihara
The term Kiri Vihara means “milk-white”. This large stupa is lying north of Lankathilaka Pilima Ge. It had been created by a queen of the great king Parakramabahu (1153-1186) named “Subadra”. The original lime plaster is in the perfect white condition even after almost 700 years of it being created. It is said to be the best-preserved unrestored dagaba of the Polonnaruwa city. The first traditional name of the stupa was “Rupavathi Stupa”. It is a part of the Ãlahana Privena and it stands at 80 feet in height today.
Rankot Vihara is a huge dagaba in excellent condition, of impressive 54 meters tall! It is the largest dagaba in Polonnaruwa, the fourth largest in Sri Lanka, and dates back to King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196).
In between the ruins and temples, we also found traces of the jungle trying to take over the ancient city. Wandering around these impressive structures that are still in such good condition, it‘s incredible to think about all the hard work done to restore them since the archaeologists first discovered the Ancient City all covered with trees.
The Pabalu Vehera
This is the third largest dagaba of the Ancient Polonnaruwa city and it is in excellent condition. The origin of this uniquely shaped Pabalu Vehera stupa is yet to be discovered. It has been built by a consort of the king great Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD). This stupa is currently called by the name of “Pabalu” which means beads. This is due to the reason that a large number of glass beads had been found at the time of the excavation of the area near to the stupa. The top, as well as the center parts of the stupa, have been destroyed by the invaders and treasure hunters just recently.
Shiva Devale No. 2
This is the oldest building in Polonnaruwa as it dates back to the brief South Indian Chola dynasty period (around 1070) when the Indian invaders established the city. This is one of the few Hindu temples on the grounds. Because it is among the few buildings built entirely of stone, it is basically in the same condition as when it was built.
Polonnaruwa – 229 km east of Colombo, in Sri Lanka.