Polonnaruwa is one of Sri Lanka's ancient capital cities, established during the 11th century following the decline of Anuradhapura. Situated in north central Sri Lanka approximately 215 km north east of Colombo, the city is well-preserved and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. With ruins that have survived hundreds of years such as ancient dagobas, beautiful buildings, stunning statues and massive reservoirs, there is much in store for history buffs here.
Polonnaruwa was first conquered by the Chola invaders who were disciples of Brahmanism; King Vijayabahu I then reclaimed the capital in 1070, initiating Sinhalese sovereign rule here. The bulk of the city's main urban creations that still stand today were established by King Parakramabahu I between the years 1153-86, often referred to as Polonnaruwa's Golden Age. During this era, he led the construction of palaces, irrigation marvels and sanctuaries in the city.
Top things to see here include the Polonnaruwa Vatagade, a relic chamber built by Parakramabahu I to house the sacred Tooth Relic, which is now deposited in Kandy. Other attractions include Lankatilaka Vihara – a brick structure with a colossal statue of Buddha, Gal Vihara – a rock temple with Buddha images carved on granite rock, Gal Pota – a massive stone representation of a book with the longest inscription in Sri Lanka and the Tivanka Pilimage – a shrine room with gorgeous murals depicting Buddha's previous lives.
Rankot Vihara is another must visit site as it is the largest and most stunning stupa in Polonnaruwa. The city is also famous for its largest ancient irrigation reservoir – the Parakrama Samudraya and Royal Palace, both established by Parakramabahu I. Finally, the Polonnaruwa Museum is a delightful way to spend time with its fantastic reconstructed models of the major buildings and archaeological relics.
The best thing about Polonnaruwa is its compactness meaning that all of its monuments and remains can be explored within a day.