The City of Polonnaruwa has been vibrant since over 800 years when Kings ruled then Ceylon. The area is inundated with temples and relics that still stand over the years. It has been the royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms for three centuries. It all began in Polonnaruwa in the early 10th century when Sri Lanka was conquered by the South Indian Chola dynasty. However, in 1070, the Sinhalese kingdom (King Vijayabahu I), which kept Polonnaruwa as its capital, overcame the Chola dynasty. And Polonnaruwa achieved its high glory during this Sinhalese era.
The second king (King Parakramabahu I, 1153-86) constructed many big houses, lovely parks and an enormous lake / water tank (25 km2). The third king (King Nisanka Malla, 1187-96) attempted to match the achievements of his predecessors and ended up in his efforts to bankrupt the kingdom! The glory of the towns faded in the early 13th century, it was abandoned, and the capital shifted to the west.
The following are “must see” places in ancient Polonnaruwa.
The Royal Palace Group is the first group of ruins you meet after entering the Ancient City ground. This group of structures dates back to King Parakramabahu I’s era (1153–1186). The Royal Palace of the King is a huge structure of 31 m by 13 m, once with 50 chambers backed by 30 columns.
King Parakramabahu I was an epitome of perfection in everything he did and the audience hall is no different. It is one of the best preserved sections of the Royal Palace, with its walled adorned with carved elephants. The elephants carved out of the rock are different from each other and stands in various positions. The stone stairway to the Audience Hall created an impressive aura and what catches the eye of visitors are the two lions on either side of the entrance, which no doubt acted as guards to the audience hall.
On a side of the palatial grounds lies a swimming pool that was constructed to depict a crocodile from whose mouth spouted water. It is an amazing structure and shows how artistic Kings of yore were.
This structure stands on an elevated base surrounded by a wall and is a collection of beautiful ruins enclosed in one. The center of the quadrangle consists of The Vatadage which is a round relic house. The outmost promenade is very striking with its four entrances, which are fringed by huge guard stones. The four entrances are pathways to the central dagaba which houses four statues of Lord Buddha.
The oldest construction in Polonnaruwa, the Shiva Devala dates back to the era of the Cholas in 1070, when Indians invaded the city. Built of complete stone, the construction still stands in all its glory.
The other places of interest and “must see” are the Pabalu Vihara, Rankot Vihara, Dagaba Kiri Vihara, the Buddhist Statue of Lankathilaka and the Buddha figures of Gal Vihara.