Overcoming a period of darkness and desolation that brought the mighty kingdom of Anuradhapura to an end, a majestic new era was born with the establishment of the second most ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa. This medieval capital city that was built way back in the 11th Century AD, still stands tall today.
If an adventure to explore the grandeur and glory of a city ruled by ancient kings of Sri Lanka appeals to you, you should definitely plan a trip to discover the wonders of Polonnaruwa.
Highlights of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is known to be one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the country. As you set off on a Polonnaruwa sightseeing tour, be prepared to enjoy an adventure of a lifetime. The amazing attractions of this city extend far and beyond this list, but here are just a few sites to get you started. (Remember to purchase a ticket from the museum before you begin your tour).
- The Royal Palace – King Parakramabahu was one of the most famed rulers of the kingdom; therefore it comes to no surprise that his palace was built to the highest standards. The area enclosed by ramparts features a number of architectural masterpieces including the Royal Citadel, Kumara Pokuna – the royal bath, the main palace area and Royal Audience Hall, which are beautifully adorned with traditional carvings, guard lion statues and the moonstone stepping stone.
- Parakrama Samudraya – One of the greatest achievements of the King, is the largest ancient man-made rainwater reservoir in the country. The view overlooking this reservoir is truly breathtaking and the cool breeze will help you feel refreshed after a tiring day of exploration. An iconic monument that cannot be missed is the massive rock statue holding a stack of manuscripts, which some believe to be the King.
- Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum – this is a great place to get more information about the history of the city and has several original artefacts on display.
- The Sathmahal Prasada – historians believe this structure resembles the Vat Kukut at Lamphun, Thailand. Although the purpose of this seven storey building has not been determined yet, it is a unique site worth witnessing.
- Nissanka Lata Mandapaya – built by another notable ruler of this era, King Nissankamalla, this site is an architectural wonder demonstrating innovative building techniques blended with classical architectural styles.
- Rankoth Vehera – the largest dageba in Polonnaruwa
- Lankatilaka – one of the most elaborate Buddhist shrines featuring massive Buddha statues and other carvings
- Gal Viharaya or the Rock Temple – known for the amazing rock relief statues of the Buddha
Interesting facts about Polonnaruwa
- The ancient city of Polonnaruwa has gained world recognition for its immense value and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.
- Shout-out to all you Duran Duran fans; some sites may look familiar as the music video of the 80’s hit ‘Save a Prayer’ was filmed here.
- “Monkey Kingdom” – the city enjoyed being in the limelight once again with the release of the Disney documentary movie “Monkey Kingdom” documenting the life of wild toque-macaque monkeys of the city – or a troop of ‘rilaw’ as they are more famously referred to.
What’s great about a taking a Polonnaruwa tour is most the city’s important attractions been situated in close proximity to each other. There are still about 6-10 kilometres of landscape to cover, so you could even opt to rent out a bicycle and cycle around the city. Although the weather is sunny during most parts of the year, the temperatures do not rise to soaring levels as the area is surrounded by plenty of greenery and massive trees providing enough of shade.
Where to stay
Because Polonnaruwa is a popular tourist attraction there are a number of accommodation options available for holidaymakers to choose from. If you are on the lookout for such a place, you might want to check out some of the best options we feature including cosy home stays located close to the city, guesthouses and high quality hotels.
This ancient city is closely intertwined with the Buddhist religion and traditional Sri Lankan culture and many of these attractions are places of worship. So you might have to adhere to common norms like removing footwear and headgear. Also remember not to take pictures turning your back to the image of the Lord Buddha – a strongly shunned activity in the country.