The country’s capital from the 11th– 13th Century, Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka is considered one of the best preserved historic cities in the world. Located approximately 140km from Kandy, Polonnaruwa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its abundance of historic remains.
Sri Lanka’s second ancient capital, the city of Polonnaruwa is a magnificently preserved city with rich archaeological monuments and natural beauty. As in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa too has its share of Buddhist sites, and also boasts of an impressive array of ruined palaces and courtyards, pleasure gardens and intricate networks of bathing tanks, as well as carvings and sculptures and a rich display of artistry.
One of the most striking features in Polonnaruwa is the vast Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakramabahu), an irrigation tank built, as the name indicates by King Parakramabahu the Great. The waters of the Parakrama Samudraya circle the ancient city and its environs, and in ancient times served as a moat against invading armies. An intricate network of irrigation canals supplied water from this reservoir to surrounding paddy fields, ensuring that agricultural production could be carried out year-round.
Royal Palace and Council Chambers
Among the most noteworthy buildings in ancient Polonnaruwa is the Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu I. The Palace must have been an imposing edifice, as the chronicles describe it as “seven stories high, furnished with a thousand chambers”. Although the Palace itself is in ruins, the frieze of elephants in the main Audience Hall and the many carvings and moonstones along the entryways to the palace buildings are worth exploring.
This circular relic house possesses an elegance and beauty that is rare even in ancient Sri Lanka. In line with the outer circle of stone pillars is a tastefully ornamented screen wall patterned with four petaled flowers.
The flights of access stairs at the cardinal points are of stone and are beautifully carved. At the head of each flight is a Buddha statue in stone. The shrine is lavished with moonstones., guard stones and sculptured writings.
The Shrine of Sixty Relics, which stands opposite the Vatadage. It was claimed to have been built by King Nissankamalla to house the Sacred Tooth Relic and is a handsome edifice, whose plain ashlar walls are very artistically worked with a double border of faintly incised carving.
Gal Potha (Stone Book)
A massive 8 metre long and 4.3 metre wide stone slab, which lies by the side of the Hatadage is inscribed with the deeds of King Nissankamalla. The massive inscription, amongst other things, records Nissankamalla’s brief invasion of India in glowing terms, and details of his relations with foreign states, as far away as modern Pakistan and Indonesia.
Ran Kot Vehera – The Golden Pinnacle Dagaba
Built by Nissankamalla. This Dagaba is the largest in Polonnaruwa and measures 550-ft. in girth and 180 feet high. Although it was completed by Nissankamalla, the dagaba was probably largely the work of Rupavati, one of Parakramabahu’s queens.
Just ahead of Lankathilake is the gleaming white Kiri Vehera or Kiri Viharaya (literally, Milk white temple) which is said to have been built by King Parakramabahu in honour of his wife, Queen Subadra. Kiri Vehera is the best preserved of Sri Lanka’s un-restored dagobas.
Lankathilake- The Image House
One of the most splendid of Buddhist Shrines in Asia in the 12the century, Lankathilake (the ornament of Lanka), was built by Parakramabahu I. The statue of the standing Buddha inside the shrine was originally about 41 feet (13 metres) with it’s base, but sadly only its torso now stands. The brickwork of the building is of extraordinary variety, and is the most impressive ruins of the ancient city.
Gal Vihare – Rock Shrine
The Gal Viharaya is a cluster of carved Buddha images, which would have formed part of an extensive monastery on this site. Four separate images of the Buddha are carved from one long slab of granite, a feat of artistry. The Buddha rock sculptures at the Gal Vihare are considered masterpieces of Sri Lankan Buddhist art, and were commissioned by King Parakramabahu I.
Demala Maha Seya- The Tamil Dagaba
This enormous stupa was built by the Tamil prisoners of-war. It is a shrine of novel design with the dome rising from a terraced and molded base left unfinished at a height of about 50 ft. from the ground. If it was completed, it would have been the largest dagaba in the world, rising to about 600 feet in height.
Nelum Pokuna - Lotus Pond
A pretty rook-cut pool shaped like a stylised lotus, constructed in diminishing concentric lamina, built by Nissankamalla.
Kaudulla National Park is located near the Kaudulla Tank. Elephants come out to look for water and large herds can be seen gathering, drinking and bathing by the main tank. This soul-stirring sight of hundreds of Elephants will stay with you forever!
Be a part of the famous ‘Gathering’ as Elephants from the Somawathi Sanctuary, Kantale and Wasgamuwa make their annual trip across the land in search of water. Their destination is the Minneriya Tank, which is never completely dry even at the end of the dry season. A wonderful opportunity to observe these lumbering mammals in their natural setting.