Polonnaruwa was the second capital of the paradise Island of Ceylon after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. It comprises, besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.

The Polonnaruwa Kingdom existed from eighth century until 1310 C.E. After ruling the kingdom for over 1200 years as the Anuradhapura Kingdom, Island’s kings decide to move their capital to Polonnaruwa, hoping that the distance further inland from Anuradhapura would allow more time to organize defences in times of foreign invasion. Polonnaruwa had previously been an important settlement in the country as it commanded the crossings of the Mahaweli Ganga towards

Polonnaruwa is an ancient city in the island of Ceylon and forms part of the “Cultural Triangle” along with Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Kandy and Dambulla. It served as the capital city for nearly 2 centuries between the 11th and 13th centuries AD and is an incredible day trip destination in the island. During its time as a capital, Polonnaruwa was ruled by the Kings Vijaya bahu I, Parakramabahu the Great and Nissanka Malla – all 3 of these rulers devoted themselves to fostering agriculture, religion and social development and the kingdom prospered under their reign during this era.

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, provides an enlightening view of life in island ‘s capital city from 1070 C.E. to 1310 C.E. The seat of power for the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, the king Parakramabahu I designed and built the city utilizing techniques of irrigation and reservoirs. Parakramabahu, I understood the importance of water to sustaining his kingdom, and made effective irrigation a priority. The kingdom needed the ability to withstand invasions from a succession of southern India dynasties. Powerful Indian navies and armies supported campaigns outside the India subcontinent. The kings of the Anuradhapura Kingdom moved their capital inland to Polonnaruwa in the hopes of averting being taken over by invading Chola armies. The Chola Dynasty was a Tamil dynasty that ruled primarily in southern India until the thirteenth century.

A great deal of the credit for establishing the Polonnaruwa kingdom, and the capital city of Polonnaruwa, as a powerful dynasty goes to Parakramabahu I. Resisting the powerful Chola dynasty required planning and organizing. For nearly 300 years, the strategy of an inland capital at Polonnaruwa worked until around 1300 C.E. when invasions from Southern India could no longer be resisted. The Sinhalese kings moved the capital to Yapahuwa and Polonnaruwa, like so many capitals in ancient India and Ceylon, was abandoned.

Buddhism played an important role in the culture of Polonnaruwa. Gal Vihara, a rock temple to Buddha in Polonnaruwa, was constructed by Parakramabahu I during the 1100s. His craftsmen carved four huge Buddha statues into a granite wall. One Buddha figure posed in reclining position measures 46 feet (14 m) long and a standing Buddha statue measures 23 feet (7.0 m) tall. Another statue in the shrine Parakramabahu depicts Buddha’s chief disciple, Ananda. One of the Buddha statues is said to display an expression of sorrow, an expression uncharacteristic for Buddha depictions.

The Gal Vihara refers to a rock temple of the Buddha in Polonnaruwa. Parakramabahu I constructed the temple in the twelfth century, his architects excavating the shrine and leaving an inscription describing their work.[4] Four large statues of the Buddha, carved into the face of a granite boulder by Parakramabahu’s architects, constitute the central attraction of the shrine. Those include a recumbent statue of the Buddha measuring forty-six feet and a standing statue twenty-three feet in height. [5]

Historians have identified a standing figure on a lotus throne located in the shrine Parakramabahu I as Ananda, the Buddha’s chief disciple, weeping over the recumbent figure of the Buddha who has just attained Nirvana. [4] Some historians, including Andreas Nell suggest that the expression of sorrow on the Buddha’s had been created by the natural elements ware upon the stone.

Most of the remains of Polonnaruwa date from after the 1150s, as the extensive civil wars that preceded Parakramabahu I’s accession to the throne devastated the city. The Polonnaruwa Kingdom had been abandoned in the fourteenth century, and the seat of government for the Sinhalese kings moved to Yapahuwa. Although many factors contributed to that, south India’s ability to launch invasions upon the city had been the leading cause for the abandonment of Polonnaruwa as the capital city of Sri Lanka.

Much like the ancient city of Angkor in Cambodia, being able to walk relatively freely through the ruins, temples and shrines is an incredible way to take in the history of the country and imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. The ruins of Polonnaruwa were officially inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa comprised a citadel (inner city) and an outer city. The citadel had 2 types of buildings – the king’s palace/royal court as well as administration buildings. The outer city contains religious shrines, with the main shrine being the Sacred Quadrangle.

Polonnaruwa contains religious shrines and monuments, so it’s important to dress appropriately. Shoulders and knees should be covered (men and women), and you will have to take your shoes off to enter the shrines so bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Because of the weather in the area, the ground gets steaming hot, so bring some socks along so you don’t burn your feet.

It should also be noted that taking photos with your back facing the Buddha images or statues are prohibited at all of the monuments.

If you are planning to visit the city with rich in history and culture and with full of ancient ruins, A small town has built up around the archaeological site of Polonnaruwa engaged in tourism. Where visitors get all the facilities and information prior to explore.