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Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa Kingdom

Mighty Polonnaruwa Kingdom

Sri Lanka is a country overflowing with scenic locations. While the island is mostly known for its golden stretches of sand, Sri Lanka also offers you a chance to experience diverse wildlife and nature. But, did you know that this island nation also owns a long history? The kings and queens of Sri Lanka have left epic stories as well as impressive archaeological wonders. Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and many other historic cities still carry vestiges of Sri Lankan history. Most sites have also been declared as world heritage sites. So, when you travel to Sri Lanka, you should definitely visit at least one ancient city to get a glimpse at the history of the country.

Should you visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa?

If you have time, we recommend that you visit both cities. However, if you are here for a limited time, you might have to make this decision. While both cities are equally impressive and beautiful, Anuradhapura is much larger in scale compared to Polonnaruwa. In Polonnaruwa, all sites of historic importance are located close to each other. So, it’s easy to visit every place in one day. You can take a tuk-tuk, rent a bike, or even walk to each historical site in this city. Anuradhapura is the oldest kingdom among the two and had gone through some rough wars throughout history. As a result, the ruins in Polonnaruwa are in much better condition compared to Anuradhapura. So, if you are choosing between the two cities, go with Polonnaruwa.

 


Top 10 places to visit in the ancient city, Polonnaruwa

 10. Archaeological museum

This is located right at the entrance to the old Polonnaruwa. The museum has mini models of the city along with many other exhibits that were found during excavations. Here, you will get to see unearthed statues of notable gods and Lord Buddha. Other more trivial items such as tools used back in the day are also on display here. This museum will offer you the basic knowledge and history of all historical buildings, stupas, and other ruins you will be seeing in the city. So, it is highly recommended that you visit this museum before entering the city. But, if you don’t have time, you can also skip the museum and see the real deal instead.


 09. Parakrama Samudra

In the dry season, the land dries up in the Polonnaruwa area. So, the kings of the Polonnaruwa era had to come up with a plan to manage water so that the people can live comfortably even during dry seasons. King Parakramabahu the great was especially adamant about this and has stated, “not one drop of rain should go to the sea without being used by mankind.” He really lived up to this by finishing massive projects of irrigation systems. One such project is the Parakrama Samudra (the sea of King Parakramabahu).

This reservoir was made by combining five smaller reservoirs and was so large that it resembled a sea. During the renovations in the 19th century, two of the five reservoirs were separated from the system. This was a result of the renovators having no idea of the complex ancient system used to hold this reservoir together. Although what you see today is only a portion of its previous glory, Parakrama Samudra is a highly recommended place to visit. The lovely breeze and the seemingly endless water rippling away is magnificent by themselves.

After spending some time at Parakrama Samudra, visit the Potgul Vehera near the eastern bank of the reservoir. Here you will see a massive statue of the man behind it all, King Parakramabahu the great himself. The statue faces the Parakrama Samudra and is close to 12 ft tall. The bare-chested, wise-looking man is portrayed reading a manuscript with a sad smile on his face.


 08. Royal Palace

Initially, the Royal Palace complex will be the first giant structure that comes across in Polonnaruwa. This palace, called “Vijayotpaya” (The Palace of Sakra, the king of gods) was built by King Parakramabahu the Great. Although the palace has deteriorated into just two thick walls standing next to each other, archaeologists claim that it was once 7 stories high. The holes seen on the walls today were for beams that held up the higher floors. The top 5 floors of the palace were built of wood.

From the top of the palace, the king could see the city, including the Parakrama Samudra, the largest reservoir built by King Parakramabahu. According to ancient scripts, the palace had more than 100 rooms. The main building is surrounded by several other buildings which were most probably used for entertainment purposes, storage for the palace, and so on. The kind of luxury the king had living in this palace is still apparent to this day. According to evidence, it is guessed that the palace was destroyed by a fire.


 07. Audience Hall

This building belongs to the royal palace complex. The king used this hall as a spot to hear out petitions and greet representatives from other countries. However, what remains is the beautifully carved staircase, and 48 solid rock pillars in 4 rows. These pillars used to hold up the roof. The hall has been carved with elephants all around. The specialty is that each of these elephants is portrayed in different poses. At one end of the hall, there is a throne shaped like a lion carved from stone. The most compelling evidence is the words, “Throne of the king” is carved at the foot of the structure. The pillars are also named according to the designation of the person that would sit there during a hearing.


 06. Vatadage

This was built by King Parakramabahu I and was later heavily renovated by King Nissanka Malla. This building is admired for its unique and vast range of architecture. The structure is round in shape and is surrounded by stone pillars that held up a dome-like roof. The stupa is in the middle of this structure. There are four ornately carved staircases on the four sides along with four beautiful statues of Lord Buddha. Equally importantly, the moonstone at the bottom of the eastern staircase is believed to be the best moonstone of the Polonnaruwa era.


 05. Nelum Pokuna

When traveling around Polonnaruwa, it’s easy to miss some of the best spots. Likewise, Nelum Pokuna (Lotus pond) is one such place that tourists almost always miss. Located on the Thivanka Pilimage Road in Polonnaruwa, this is truly an architectural masterpiece. The pond is made entirely out of stone and gets its’ name from the blooming lotus-like shape. There are four flowers built in tiers, each with 8 petals, descending to a depth of 4 ft. 6 in. It is believed that this pond was used by the monks living in the Jetavana Vihara. The symmetrically shaped, beautifully designed pond is one of the most unique creations of the Polonnaruwa era. In the past, Nelum Pokuna was surrounded by a garden. You can still find flowering trees around the area. However, It is not clear which king built and devoted this triumph to the Sangha ( Monastics )


 04. Hatadage

Hatadage is believed to be the place where the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha (now in Kandy) was placed during the Polonnaruwa era. Not to mention, due to the importance of the relic in order to rule the nation, King had to protect the precious tooth in every way. Hence, this Tooth relic Palace was strongly built and said to be heavily guarded. Built by Nonother than King Nissanka Malla, this building was two stories high. It was constructed using brick, wood, and stone. Most of the building is now in ruins. However, some parts of the brick and stone structures still remain. The opening is a skillfully carved stone doorway. Inside, there are three stone statues of Lord Buddha. You will also get to see some engravings by King Nishanka Malla recorded on stone here.


 03. Kiri Viharaya / Ran Koth Vehera

This is one of the largest stupas in the Polonnaruwa era and is also the only stupa in Sri Lanka to last over 900 years in perfect condition. This was built by “Lady Subadra”, a queen of King Parakramabahu. There are several other smaller stupas around Kiri Vehera. These are believed to be burial monuments of monks and other high-ranked personnel. Similarly, there are some other stupas to visit in Polonnaruwa such as Rankot Vehera and Pabalu Vehera.


 02. Shiva Devala

This Shiva Devalaya is another building found in the royal palace complex. It has been built according to the Pandyan architectural style and is famous for its unique stonework. Of course, the building is entirely made of granite. There is incredible precision in how each block is fitted together. No plastering has been used when building it. Inside the Devalaya, the ancient stone Shiva lingam still exists. As a matter of fact, this shrine is worshipped by people even today.


 01. Gal Viharaya

Ranking # 1 on our list, Gal Viharaya or the rock temple is the most popular place to visit in Polonnaruwa. Made during the reign of King Parakramabahu I, this impressive cavern temple contains 4 statues of Lord Buddha carved out of the solid granite rock. There are 3 statues of Lord Buddha in sitting, standing, and lying positions and a much smaller one of a sitting Lord Buddha. The smoothly carved masterpieces are all very well preserved. Due to these very facts, Gal Viharaya has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Enlightenment of Lord Buddha


 

Vijjadhara Guhawa


 

Paradukkha Dukkhitha Mudra


 

Parinirwana of Lord Buddha

Keep in mind that it can get pretty hot during the day. So, when you are visiting, bring water and some snacks. Because most places in Polonnaruwa hold religious importance, make sure you are dressed accordingly.
Polonnaruwa is an incredible experience. So, we highly recommend you to travel back in time to the golden age of Sri Lanka by visiting this historic city.

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