Polonnaruwa lies 216 km northeast of Colombo, 140kms northeast of Kandy and 104kms southeast of Anuradhapura. Sri Lanka’s medieval capital (11th – 12th Century AD) is a well-preserved city of ancient dagobas, moonstones, beautiful parks, massive buildings and stunningly beautiful statues. The majestic King’s Council Chamber, the Lotus Bath, the Lanka Thilaka Viharaya, the Gal Viharaya (rock temple) and the statue of one of Polonnaruwa’s great kings, Parakramabahu, are a few of this capital’s memorable sights. The Sea of Parakrama – a vast 12th century man-made reservoir dominates the city. Although it is nearly 1000 years old, it is much younger than Anuradhapura, and in much better repair. Moreover, the monuments here are located in a more compact area, and their development is easier to follow.
South Indian Chola invaders were the first to make Polonnaruwa their stronghold after ransacking Anuradhapura in 993 AD. King Vijayabahu I recaptured the throne for the Singhalese in 1073 and became the first to rule from the new capital Polonnaruwa, in a succession spanning 153 years. Vijayabahu did much to develop religion and irrigation, but it was Parakramabahu I reigning from 1153-86 who raised Polonnaruwa to its glorious heights in a grand renaissance of art and architecture, which produced the most beautiful statues and carvings in the country. Parakramabahu built huge structures and laid out beautiful parks and gardens. His monumental feats include the construction of the Parakrama Samudra, a vast reservoir covering 6000 acres next to the city. Nissanka Malla, who contributed many ornate buildings to the city, succeeded him. After about a century of efforts to hold back invaders, Polonnaruwa was finally abandoned to the jungles during the 13th Century.
Polonnaruwa has an old town and new town, and most of the runs begin at the north edge of the old town. The ruins are divided into 5 groups. The first is a small group near the rest houses that has mainly structures dating from the period of Nissanka Malla’s reign, and includes royal baths and the King’s Council chamber. The palace group of buildings dates back to Parakramabahu I’s reign and includes the magnificent royal palace, which is said to have been 7 storeys high, the audience hall with an amazing frieze of elephants, and the Prince’s bathing pool, which still has one of the crocodile mouth spouts. The quadrangle group includes the vatadage (circular relic house), the best example of the gedige architectural style – the Thuparama, the Gal Pota (massive stone slab representing an Ola leaf) and several astonishing temples of Buddhist and Hindu influence and style. The northern group has the Tivanka Image House, the Lotus Pond, a massive monastic convocation hall and many Dagobas and temples. You’ll find a library dagoba called Potugal Vihara and an unusually life-like statue of the Buddha in the southern group. The museum, which is near the rest houses, is open from 8am – 5pm daily.
As at Anuradhapura, the new town is a recent settlement away from the ancient city. You can find plenty of good accommodation in the new and old town. Buses and trains travel daily between Colombo and Polonnaruwa, and you can also get to Anuradhapura, Kandy, Dambulla and Trincomalee from here. The best way to travel around Polonnaruwa itself is by hired bicycle, or car
Very few sights can compare to that of the first glimpse of this great lake as one rounds the corner of a gravel approach road leading to its bund. The wide expanse of water is bordered by grasslands and woods creeping up the low foothills of the Matale range. Between 334 and 362 AD the waters of the Amban Ganga were diverted and held back by a dam over 38 km in length with a height ranging from 12 to over 27 m. The king who completed this colossal feat was Mahasen, the architect of other great works. The tank was repaired by King Parakrama Bahu I in 1153 AD and said to have been linked by a series of lagoons to other water bodies to form the vast Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakrama). The Minneriya lake is now famous for its abundant birdlife and surrounding natural beauty.