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Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Second only to Anuradhapura in the ancient history of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa served as the island’s capital from the 11th to 13th century, a relatively brief but glorious epoch that witnessed a flowering of Buddhist arts and architecture. Visit a once flourishing empire, the second capital of Sri Lanka from 1017 A.D. to 1235 A.D. Travel back in time to the Golden Age of Polonnaruwa under the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great.

Following are some of the places to visit:

The Royal Palace

In the center of the complex are the ruins of the Royal Palace, built by King Parakramabahu the great (1164-1196 AD). It was a massive wood and stone structure seven stories in height, with a floor plan of 31m by13m (100ft by 43ft). The upper floors were of wood, and only the massive, 3m (10ft) thick lower walls survive.

Immediately to the east of the Palace stands the Audience Hall, used by the kings of Polonnaruwa to summon the nobles of the kingdom and to meet the emissaries from foreign rulers. Finely sculpted stone lions seated at the top of the steps leading into the hall were symbols of royal power, as were the elephants which form a frieze around the lower part of the outer wall. Next to the Audience Hall is the Kumara Pokuna (Royal Bathing Pool) which was fed with water from the stream which runs through the palace grounds.

Nissankamalla's Palace

Standing close to the shore of the great man-made lake, the ruins of the palace of King Parakramabahu the great's successor, King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD), are less well preserved than those of the Royal Palace, but are attractively located. This palace group includes a royal bathing pool just south of the palace, and the King's Council Chamber, where the names of the king's ministers can be seen carved into the pillars which supported the chamber roof.

Siva Devale

Immediately north of the Royal Palace complex is the Siva Devale, a 13th-century Hindu temple dating from the period of marauding south Indian invasions that followed the final decline of Sinhalese power in the north of the island. The technical skills of its builders are evident from the fine, precisely cut stonework of its walls. The brick domed roof, however, has not survived. There are several Siva Devales (Shiva Temples) at Polonnaruwa, reflecting the popularity of this powerful member of Hinduism's ruling trinity of deities. Hindu trinity or Trimurti consists of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver & Shiva, the destroyer.


The Quadrangle stands within its own rectangle of walls, guarding the richest collection of ancient buildings in any of Sri Lanka's ruined capitals. In the southeast corner of the Quadrangle stands the Vatadage (reliquary), a circular building some 18m (59ft) in diameter, with four entrances leading to a central dagoba (shrine) which houses four seated Buddha images.

Clockwise around this building, from the southwest corner of the Quadrangle, is the Thuparama, a fine example of the gedige style of temple architecture which flourished at Polonnaruwa, and the only one to survive with its roof still in place.

Satmahal Prasada

Finally, in the northeast corner of the Quadrangle are the ruins of Satmahal Prasada, a six-storey, pagoda-like building which is unlike anything else in Sri Lanka, and has left archaeologists bowled out as to its origin.

Rankot Vihara

The largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa at 55m (180ft) high, this building is the hub of the group of buildings known as the Alahana Pirivena ('Crematory College') group which formed part of a monastic college during the reign of king Parakramabahu the great.

Lankatilaka Vihara

Lankatilaka Vihara is one of the most emblematic structures of the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Two great walls, each with a thickness of 4m & height of 17m form a narrow aisle leading to a very impressive, though now sadly headless Buddha statue still standing, over 14m high. Built by King Parakrabahu the great, the shrine is a definite deviation in terms of Buddhist architecture: instead of the abstract symbolism of the stupa (dagoba) the attention is focused on the giant figure of the Buddha, which fill up the entire space within the shrine.

Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara (Sinhala: stone temple) Thervada Buddhist Temple at Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sri Lanka. With three Buddha Statues of heroic proportions and a smaller image having a touch of Mahayana Buddhist influence, is the most perfect specimen of Buddha statues hewn out of solid granite in Sri Lanka. According to the Culavamsa, the second part of Mahawamsa, the unparalleled historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, Gal vihara, an archeological wonder of the orient near the Demalamaha seya stupa at Polonnaruwa was constructed by King Parakrambahu the Great (1153-1186 A.C), the supreme builder of the Sinhalese Buddhist Nation. Gal Vihara statues, ambitiously conceived and gloriously perfected according to the Oriental canons, on an abrupt boulder of dark granite about 27 meters in length and 10 meters in height at the centre and sloping towards the ends are still in perfect preservation with their irresistible charm and sublimity.

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