Polonnaruwa, an awe-inspiring city in the North Central province of Sri Lanka, was the country's second capital. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Polonnaruwa draws visitors from across the globe to experience its historical significance and architectural marvels. Prepare yourself to be captivated by the wonders of Polonnaruwa as we guide you through the top 9 things to do in this remarkable city.
1. Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum
The Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum is home to many artifacts and exhibits that provide insights into the city's history and culture. You'll learn about the significance of the different monuments and how they fit into the broader cultural and historical narrative of the region. The museum's collection includes Ancient coins, ceramics, stone sculptures, and architectural fragments that offer a glimpse into the daily life and traditions of the people who once lived in Polonnaruwa. The museum is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the city's rich cultural heritage and to appreciate the legacy of the ancient Polonnaruwa Kingdom. We recommend visiting the museum first, as you will get a better idea of the other places when you see them.
2. Explore the Polonnaruwa Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Polonnaruwa is an impressive archaeological site in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. The palace was constructed during the reign of King Parakramabahu I in the 12th century AD and served as the royal residence for the monarch and his court. Today, you can explore the ruins of the palace, which include several impressive structures that offer a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Ancient Sri Lankan royalty. The palace complex also includes several well-preserved ponds, which were used for both decorative and practical purposes. Despite being largely in ruins, the Royal Palace of Polonnaruwa remains an impressive testament to the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.
3. Visit the Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya
The Gal Viharaya is a rock temple that showcases a collection of four Buddha statues. It is considered one of the finest examples of ancient Sinhalese craftsmanship and is an absolute must-visit destination. The four Buddha statues, skillfully carved from a single piece of granite, display an unmatched level of craftsmanship and artistic prowess. The standing Buddha statue, which is over seven meters tall, is the most impressive of the collection. The site also features a smaller seated Buddha statue, a reclining Buddha statue, and a smaller standing statue. As you walk around the Gal Viharaya, you can observe the intricate details of the statues, from the delicate folds of the robes to the gentle expressions on thei faces. The lifelike quality of the sculptures is a testament to the exceptional skills of the artists who created them.
4. Visit the Polonnaruwa Vatadage
The Vatadage is a circular structure built to house a sacred relic, likely the tooth relic or the alm bowls (a bowl used by monks for food) of the Buddha. The Vatadage's circular design and intricate carvings are stunning and offer a glimpse into the skill and craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan builders. One of Sri Lanka's most venerated sites during the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Vatadage is considered a structure where the stone craftsmanship of the era can be seen at its peak. The buddha statue, the moonstone, and the guard stones are the highlights of the Vatadage.
The Vatadage was once surrounded by a wooden roof supported by stone columns, which would have added an additional layer of architectural grandeur to the site.
Visiting the Vatadage at sunrise or sunset will offer a unique experience, as the warm light bathes the ancient stones in a golden glow.
5. Explore Lankatilaka Image House
Lankathilaka Image House is an ancient temple in Polonnaruwa. It was built by King Parakramabahu the Great back in the 12th century AD and is considered one of the most significant examples of Sinhalese architecture. Inside, visitors can see an impressive seated Buddha statue over 40 feet tall and many other intricate carvings and architectural features. Lankathilaka Image House is renowned for its remarkable design. It is considered one of the must-visit sites in Polonnaruwa for those interested in ancient architecture and Buddhist history.
6. Visit the Nissanka Latha Mandapaya
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is an ancient structure built by King Nissanka Malla in the 12th century. The structure is a beautiful example of ancient Sri Lankan architecture, with intricate carvings and decorations adorning its walls. The Nissanka Latha Mandapaya has many uniquely designed columns that take a distinctive lotus stem shape. The stone columns, which curve ever so gracefully, are a true testament to the ingenuity of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.
The structure was used for various purposes, including religious ceremonies, and is believed to have been part of a larger palace complex.
7. Visit the Polonnaruwa Shiva Dewalaya
Shiva Dewalaya is an ancient Hindu temple that dates back to the 10th century. The temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, features many intricate carvings and architectural details characteristic of South Indian temple architecture.
The temple complex is home to several smaller shrines and statues dedicated to several Hindu deities, each with its own unique artistic and architectural features.
Despite being a Hindu temple, Shiva Dewalaya is also revered by Buddhists. It is considered an important site for interfaith harmony and religious diversity in Sri Lanka.
8. Visit the Parakrama Samudraya
Parakrama Samudraya is a large man-made lake built by King Parakramabahu the Great in the 12th century. The Parakrama Samudraya, a testament to the astounding skill of ancient Sri Lankan engineers, served not only as a source of water for the city but also as a means of irrigation for the surrounding agricultural lands. You can take a boat ride on a fishing boat to enjoy the scenic views and get a sense of the scale of this impressive engineering feat. It is also an excellent place for birdwatching, as many beautiful bird species can be seen around the lake. You can also cycle around the lake and take in the breathtaking views.
9. Explore the Sathmahal Prasadaya
Sathmahal Prasadaya is a unique structure that consists of seven levels and was built as a Buddhist shrine. The structure is a beautiful example of ancient Sri Lankan architecture. It has an unusual architectural style compared to the other stupas in Sri Lanka, which is thought to have been influenced by the Mahayana Buddhist tradition prevalent in Cambodia during the same period. The Sathmahal Prasadaya is an excellent example of the exchange of ideas and cultural influences that took place between Sri Lanka and other regions of Asia during the Polonnaruwa period.
10. Explore the Angammedilla Park
Angammedilla Park is a relatively new nature reserve located just outside of Polonnaruwa. It is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including elephants, deer, monkeys, and many bird species. You can take a guided jeep safari through the park to explore its diverse ecosystems and get up close to the wildlife. Angammedilla Park is an ideal site for nature lovers visiting Polonnaruwa. It is also home to several historical and archaeological sites, including ancient temples and ruins, providing an additional layer of intrigue for history enthusiasts.
As you leave Polonnaruwa, you'll carry with you the memories of a truly unforgettable journey. They will stay with you long after you've returned home. We hope that this travel guide has inspired you to plan your own adventure in Polonnaruwa and that you'll return to this amazing destination time and time again.