Sri Lanka’s second most ancient kingdom, Polonnaruwa, became the capital of Sri Lanka following the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 AD. Built by King Parakramabahu I, this urban green city has seen numerous civilisations journeying through this kingdom including the Cholas, South Indian Hindu and Buddhist Sinhalese, between the 12th and 13th centuries.
Brimming with archeologically treasures, the city is dotted with temples, shrines, palaces and ruins. Explore the royal palace from the period of King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186). Once a massive structure with 50 rooms, today impressive walls still stand strong. Lion sculptures guard the stairs to the king’s audience hall, where intricately carved stone elephants line the walls and the king’s swimming pool with large crocodile mouth statues spout fresh water. Built of stone, Shiva Devale No.2, the oldest Hindu temple in Polonnaruwa is tucked away in a small forest clearing.
An impressive collection of ruins forms the sacred quadrangle and in the middle is the vatadage (ancient structure) with four entrances leading to the place where the Sacred Tooth Relic was once housed. Explore the large stupa (hemispherical structure containing relics) Rankot Vihara and the monks’ quarters. A tribute built to the king’s queen, Dagaba Kiri Vihara is a perfectly preserved dagaba, lovingly repainted by devotees prior to the Vesak Poya every year (Vesak Poya is celebrated in May at full moon and is a festival honouring Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and nirvana). Marvel at the massive 17m (55ft) Buddha statue at Lankatilaka and end your explorations in front of four Buddha figures at Gal Vihara, cut from one slab of granite.