Explore the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka boasts of a rich history, dating back many centuries, as a thriving country that traded with India, China, etc. As a result, travelers often settled here bringing an eclectic mix of cultures and religions with them. We see this intermingling even at Polonnaruwa: there are two Hindu Shiva Devale temples in the city otherwise surrounded by Buddhist temples. (Fun Fact: the Indian-Chola king named the shrines after his wife.)
While exploring Sri Lanka, we recommend visitors stop along the Cultural Triangle to learn about the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Located in the North Central parts of the island, historic landmarks feature many Buddhist stupas, monasteries, and statues. Travel back in time, as you walk through the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. It’s one of our favorite places to visit, as the city itself is quite compact with beautifully-preserved structures and relics.
We recommend cycling through the village roads of Polonnaruwa early in the morning and taking a quick lunch overlooking some paddy fields. You could easily spend a full day enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of Polonnaruwa.
Grand Palaces, Monumental Stupas, Larger than life statues carved into granite, there’s something for everyone and a perfect place to see with the family. As the second-largest ancient city in Sri Lanka, most of the ruins are still in good shape even after 800+ years. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, it was also used as a backdrop to film scenes for the music video Save a Prayer by Duran Duran that same year.
Upon entering the city, you will notice how massive The Royal Palace is, with over 30 columns still intake, historians estimate it having 50 rooms in its heyday. Don’t miss the Royal Audience Hall, the lions guarding the entrance, as well as the beautiful animal carvings on the stone walls showcase the intricate masonry skills people had in the 11th century.
The highlight of Polonnaruwa is the Vatadage, a circular house that has a memorial holding Buddhist relics. With a diameter of 18m, the outside perimeter of the building features an exquisitely carved façade that is just sublime. The four entrances, one for each direction, that leads to a central dogaba. Making your way up to the inner chamber, you will notice four Buddhist statues guarding the stone-stairways.
The Buddhist statues at Gal Vihara features four Buddhas carved from granite in perfect condition. Each statue is quite grand presenting an air of elegant simplicity. The standing Buddha towers over you at 7 meters, while the reclining Buddha lays down peacefully at 14 meters: both are equally stunning.
While out and about in Polonnaruwa, you might see a large group of toque macaques roaming the ancient city. Some Sri Lankans call it the Monkey Kingdom after a Disney documentary was shot there. These monkeys have been residing in the ruins since locals can remember and remind us that we should travel and sightsee in an eco-friendly manner.
If you are interested in visiting Polonnaruwa or any other landmarks along the Cultural Triangle, please contact our Sri Lanka team at [email protected].