Ruined city of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

The ruined city of Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka was once the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom. Today, impressive ruins bear witness to its magnificent past.

The ancient ruined city of Polonnaruwa is located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, 140 kilometres north of Kandy. The fantastic archaeological park is one of our top 10 sights of Sri Lanka. In 1982, Polonnaruwa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.


PICTURES: Ruined city of Polonnaruwa

Photo gallery: Ruined city of Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa once became the capital of a powerful kingdom after King Vijayabahu I refused to rebuild Anuradhapura, which was destroyed in 993. Under the rule of his grandson, Parakrama Bahu, the city grew to the height of its heyday. Through the construction of artificial lakes and a sophisticated irrigation system, rice could be grown even during the dry season, which helped the whole of Sri Lanka to great prosperity.

At that time, the most sacred tooth relic of the Buddha was also kept here, which is now in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. In the 13th century, however, several invasions led to the Sinhalese capital being moved to Dambadeniya. In 1314, the city was abandoned and fell into oblivion in the middle of what was then the jungle. In the 19th century, the first excavations began under the British.

Sights in the ruined city of Polonnaruwa

The best-preserved temple is the Vatadage, completed in 1196, the circular temple where the Buddha's tooth was kept in Polonnarawa's capital days - © leoks / Shutterstock
© leoks / Shutterstock

Today, only the majestic ruins bear witness to Polonnaruwa's former splendour. Monumental stupas and impressive temples and palaces with countless Buddha statues rest amidst artfully laid out gardens and parks. The individual ruins are relatively close together, so Polonnaruwa is best explored on foot or by bicycle. Depending on your interests, you can spend half a day or a whole day wandering around the historic town.


The best-preserved temple is the Vatadage, completed in 1196, the round temple where the Buddha's tooth was kept in Polonnarawa's capital days. The stairways are decorated with shimmering moonstones. Two guardian figures and four Buddha statues on the uppermost platform bear witness to the events of that time.


In the building opposite, in the Atadage, the "House of the Eight Relics", visitors are greeted at the bottom of a flight of stairs by a majestic Buddha resting seated between several stone pillars. This is also where the Buddha's tooth was once kept.


The Kiri Vihara is a nearly 1,000-year-old dagoba in the ancient ruined city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka - © f9photos / Shutterstock
© f9photos / Shutterstock

Entering the third building, the Hatadage ("House of 60 Relics"), one is inevitably reminded of the Cambodian temple complex Angkor Wat - and rightly so. The Sinhalese kings used the typical Cambodian stepped construction to honour the allied troops from Cambodia.


Rock Temple Gal Vihara

The rock temple Gal Vihara dates back to the 12th century and is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art. It was carved out of a gigantic granite rock and is the highlight of any visit to Polonnaruwa. The four Buddha statues are among the most impressive in the whole city, the largest of them seven metres high and the reclining Buddha 14m long.

Kiri Vihara

Close to Gal Vihara is a 1,000-year-old dagoba, the Kiri Vihara. The founder of Polonnaruwa, King Parakramabahu I, once had it built for his queens. The dagoba is amazingly well preserved to this day and is also well maintained. The fig tree, which has practically absorbed the wall of the dagoba, is worth seeing.

Gal Pota

The so-called "Gal Pota", a book made of solid granite, weighs 25 tons and tells of the relocation of the capital to Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka - © Iryna Rasko / Shutterstock
© Iryna Rasko / Shutterstock

Another highlight is the so-called "Gal Pota", a book made of solid granite, which weighs 25 tons and tells of the relocation of the capital to Polonnaruwa.

"New Polonnaruwa"

In addition to the historic town of Polonnaruwa, there is also a "new" Polonnaruwa with about 15,000 inhabitants, which administers the Polonnaruwa district in Sri Lanka. It is a good 5 kilometres from the archaeological park and also offers accommodation and shopping facilities for tourists. Bicycles can also be rented there, which are perfect for exploring the spectacular ruins.