Why You Should Travel Now to Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

In our continuing effort to motivate you to get out there and see the world without delay, today's post is all about introducing the world famous Polonnaruwa site in Sri Lanka. We visited a few years ago and we still talk regularly about this magical place. 

Located 215km from the modern bustling capital of Colombo, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s capital from the 10th to 13th centuries. The modern city is a sleepy, laid-back provincial town, but in and around it are the still impressive remnants of its grand former glory. 

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to these magnificent ruins as it offers an insight into the rich cultural heritage of this island nation.

The ruins of the old city can be easily explored on bike or foot as they are concentrated into a relatively small area (unlike those at the other famous ruins site Anuradhapura which are scattered over many acres). 

The most spectacular single ruin at Polonnaruwa is a gargantuan water tank which was also used for defense of the city. It is called the Parakrama Samudra and was built in the mid-12th century by King Parakramabahu I. There is a massive statue of him at one end of his tank, a masterpiece of restraint and dignity. This enlightened-for-his-time ruler was also responsible for the library-monastery of Potgul Vihara 200 meters to the south of the tank.

At the center of the old city stands the great citadel, inside which is all that remains of Parakramabahu’s once proverbially splendid palace. It’s almost a complete ruin nowadays but you can still trace the outlines of the labyrinth of interconnecting rooms that once comprised it. 

The king made his decisions in the Great Hall with the help of a multi-racial council of four Jews, four Christians, four Muslims and four Sinhalese. When you consider that in Europe at that time kings and robber barons alike were interested only in grabbing land and smashing each others’ heads in, you begin to appreciate the tolerance of a king like Parakramabahu.

The most important remains of the old city though are spread out to the north of the citadel, many of the best preserved of these being grouped around the so-called Great Quadrangle. The most attractive and moving of the ruins is the Round Relic House, a pyramid of four platforms that converge at the top, and whose four staircases at the cardinal points lead up to four seated Buddha figures which gaze serenely across the landscape. The staircases themselves are beautifully ornamented with moonstones, mythical monsters, flowers, dwarfs, lions and numerous other stone motifs.

The most striking monument in Polonnaruwa is the Rock Monastery, or Gal Vihara, formerly part of an extensive religious complex built by – you guessed it – King Parakramabahu I in Sri Lanka’s golden age. The four gigantic Buddha figures you see here were carved out of the streaked granite rock of a horizontal escarpment and depict the Buddha positioned in his sitting, standing and lying poses. 

On the head of the recumbent statue stands a 7m high male figure with his arms crossed and a sulky look on his face, traditionally thought to be a statue of the Buddha’s disciple Ananda, mourning the death of his master, rather than that of a bored acolyte.

When visiting Sri Lanka the rich and ancient multi-cultural heritage is literally lying all around you, a glorious cultural complement to the natural beauties of this stunning jewel of a nation.   

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