Sieged and raided by the invading South Indian troops, Anuradhapura was abandoned in favor of Polonnaruwa in the 11th century and it became Sri Lanka’s new capital city. First chosen as the capital by the invading Chola Army of South India, Polonnaruwa attained its golden ager two centuries later, when the Sinhalese Troops pushed out the Chola and decided to keep Polonnaruwa as their capital because it had a more strategic location to Anuradhapura.

The ruins of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom lay about two hours South of Anuradhapura and about 175km from Colombo, the capital of modern Sri Lanka. They can be found on the East shore of the Topa Wewa Lake, or Parakrama Samudraya (the Sea of Parakrama), an artificial lake built by King Parakramabahu I that acted as a mote and as a reservoir for the city. An elaborate network of canals supplied water from the lake to the city.


The city’s golden age lasted only briefly as it was attacked by the South Indian Army and mostly destroyed, but the nature of its constructions and models of the buildings can be seen at the Visitor Center Museum at the entrance to the ruins, where tickets can be obtained.

Most of what is left are the many ruins of the dagobas, temples, buildings and walls built during the eleventh and twelfth century. Polonnaruwa was at the center of a Disney Documentary called Monkey Kingdom released in April 2015 where macaque monkeys inhabiting the many ruins are followed around and given life. The documentary also served to educate on the city’s historical value

View of the old ruins

Monkey Kingdom focuses on promoting the safeguard of the macaque monkeys and it was released on occasion of Earth Day. Famous Tina Fey narrates the story and Disney made a donation to Conservation Foundation for every person watching the movie. As a visitor to Sri Lanka the macaque monkeys that roam freely and very closely to visitors in all the sites along the Golden Triangle became a nuisance and danger to be avoided. At one point, in Anuradhapura, one of them came after me showing his teeth purely because I was walking in his way. Needless to say, I stayed away from them for the rest of the trip. This movie is a refreshingly heartwarming insight into the life of these incredibly smart creatures that will steal your lunch if you don’t watch out.

Some of the interesting sites in Polonnaruwa are the Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu, a seven story high building once, the remnants show extremely thick walls. To one of the sides of the Royal Palace there is a royal swimming pool down a few flights of stairs. The area is lovely and there is even a drinks stall selling refreshing liquid to the thirsty and hot visitors.

Polonnaruwa has a few well preserved Hindu and Buddhist smaller temples and shrines that can be seen in one piece. There are pavilions, relic houses, stupas and dagobas of all shapes and sizes but there are also ruined palaces, courtyards, pleasure gardens and intricate networks of bathing tanks.

Reclining Buddha statue

Reclining Buddha statue

One of the most impressive parts of Polonnaruwa, which extended over three by five kilometers, is the Gal Viharaya or Rock Temple. A group of four giant Buddha statues carved out of a single granite boulder, the largest of which towers 7m high. It is believed that they were part of a Buddhist Monastery.

Another noteworthy element is the Gal Potha or Stone book which is an 8m long stone slab carved with the deeds of King Nissankamalla.

Polonnaruwa went into decline with the death of King Nissankamalla. The constant invasions from the South Indian Chola Empire and Malay barbarians destroyed the order in the country and plunged it into the Dark Ages. With the capital shifting to in the thirteen century, Polonaruwa was hidden behind the thick jungle growth. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the city was completely lost to nature only to be discovered a century later.

  • Agness

    Wow, it’s a very historical, yet mysterious, place to explore. Reminds me of Angkor Wat at some point :-).

  • That Buddha is insane! Thanks for sharing someplace very new to me 🙂

  • What an interesting place, i haven’t heard of it before! It doesn’t look overrun with tourists either, which is pretty nice! 🙂

  • Chandi

    Mar, I love it that you are so into history. (I’m a college history instructor.) I would love to have tea with you if I’m in Singapore. I was just living sort of on that side of the world, in Qatar for the past 3 years but now I’m in California.

    • Mar

      Ah great! I am in California this week for work but heading back next week already, Please do let me know if you are around Singapore at any point!

  • This sounds like a fascinating place! I have grown to dislike Macaques that seem to frequent such temples. They sure can be evil, can’t they?!

    • They can seem a little aggressive, but thankfully didn’t cause lasting harm to us this time. It was still fascinating though!

  • Gemma

    I love Tina Fey! Will need to check that out. Looks like a tranquil spot considering its past.

  • Your photos are absolutely amazing! I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but your post makes me want to go there. I love anything where there are monkeys!

    • Thank you very much, I’m glad they managed to capture the beauty of the country! If monkeys are what you like, you would love it there 🙂

  • Isabela Mariano

    Oh, wow. That’s a big Buddha statue. By the way, nice outfit! 🙂

    • It was huge, I can’t imagine how they managed to create something that big and wonderful. Thank you! I loved the flower in my hair. 😉

  • DeafWanderlust

    Can’t wait to see Sri Lanka, and this seems really magnificent place to visit!

  • A vacation to Sri Lanka is on mind and your blog hosts rich info about this beautiful country! Can’t wait to get down into planning with so much info 🙂

  • How interesting! Eventually I will be able to get over to Sri Lanka. This place is absolutely gorgeous!

  • Beautiful! I haven’t considered Sri Lanka as a destination before and I never knew they had this much cultural heritage. The ruins look well preserved and the Buddha must have been a magnificent sight to behold. Now I have more reasons to research about Sri Lanka!
    Would it be easy to navigate around the country as a solo female traveler?

  • That Buddha carving is amazing! In fact, the ruins look like a great place to explore. Fantastic that they’ve been preserved so well.

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