The ancient city of Polonnaruwa became the second capital of what we now know as Sri Lanka after the Cholas had plundered the former capital of Anuradhapura and took hold in Polonnaruwa. Turbulent times followed until King Parakramabahu conquered the city, as well as the rest of the island.
He ordered many buildings to be constructed in his new capital and when you're visiting the archeological site now, you can still witness palace buildings, dagobas, temples, and other historical architecture.
Visiting the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
The first monument we stopped by was the palace of King Parakramabahu. Did you try to pronounce his name? I sure know I did. Scientists have calculated that the palace used to be seven stories high.
From there we drove a little further into Polonnaruwa city to an area with several ancient ruins. The first one that got my attention was the Vatadage, a circular relic house built to protect a small stupa that's placed in the middle of it.
The Buddhas at the top of each staircase, sitting at the four entrances to the building, are quite impressive.
The Sathmahal Prasada and the Stone Book
Another beautiful building is the Sathmahal Prasada. Some scientists believe it's a stupa, but that hasn't been widely accepted yet.
To the left of the Sathmahal Prasada you can find the Gal Potha or Stone Book. It's a 26.1 feet or 8.2 meters long stone slab on which details of the life and rule of King Nissankamalla have been engraved.
The Rock Temple and Rankoth Vihera
For the final part of our trip to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, we visited the Gal Viharaya or Rock Temple. Here you can find four Buddha statues carved out of a granite rock. Two are sitting, one is standing and the last one, the largest one, lies down.
Lastly, we crossed the street towards Rankoth Vihera, or the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa. It's part of a monastery complex.
Curious to see more of what it's like to walk around Polonnaruwa? Then check out the video I made, here on on YouTube.
Practical information to visit Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is a Unesco World Heritage Site, but it's also a pretty busy site. While some parts of Polonnaruwa were much more crowded than others during our visit, it was often hard to get a photo of something without people in it. When we left the sun was just setting and it was still pretty crowded, so I suggest trying to go in the early morning.
If you want to enter the monuments, which you can, you'll need to take off your shoes.
Women should cover their legs and shoulders. A t-shirt or blouse with long sleeves will do, as well as a long skirt or loose trousers. No skinny jeans and tank tops.
Men and women alike are best to avoid wearing black. The lighter your outfit, the better. White is ideal, but yes, your clothes will get dirty.
There are several ways to get around the city. You can choose to walk between the monuments, hire a tuktuk to take you from one sight to the other or rent a bike. If you decide to rent a bike or hire a tuktuk driver, be aware that they might try to rip you off. I haven't witnessed anything like this, probably as I was on an organized press trip, but I heard from someone else that they did experience some hassle to get into Polonnaruwa. It might be worth while to read his story.
Where to stay near Polonnaruwa
I visited Polonnaruwa on a blog trip with Cinnamon Hotels and stayed at the Habarana Village the nights before and after my visit.
How to get to Polonnaruwa
When coming from abroad, you'll fly into Colombo International airport where you can rent a car to get to Polonnaruwa. You can also book a tour to come pick you up at your hotel (in Colombo or elsewhere) and take you there.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered on every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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