Polonnaruwa was the medieval capital of Sri Lanka, a city which reached the pinnacle of its glory in the 12th century, but still retains a sort of faded splendour. The city might now be in ruins, but Polonnaruwa is super-atmospheric and ideal for a day’s wandering.
The ancient royal capital is famous for its reclining Buddha statue, but it is littered with site after site… dilapidated former palaces, ancient reservoirs, the old walls of the city… it is a lot to take in and it is worth, before you commence your exploration, stopping off at the Museum so you have a sense of what it is that you’re looking at.
“Sleepy dogs and monkeys and cows dot the complex, and in-between Buddhist structures and stupas you’ll find lotus ponds and that giant reclining statue of a Buddha”.
We wandered the ruins of palaces, temples and amongst enormous statues and idols of Buddha cut into rock. Polonnaruwa was the capital from the 10th to the 13th century, until the Sinhalese kings abandoned it in favour of Yapahuwa, and as we walked freely through two centuries of ruins we imagined what the city might’ve once been like.
We recommend getting bicycles just for the day so you can ride from site to site because as with the rest of the country, we were most taken by the incredible old trees, their massive trunks ideal to rest against or hunker down next to for a break between sites. Make sure you hydrate. Cover your arms and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off because some of the sacred sites ask for it. The grounds are all incredibly cool, well-tended and clearly revered by the locals. Sleepy dogs and monkeys and cows dot the complex, and in-between Buddhist structures and stupas you’ll find lotus ponds and that giant reclining statue of a Buddha.