Polonnaruwa lies 216 km northeast of Colombo, 140kms northeast of Kandy and 104kms southeast of Anuradhapura. Sri Lanka’s medieval capital (11th – 12th Century AD) is a well-preserved city of ancient dagobas, moonstones, beautiful parks, massive buildings and stunningly beautiful statues. The majestic King’s Council Chamber, the Lotus Bath, the Lanka Thilaka Viharaya, the Gal Viharaya (rock temple) and the statue of one of Polonnaruwa’s great kings, Parakramabahu, are a few of this capital’s memorable sights. The Sea of Parakrama – a vast 12th century man-made reservoir dominates the city. Although it is nearly 1000 years old, it is much younger than Anuradhapura, and in much better repair. Moreover, the monuments here are located in a more compact area, and their development is easier to follow.
South Indian Chola invaders were the first to make Polonnaruwa their stronghold after ransacking Anuradhapura in 993 AD. King Vijayabahu I recaptured the throne for the Singhalese in 1073 and became the first to rule from the new capital Polonnaruwa, in a succession spanning 153 years. Vijayabahu did much to develop religion and irrigation, but it was Parakramabahu I reigning from 1153-86 who raised Polonnaruwa to its glorious heights in a grand renaissance of art and architecture, which produced the most beautiful statues and carvings in the country. Parakramabahu built huge structures and laid out beautiful parks and gardens. His monumental feats include the construction of the Parakrama Samudra, a vast reservoir covering 6000 acres next to the city. Nissanka Malla, who contributed many ornate buildings to the city, succeeded him. After about a century of efforts to hold back invaders, Polonnaruwa was finally abandoned to the jungles during the 13th Century.