Polonnaruwa is crowded with ruins of medieval structures. Nevertheless it’s quite easy to find one’s way through this archaeological site, becaue most of the attractions are aligned along a south-north axis, when entering the fenced park through the main gate. There is a historical reason for this groundplan: The monastery was to the north of the royal palace. That’s the reason why the ceremonial center for the national palladium, the Sacred Tooth relic, which was under the protection of the king but required religious supervision by the Buddhist order, is situated just halfway between palace and monastery.
Must-Sees in Polonnaruwa
For hasty tourists with only a very few hours time for their visit, the must-sees of Polonnaruwa correspond roughly to the three places just mentioned: The citadel just behind the entrance gate, to the right hand side, includes the ruins of the multi-storeyed building of the palace of Parkramabahu I, who was by far the most important ruler of the Polonnaruwa period.
The Sacred Tooth of Buddha was kept in the area now called Quadrangle in English, because it is an elevated platform with a rectangular groundplan. It’s an ensemble of several remarkable temples, the landmark circular temple called Vatadage being only one of them.
Further north is the second landmark of Polonnaruwa. It’s the group of rock-cut Buddhas called Gal Vihara. The Gal Vihara is only a few hundred meters north of Polonnaruwa’s medieval monastic centre, the Alahena Pirivena. Though the Alahana Pirivena is the most picturesque group of ruins in Polonnaruwa, the Gal Vihara group of giant Buddha statues is even more worth-seeing for those who have not enough time left to see more than three sites.
Further major attractions of Polonnaruwa
As mentioned, it’s highly recommendable to walk around the large area of the former main monastery of the medieval capital. Apart from a medium-sized stupa called Kiri Vehera, the Alahane Pirivena has two major attractions, namely the largest image house of ancient Sri Lanka. It’s called Lankatilaka. The venerated Buddha statue is still in situ, but it’s without head.
The monastic assembly hall is now known as Baddhasima Prasada, it’s the highest point of the entire ancient site. From here you have also a perfect view to Polonnaruwa’s largest surviving stupa, the Rankot Vehera, which of course is another major attraction.
Further north are two more major attractions of Polonnaruwa (see here...), namely the charming small bath known as Nelum Pokuna, which translates to lotus pond, and the large image house called Tivanka, which harbours a Buddha statue in the uncommon Tribhanga posture and has the best-preserved murals from Sri Lanka’s medieval period.
Outside the fenced area of the archaeological park are two more major attactions, viz. the palace of Nissanka Malla at the shores of the huge ancient reservoir known as Topa Wewa and, further south, the Potgul Vihara complex.
Situated in the Pothgul Vihara area is the rock-carved statue of a saint or king. It’s often called Parakramabahu statue, though it’s more likely that it depicts the sage Pulatthi, the patron of Polonnaruwa, which in the sacred Pali language was named after this sage: Pulatthinagara.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,