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After Anuradhapura (the capital of the Buddhist Kingdom) had been conquered by the Chola’s from southern India in 1017, the capital was shifted to Polonnaruwa, because it was assumed to be better defendable. The first king of Polonnaruwa was Vijayabahu I. It took him more than 30 years to conquer the Chola’s and became the first king of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom in 1055; however, the kingdom would only last 160 years, but its splendor, beauty and wealth would reach the same height as Anuradhapura.

The differences between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Visitors who have also visited Anuradhpura will notice that Polonnaruwa is different. In the first place it is compact and more convenient to survey. Secondly the remains of the buildings and other sites are different in architecture. Because several kings have Indian roots, Hindu influences are more obvious, it’s more of a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist architecture. Thirdly there is more left of what were once imposing buildings, so that it is better to get an idea of the particular buildings. Fourthly, there are not as many dagobas as in Anuradhapura. Most probably because of the short period that Polonnaruwa was the capital, however there is a wide variety of interesting remains to be seen. Similar to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa has a Sacred Ancient City and a New Town, separated from each other.

King Parakramabahu I (the Great)

Irrigation technology, which made the kingdom under the rule of the kings in Anuradhapura so prosperous, continued to be a core element under the rule of its successors in Polonnaruwa. New technologies pushed up the achievements under the famous King Parakramabahu the Great to remarkable achievements. Indeed, when you have constructed 3910 canals, 163 major tanks (artificial lakes), 2376 minor tanks and 165 dams, you may be called ‘the Great’. The biggest achievement this famous king had ever reached was the undoubtedly the construction of the biggest tank ever being built in Sri Lanka, the gigantic ParakramaSamudra or Sea of Parakrama, joining three big reservoirs near Polonnaruwa, the biggest achievement in Sri Lankan History.  Every Sri Lankan child learnsabout the famous quote of this king, that “Not even a drop of rainwater should flow into the ocean without being of service to man”. The irrigation system brought an area of 5940 acres of dry land into cultivation and gave great prosperity to the people of Polonnaruwa. King Parakramabahu is a difficult name for foreigners, but a name to be remembered. He not only excelled in irrigation works, but was also a master in city planning. This era is considered as the Golden Age in the history of Sri Lanka and atthat time the country was called the ‘Granary of the East’. Like Anuradhapura, the city was full of parks, pools, ponds, hospitals, palaces, temples, Buddhist shrines and other buildings; it was a festival of grandeur. Much has disappeared in due of time by the elements of nature or was destroyed by invading troops. Still there are very interesting and splendid remains left.So, morevisible parts of buildings, as well as objects of craftsmanship can be seen in the Ancient City, despite the short period of existence as a capital city. King Parakramabahu I (1153 to 1186 A.D.) is widely regarded as the greatest Sinhala king of all time.

King Nissankamalla


He may have been one of the few or even the only king who had taken special care for the blind, sick and crippled citizens by providing special facilities. Moreover he was the king who inscribed his achievements and proclamations in the rocks on a scale never showed by any king in Sri Lanka.Nissankamalla was the last great king of the Polonnaruwa kingdom. His successors were all weak rulers and the decline of the Polonnaruwa kingdom began. The unity had disappeared and the power of the Sinhalese moved to the south; Dambadeniya became the new capital and the Sacred Relic of the Tooth was brought to the new capital.Polonnaruwa kept covered by jungle for 900 until 1903 when archeologists have started with the restoration of ancient Polonnaruwa, an operation which is still going on.