Polonnaruwa: Sri Lanka’s Ancient City

For such a small country Sri Lanka has a wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. After all, it’s a country just bursting with culture and natural beauty. There are 8 in total and I was lucky enough to visit 5 of them in just a short week-long period, including the gorgeous colonial Old Town of Galle and the sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

Flower Offerings at the Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka - Exploring Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka
Flower offerings at the Temple of the Tooth

If you’ve got a thing for ancient ruins, Sri Lanka’s got you covered there also. There are three ancient cities peeking out of the Sri Lankan highlands. There is Anuradhapura, an ancient city hidden in the jungle, Sigiriya, with it’s immense rock fortress and insane killer hornets (I climbed it, I was terrified). Then there is Polonnaruwa, which isn’t as flashy as the other two, but is fascinating all the same.

Statue at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa, in addition to being a huge mouthful of a name, was the base of  the second Kingdom of Sri Lanka after the city of Anuradhapura. It was the capital of the country from 993 until 1284, and during that 300 year period many palaces, temples and gardens were built.

The ancient city today exists in a varying state of preservation, ranging from near perfect stupas and buddhas to disintegrating blocks of buildings. The complex is sprawling but is easily explore on foot, by car, tuk tuk or even bicycle (We opted for the latter and it was very enjoyable to cruise along the flat roads with stupas all around).

The most exciting part of visiting Polonnaruwa and the other historical sites in Sri Lanka is the way past blends with present to create an unbreakable line. While politics have changed, religion has stayed the same for many Sri Lankans and worshippers still leave offerings  of flowers and light candles for the lovingly maintained buddhas throughout the site. It’s not just a place of history, but of pilgrimage.

Here were some of the highlights:

Brick Remains of the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

Remains of a Temple at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Refrain From Feeding Animal Sign at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

A Monkey at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

Decorative Pavement with Elephants at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

The Temple Complex at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

A Buddha Statue at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

A Stupa at the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

A Statue of Buddha Missing His Arm at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

Path Along the Water at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

A Buddha Carved into the Wall at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Flower Offerings at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

Statue of Buddha Lying Down at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Flags Hung Between Trees at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Oil Lamps at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

The Sun Setting Behind a Stupa at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

The Details:

Polonnaruwa is in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, 134 miles from Colombo and near the town of Habarana. You can visit via private driver, or bus (which will take 6-8 hours from Colombo, so plan on making it a multi-day excursion). We stayed nearby at the  Cinnamon Chaaya Village Habarana.

If you stay in the area it’s easy to visit nearby Sigiriya as well (I actually did both in one day but could easily have spent longer at both sites). Apply sunscreen, drink lots of water and wear appropriate clothing (skirts or pants that reach below the knee). Be prepared to remove your shoes to enter all holy areas.

Full Disclosure: I traveled to Sri Lanka courtesy of Cinnamon Hotels and Sri Lanka Airlines.


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Polonnaruwa - Sri Lanka's Ancient City

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