Polonnaruwa, located in the North Central province, was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th century A.D. Along with Anuradhapura and Kandy, this ancient city forms one of the points of the “cultural triangle” of Sri Lanka, and contains a wealth of remarkable sites and monuments.
Once the favorite country retreat of the royalty of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa was a key settlement even before the medieval period, largely due to its strategic location near the river crossings of the Mahaweli river. It was King Vijayabahu I who first established Polonnaruwa as the capital of his kingdom in 1055. The peaceful reign of this farsighted king was followed by four bloody decades of strife between his heirs. Yet the accession of the great ruler Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) heralded a glorious new era in which the architectural traditions of the country reached a dazzling zenith. Among the public works commissioned by him are the Alahana Pirivena, the Jetavana Vihara, the Lankathilaka and the Galvihare.
Potgul Vehera monastery
Located outside the Royal Garden, this monastery is also known as the ‘Library Monastery’ because it is believed that the circular building in the center of the site was used to house sacred books. Also of interest is the sculptured figure carved into the face of the rock at the northern end of the site. This figure has been popularly interpreted as King Parakramabahu I.
The citadel and palace complex
The palace complex of King Parakramabahu is a fascinatingly rich site, with its assembly hall, stone bathing pool and royal gardens. The chronicles describe a palace consisting of seven storeys (floors) and richly decorated windows, but unfortunately the wooden superstructure of the upper floors have long since decayed. Only the fragments of a stone staircase remain to indicate the grandeur of the abode of one of Sri Lanka’s greatest monarchs. The audience hall of the king, flanked by two stone lion figures and decorated with beautiful relief sculptures, is situated a little to the west.
This circular shrine is famed for its exceptional sculptures and relief decorations. A porch gives way to a raised circular terrace, from which ascend four flights of steps flanked by moonstones, leading to four entrance doors (now in ruins). Inside, four tranquil Buddha statues guard the shrine room and Dagaba.