Visiting Ancient City Pollonaruwa – Sri Lanka
Did you know that the music band Duran Duran filmed the music video of Save a Prayer in Sri Lanka in the 80s? In the video there are a lot of scenes from Pollonaruwa. The second oldest kingdom of Sri Lanka is today one of the most important cultural heritages of the country and has been declared to UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Pollonaruwa
This city witnessed some glorious times of the Chola and Sinhalese Kingdoms after the capital was moved from Anuradhapura to Pollonaruwa in the 10th century. In the 13th century the capital city Polonnaruwa was abandoned.
What to see in Pollonaruwa?
Pollonaruwa is 1000 years younger than Anuradhapura and the remains are better preserved. Its size is smaller than Anuradhapura and the monuments are arranged closer to each other which makes this ancient city easier to explore and therefore more favoured by tourists.
The Palace of King Parakramabahu was a seven floors building with thick brick walls. Supposedly 1000 rooms hosted the royal family back then. Today you will see the ruins of the first three floors which are made of brick indeed. The rest of the floors were made of wood which is the obvious reason why nothing is left to today.
This is the place where the ordinary people could talk with the king. King Parakramabahu’s audience hall (Council Chamber) is famous for its elephant friezes, lion and dwarf sculptures on the stairs. The pillars are also decorated with some fine designs.
Taking a relaxing bath is obviously practiced by all kingdoms at all ages. One of the best preserved ones is here in Pollonaruwa.
In my opinion, this is the most impressive part of Pollonaruwa. Just stand in the middle of the Sacred Quadrangle and turn around 360˚.
Right in the middle you’ll see the very well preserved Vatadage. This circular building has been built around a small stupa in two levels. The small dagoba in the middle is surrounded with four Buddha statues. The so called moon stone in the entrance and the guard stones are really some of the best examples of its kind.
Hatadage, directly at the opposite side of the Vatadage, is a relic shrine where the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha was kept during the time Pollonaruwa was the capital of the kingdom. Take a deeper look at the symmetry from the entrance to the last chamber, where three granite Buddha statues are located.
The uniquely carved columns were once the supporting columns of the building called Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, where the King Nissanka Malla came to listen to chanting of Buddhist scriptures.
Rankoth Vehara Dagoba
This dagoba with its 54 meters is the fourth highest in Sri Lanka. It was built by King Nissanka Malla in 12th century and today it is still in a very good condition.
Buddha Figures at Gal Vihara
There are four Buddha figures in Gal Vihara, also known as Uttararama. There are three huge Buddha statues carved into stones; one sitting, one standing (7 m tall) and one sleeping (14 m long). There is also one small sitting Buddha figure inside an artificial cavern.
Buddha statue at Lankatilaka
I don’t know how but I missed this 17 metres high standing (headless) Buddha statue in Lankatilaka. Even though it is very near to Gal Vihara. After leaving Gal Vihara, I even asked our Tuk Tuk driver that there is supposed to be another tall Buddha statue, but he convinced me that there wasn’t anything else to see. Once I realised that he indeed fooled me, I was angry, really angry… but it was too late.
Good to know before you visit Pollonaruwa
Is it manageable as day trip?
Yes, definitely. The whole ancient city can be visited in 4-5 hours. I recommend to choose a base from where you can arrange your day trips to Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. My base for these day trips was in Dambulla which has a really good bus network.
How long does it take to visit Pollonaruwa?
The drive from Dambulla to Pollonaruwa takes 2 hours. Visiting the ancient city is manageable in 4-5 hours. And the drive back to Dambulla again 2 hours. So if you leave around 8am in the morning probably you’ll be back at 5pm. Perfect time to cool down with a drink and dinner.
Where to stay near to Pollonaruwa?
I stayed in Dambulla which fits perfectly as base to visit the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. I stayed at Sevonrich Holiday Resort. The owner is super friendly and helps with organising the day trips.
How to get to Pollonaruwa?
Either by bus (1 hour) or tuk tuk (2 hours). The advantage of a tuk tuk ride is that you can stop when you see wild elephants on the side of the road when passing by Minneriya National Park, which obviously happens frequently. It takes about 2hrs from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa and 2hrs back.
We drove in the ancient city of Polonaruwa also with the same tuk tuk driver and paid for everything 3500 LKR. If you go to Polonnaruwa by bus and hire a tuk tuk driver there, it will cost you about 2000 LKR.
Entry fee & Opening hours
Expensive! Just like other ancient cities in Sri Lanka. The entrance fee costs 3500 LKR (25US$) per person. The opening hours: 7am-5.30pm.
- Take your hat and shoes off when entering the temples. You won’t be allowed to carry your shoes in your hands, so you’ll leave them outside the temple. The floors are really HOT. So, don’t forget to bring socks!
- Wear white light cloths
- Don’t turn your back to Buddha statues. Which means no selfies in front of Buddha statues.
- When you walk around keep the sacred building or Buddha statues on your right side.
Don’t forget to bring!
- Plenty of water
- Sunglasses & hat
- Steady shoes but Birkenstock will also do
- A good light mirrorless camera and/or GoPro
Pollonaruwa vs. Anuradhapura
If you don’t have enough time or short of budget I recommend to visit only one of the ancient cities. And when it comes to the decision which one, I clearly recommend to visit Pollonaruwa, because:
- The remains of the ancient city of Pollonaruwa are way better preserved
- The area is smaller and the monuments are arranged closer to each other, which makes visiting the city easier
Read next: Visiting Anuradhapura
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