Set beside a shimmering artificial lake, Polonnaruwa is the most compelling of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. From the 11th to 13th centuries, a succession of ambitious kings developed an immense city here. Its triple-layered, concentric walls enclose the remains of once fabulous gardens, palaces, temples and monasteries – an astonishing urban creation to which the famous ‘Tooth Relic’ was brought.

The site is best seen at sunrise when, tinged with soft amber light, its ruins are patrolled by troops of monkeys. Five distinct clusters of monuments demand attention here, but the Royal Citadel, Quadrangle and northern groups suffice for most visits. The ethereal statues, finely sculpted architectural detail, ancient frescoes and murals, colossal Buddha images and immense stupas lend to the site a magical atmosphere.


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