As the capital of the island between the 11th and 13th centuries, the great ruined city of Polonnaruwa represents medieval Sri Lanka at its finest. It took over from Anuradhapura as the capital after the sacred city's destruction and subsequent abandonment though Polonnaruwa is contained within a far more compact area than Anuradhapura beside the shallow reservoir of Parakrama Samudra.
The extensive remains in Polonnaruwa are brilliantly preserved and would have once been enclosed within three concentric walls, of which very little remains standing. The royal palace complex sits in the central Citadel where the city walls have been heavily restored to encompass the imposing base of the Council Chamber and the Royal Baths surrounded by encroaching vegetation.
North of the Citadel is Alahana Pirivena, the Monastery of the Cremation Grounds, which contains some of the city's finest ruins, chief among them the evocative Lankatilaka temple. The towering brick walls of Lankatilaka stand at 17 metres tall, though would have once reached five storeys, and channel attention to the 18 metre high standing statue of Buddha.
Further north lie the group of beautiful Buddha rock carvings of Gal Vihara or 'Stone Shrine'. Chiselled from a single granite outcrop the Buddha images represent the pinnacle of Sinhalese rock carving with four Buddhas in various postures - a graceful 14m-long reclining Buddha, the artistically unusual 7m-tall standing Buddha, and two serene seated Buddhas positioned against a backdrop of splendid artwork.