Polonnaruwa, nestled in the Polonnaruwa District of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, comprises two distinct areas: Kaduruwela, the modern town, and the ancient royal city of Polonnaru Kingdom. Recognized as the second oldest of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, Polonnaruwa rose to prominence when King Vijayabahu I declared it the capital in 1070 after defeating Chola invaders, reuniting the country under local leadership. Today, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa holds UNESCO World Heritage status.

While King Vijayabahu I’s victory was pivotal, the true luminary of Polonnaruwa’s history is Parakramabahu I. His reign, deemed the Golden Age, witnessed unprecedented prosperity fueled by his visionary leadership. Parakramabahu’s commitment to maximizing every drop of water for the land’s development led to the construction of advanced irrigation systems, notably the Parakrama Samudraya, an expansive reservoir encircling the city, serving both as a defensive moat and a lifeline for agriculture.

Under Parakramabahu’s rule, Polonnaruwa achieved self-sufficiency, with thriving trade and agriculture bolstering the kingdom’s prosperity. However, subsequent monarchs proved less resolute, embroiling the kingdom in internal conflicts and forging alliances with stronger South Indian kingdoms. These alliances ultimately weakened Polonnaruwa, paving the way for invasions and the eventual transfer of power to a Pandyan King in 1284, leading to the relocation of the capital to Dambadeniya.

Despite its turbulent history, Polonnaruwa stands as a testament to the brilliance of its early rulers. Its meticulously planned layout and archaeological relics showcase the kingdom’s discipline and grandeur. Notably, Polonnaruwa’s allure even captured the attention of filmmakers, serving as a backdrop for scenes in Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” music video in 1982.

Today, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa continues to captivate visitors, offering a glimpse into its storied past and architectural splendor. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site underscores its cultural and historical significance, ensuring its legacy endures for generations to come.