After the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 by Rajaraja, Polonnaruwa, formerly a temporary royal residence, became a capital.
The conquering Cholas constructed monuments to their religion - Brahmanism - and especially temples to Shiva, where admirable bronze statues were found (they are now in the museum at Colombo). The reconquest of Ceylon by Vijayabahu I (11th century) did not put an end to the city's role as capital, but it became covered with Buddhist sanctuaries, of which the Atadage (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the most renowned.
The apogee of Polonnaruwa occured in the 12th century AD. Two sovereigns, then proceeded to endow it with monuments. Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) created within a triple-walled enceinte a fabulous garden-city, where palaces and sanctuaries prologned the enchantment of the countryside.
Nissamkamalla (1187-1196) constructed monuments which, though less refined than those of Parakramabahu I, were nonetheless splendid. After this golden age, Polonnaruwa underwent a century of difficulties, before its definitive decline. The city which was invaded by the Tamils and the Maghas, then reconquered in a precarious manner, was only periodically the capital before the end of the 13th century when it was captured in an assault by Bhuvanaikabuha II, who set up his government at Kurunegala.
The immense capital created by the megalomanic sovereign, Parakhambahu I, in the 12th century, is one of history's most astonishing urban creations, both because of its unusual dimensions and because of the very special relationship of its buildings with the natural setting.

What to See
Royal Palace, built by Parakramabahu I and originally a massive wood and stone structure seven storeys in height, with a floor plan of 31m by 13m (100ft by 43ft).The upper floors were of wood, and only the massive, 3m (10ft) thick lower walls survive. Immediately to the east of the Palace stands the Audience Hall, used by the kings of Polonnaruwa to hear petitions from the nobles of the kingdom and to meet emissaries from foreign rulers. Superb stone lions seated at the top of the steps leading into the hall were symbols of royal power, as were the elephants which form a frieze around the lower part of the outer wall.Next to the Audience Hall is the Kumara Pokuna (Royal Bathing Pool) which was fed with water from the streamwhich runs through the palace grounds.
Lankatilaka, a huge temple built during the reign of Parakramabahu, the 17m (56ft) high walls still stand, but the roof is gone, as is the head of the colossal Buddha image that stands within. The walls are carved with friezes of Polonnaruwa in its golden age.

Gal Vihara, also known as the Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge, this is one of the most important Buddhist shrines. It takes the form of three colossal Buddha images carved out of a granite cliff. Most prominent is the standing image, 7m (23ft) tall, which was at one time thought to represent Ananda, the Buddha's first disciple, but is now regarded as being a Buddha image like the others. Next to it is an enormous 14m (46ft) reclining Buddha. Two smaller, less skillfully carved Buddha images occupy niches in the rock nearby

Tivanka Pilimage, where wall paintings of the 13th century illustrate the Jataka (narratives of the previous lives of the Buddha)

Parakramabahu Samudra (the Sea of Parakramabahu), massive artifical lake that lies to the west of the city

Quadrangle, within its own rectangle of walls, guarding the richest collection of ancient buildings in any of Sri Lanka's ruined capitals. In the southeast corner of the Quadrangle stands the Vatadage (reliquary), a circular building some 18m (59ft) in diameter, with four entrances leading to a central dagoba (shrine) which houses four seated Buddha images.Clockwise around this building, from the southwest corner of the Quadrangle, is the Thuparama, a fine example of the gedige style of temple architecture which flourished at Polonnaruwa, and the only one to survive with its roof still in place.West of the Vatadage is the Latha Mandapaya, a miniature dagoba encircled by stone columns topped with carved lotus buds, and surrounded by a carved stone trellis. Beyond this is the Atadage, the ruin of a tooth relic shrine built during the reign of Vijayabahu 1. Next to it is a cluster of small Hindu shrines.Immediately north of the Vatadage is the Hatadage, another tooth reliquary building which was constructed in the reign of Nissanka Malla, and to the east of this stands the Gal Pota, or Stone Book, a 9m (29ft) stone carving of one of the palm leaf books used to record Buddhist texts and royal genealogies. The inscriptions on it boast of the achievements of King Nissanka Malla, a man who seems to have been acutely aware of the long shadow cast by his great father, whose achievements he constantly sought to equal and outdo.
Finally, in the northeast corner of the Quadrangle, stands the Satmahal Prasada, a six-storey, pagoda-like building which is unlike anything else in Sri Lanka, and has left archaeologists stymied as to its origin.

The late 12th century saw the construction of the Rankot Vihara, an enormous stupa measuring 175 meters in diameter and 55 meters in height. Its plan and dimensions are reminiscent of the dagobas of Anuradhapura.