Royal Palace Group

At the heart of the ancient city lie the buildings of the Royal Palace Group, created by Parakramabahu and used by subsequent kings of Polonnaruwa until the snobbish Nissankamalla established a new palace further to the south. The entire area is surrounded by a (heavily restored) circuit of walls. At the centre of the complex lie the remains of Parakramabahu's Royal Palace.

According to the Chulavamsa (one of the great Chronicles of Sri Lankan history), the Parakramabahu Royal palace originally stood seven stories tall and boasted a thousand rooms, although this was probably an exaggeration (an interesting model in the museum shows a speculative impression of how this seven-storey palace might have looked). The remains of three brick stories have survived (any further levels would have been built of wood and have long since disappeared), although they don’t give much idea of how the building would originally have appeared – the ruin now looks more like a Norman castle than a Sinhalese royal palace. The holes in the walls were for floor beams, while the vertical grooves up to the first floor would have held stone reinforcements. The entire structure stands on a raised plinth and was originally enclosed in a rectangle of modest one-storey buildings which housed palace staff and officials; parts of these buildings’ walls and foundations can still be seen, some of them rather fussily restored using modern bricks.

Just east of the Royal Palace stand the remains of Parakramabahu’s Council Chamber, where the king would have granted audiences to his ministers and officials. The wooden roof has vanished, but the imposing base survives, banded with friezes of dwarfs, lions and galumphing elephants which seem to be chasing one another. The sumptuous steps are embellished with makara balustrades and a pair of fine moonstones, and topped with two of the rather Chinese-looking lions which came to be associated with Sinhalese royalty during the Sri Lankan middle ages; there are other fine examples at Nissankamalla”s Audience Chamber and at the palace at Yapahuwa — the latter is shown on the nation’s ten-rupee note. The platform supports four rows of columns, finely carved with floral decorative patterns.

Just northeast of here are the Royal Baths (Kumara Pokuna), designed in an unusual geometric shape (a square superimposed on a cross) and fed by two spouts carved with eroded makaras. Next to here stands the impressive two-tiered base of what was presumably some kind of royal bathhouse; each tier is decorated with lions, and there’s a good moonstone on the upper level.