Polonnaruwa bears witness to several civilizations, notably that of the conquering Cholas, disciples of Brahminism, and that of the Sinhalese sovereigns during the 12th and 13th centuries. This immense capital created by the megalomaniac sovereign, Parakramabahu 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. It is also a shrine of Buddhism and of Sinhalese history. The tooth of the Lord Buddha, a remarkable relic placed in the Atadage under Vijabayahu, was considered as the talisman of the Sinhalese monarchy: its removal by Bhuvanaikabahu II confirmed the decline of Polonnaruwa.
After the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 by Rajaraja, Polonnaruwa, a temporary royal residence during the 8th century, became the capital. The conquering Cholas constructed monuments to their religion (Brahmnism), and especially temples to Shiva where fine bronze statues, today in the Museum of Colombo, were found. The reconquest of Ceylon by Vijayabahu I did not put an end to the city's role as capital: it became covered, after 1070, with Buddhist sanctuaries, of which the Atadage (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the most renowned.