Sigiriya Rock, also referred to as “Lion Rock,” is the most extraordinary and transitory of the mediaeval capitals of Sri Lanka. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is the nation’s most memorable landmark. Its breathtaking surroundings serve to further enhance the remarkable architectural site.
Table of Contents
- Where is Sigiriay Rock Fortress?
- Visiting the rock fortification of Sigiriya
- Which tour itineraries are most frequently taken to Sigiriya?
- An overview of Sigiriya’s past
- Sigiriya fortification of rocks
- Water Gardens
- Boulder Garden District
- Garden Terrace
- Sigiriya Frescoes
- The Mirror Wall
- The Lion’s Context
- Sumit of the Sigiriya rock
- Beware of Bees
- Temple of Pidurangala’s Royal Cave
Where is Sigiriay Rock Fortress?
Approximately 15 kilometres northeast of Dambulla, the magnificent citadel of SIGIRIYA is perched atop a 200-meter-tall gneiss granite outcrop that protrudes from the dry zone’s desolate plains. It is impregnable in its height. Sigiriya Rock, also referred to as “Lion Rock,” is the most extraordinary and transitory of the mediaeval capitals of Sri Lanka. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is the nation’s most memorable landmark. Its breathtaking surroundings serve to further enhance the remarkable architectural site.
Visiting the rock fortification of Sigiriya
A Sigiriya excursion is the most effective method of investigating this intriguing historical location in Sri Lanka. A solitary tour to Sigiriya is possible, including a one-day tour departing from Colombo. Additionally, the Sigiriya tour is compatible with a variety of other Sri Lanka itineraries, including the Sri Lanka 10-day, Sri Lanka 7-day, and Sri Lanka 5-day tours. A comprehensive itinerary of Sri Lanka would be largely deficient without Sigiriya, as it is a mandatory stop on tour itineraries and a significant historical site in the country.
Which tour itineraries are most frequently taken to Sigiriya?
Sigiriya Rock Fort, in addition to numerous other historical and cultural tourist attractions within the cultural triangle, is an integral component of each tour. Below is a list of five well-liked activities offered by the Seerendipity tours.
An overview of Sigiriya’s past
Evidently, Buddhist priests established refuges in Sigiriya as early as the third century BC, according to inscriptions discovered in the tunnels that interlace with the base of the rock. However, it was not until the power struggle that ended Dhatusena’s (455–473) hegemony over Anuradhapura in the 5th century AD that Sigiriya momentarily rose to prominence in Sri Lankan history. Kassapa, by an inferior consort, and Mogallana, by the most esteemed of Dhatusena’s numerous consorts, were his two sons. Kassapa rebelled upon learning that Mogallana had been proclaimed heir apparent, resulting in the imprisonment of his father and the exile of Mogallana to India. Fearing for his life if he did not disclose the location of the state treasure, Dhatusena consented to grant his son permission to take a final swim in the magnificent Kalawewa Tank in return for revealing the location of the wealth. Dhatusena poured the water through his palms while standing in the tank before declaring to Kassapa that the water comprised his entire treasure. Kassapa, lacking admiration, confined his father to a room and abandoned him to perish.
In the interim, Mogallana promised to return from India and retrieve his wealth. A new city was built in the vicinity of the base of the 200-meter-tall Sigiriya Rock, which Kassapa had constructed in anticipation of the approaching invasion as a provisional capital and fortress. The house was designed to resemble the mythical deity of prosperity, Kubera. Tradition dictates that the magnificent structure was finished within a span of seven years, specifically from 477 to 485.
In 491, the long-awaited invasion eventually occurred due to Mogallana’s mobilisation of Tamil mercenaries into his army to fight on his behalf. Despite the manifold benefits offered by Kassapa’s fortified citadel, he displayed a fatalistic display of valour by gallantly embarking on an elephant with his warriors and descended from his perilous craggy apex to confront the assault on the plains below. Unfortunately, Kassapa’s elephant panicked and fled during the heat of combat. His soldiers severed him as they turned around in anticipation of his withdrawal. Kassapa committed suicide only moments prior to his imminent apprehension and defeat.
In the wake of the Buddhist monks’ conquest of Sigiriya and the reconquest of Mogallana, the caverns were once again crowded with devout ascetics in search of solitude. Until the advent of the modern era, the location remained largely neglected until its abandonment in 1155.
Sigiriya fortification of rocks
Sigiriya Rock can be traversed in two to three hours; for optimal conditions, visit in the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are lower and the number of visitors is lower. The rock’s vivid orange coloration, which evokes thoughts of Asia’s Ayers Rock, is accentuated even more by the late afternoon sunlight. Weekends, particularly Sundays, are discouraged from visiting the location due to the high volume of individuals traversing the confined staircases and walkways. While individuals experiencing vertigo may find the steep ascent to be unsettling, the descent itself is not nearly as challenging as it seems from the base of the vertical rock face. Guides are typically available for hire at the entrance. Before employing someone, it is prudent to evaluate their English proficiency and knowledge with a few queries.
The site is divided into two distinct sections: the rock upon which Kassapa built his principal palace and the environs, which encompass splendid regal pleasure gardens and remnants of pre-Kassapa monasteries. The detailed murals of the Sigiriya damsels that are stuck to the rocky outcrops of the site show how fascinating it is when wild ecosystems and tall buildings come together. Sigiriya, Kassapa, is surprisingly devoid of any prominent monasteries or other religious edifices, in contrast to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. This may serve as evidence of its pagan provenance.
An expansive, linear pathway extends from the entrance to the boulder along a conceptual east-west axis, which functions as the site’s overall layout. There are two sizable moats surrounding this side of the rock, though the outer moat is currently largely dry. As you enter the Water Gardens through the Inner Moat, two stories of ramparts surround you. Four square-shaped ponds in the first segment merge together to form a small island in its centre. The pools are connected to the surrounding gardens via pathways. The rectangular regions situated to the north and south of the pools contain the remnants of pavilions.
Located beyond this segment is a compact yet tastefully planned fountain garden. A small, serpentine-shaped “river” is one of the distinguishing features. The initial sprinkler systems that were installed for two ponds and channels featuring limestone substrates remain operational. Over 1500 years of dormancy do not prevent the small water plumes of the fountains from becoming visible during heavy rainfall, thanks to a straightforward concept based on pressure and gravity. It was sufficient to restore the fountains to operational condition in order to clear the water pipelines that supply them.
Boulder Garden District
The primary road commences its ascent beyond the Boulder Gardens, an area comprised of enormous boulders that have precipitated down along the cliff’s base, subsequent to departing from the Water Gardens. By etching lines of perforations into a number of the boulders, the appearance of rock steps is created. However, in opposition to or on top of the boulders, these footings served as structural support for the numerous structures that were constructed, including masonry walls and timber frames.
Prior to and subsequent to Kassapa, the gardens served as the central area for Sigiriya’s monastic practise. Twenty rock shelters were utilised by the monks, with some bearing inscriptions that originated in the first or third century AD. You will discover, as you explore each cave, that dripstone ledges enclose the entrances to prevent water from entering. Traces of the initial painting of Sigiriya and the stucco that embellished the caverns remain visible in specific locations. Deraniyagala Cave is located immediately to the left (unmarked) as the path ascends through the gardens. A well-preserved dripstone ledge and faded images of various apsara figures (celestial goddesses) that resemble the renowned Sigiriya Damsels higher up the rock are remnants of ancient murals. A minor diversion from the primary ascent route along the clifftop provides access to the Cobra Hood Cave, which derives its name from its extraordinary resemblance to the head of the serpent in question. On the ledge of the cave are fragments of lime mortar, floral motifs, and a very faint inscription in Brahmi script dating back to the second century BC.
Continue along the trail as it climbs the slope beneath Cobra Hood Cave and passes through “Boulder Arch No. 2” (as the signage indicates) to reach the so-called Audience Hall. The wooden house no longer retains its walls and roof; solely the floor remains, which was exceptionally polished through the process of chipping the summit of a solitary, enormous boulder and a 5-meter-wide “throne” fashioned from solid rock in a similar fashion. Despite being designated as Kassapa’s audience hall, its probable function was exclusively religious in nature, as the vacant throne serves as a symbolic representation of the Buddha. Additional thrones are sculpted into adjacent rocks, and although predominantly covered in graffiti, the entrance to the Asana Cave, which is reached via the pathway leading to the Audience Hall, still bears vibrant bursts of various paintings.
Returning to the main road, ascend the hill, passing “Boulder Arch No. 1” after exiting the Asana Cave. The terrace gardens, which comprise a sequence of stone and brick terraces extending to the cliff’s base and providing initial glimpses of the breathtaking panorama below, mark the starting point of the steep ascension of the walkway, which is now a set of enclosed steps.
Two dissonant spiral staircases constructed of metal during the nineteenth century ascend and descend to a protected cavern in the perpendicular rock face. This cavern contains the Sigiriya Paintings, the preeminent mural series in Sri Lanka. Flash photography is prohibited in this area. As the sole non-religious paintings to have survived from ancient Sri Lanka, these voluptuous beauties from the fifth century have become one of the most recognisable and frequently replicated images on the island. It is estimated that the initial 500 frescoes adorned a surface area of around 140 metres by 40 metres in height. Nevertheless, presently, only 21 paintings are believed to be intact. Several of the remaining ones were obscured by ropes due to vandalism in 1967 that caused extensive damage. Although their exact meaning remains ambiguous, there was once speculation that they portrayed Kassapa’s consorts. Contemporary art historians posit that the most credible hypothesis is that the paintings depict apsaras, or celestial goddesses, in person. This would account for the fact that they are solely depicted emerging from a cloud cocoon above the waist. In contrast to the subsequent and more stylized murals located in close proximity at Dambulla Golden temple, the depiction of the damsels is remarkably authentic, complete with their spreading petals and presenting platters containing fruit and flowers. The motif resembles the renowned murals discovered in the Ajanta Caves of India. An additional human touch is introduced with the revelation that one damsel possesses three hands and another an extra nipple, brought about by the infrequent brush slip.
The Mirror Wall
The Mirror Wall encloses one side of the walkway, which runs parallel to the rock face just past the damsels. A considerable proportion of the initial plaster has persisted, retaining an exceptionally reflective surface. A highly polished plaster composed of egg white, beeswax, lime, and natural honey was applied over the original. The wall is covered in graffiti, the earliest sections of which date back to the seventh century. The initial visitors to Sigiriya used these to jot down their thoughts, particularly regarding the local damsels. Individuals with a curiosity for observing the remnants of the ancient city continued to visit Sigiriya subsequent to the abandonment of Kassapa’s magnificent pleasure dome. Upon compilation, the graffiti takes on the appearance of an early Middle Ages visitors’ book, and the approximately 1500 comprehensible remarks provide significant novel perspectives on the evolution of the Sinhala script and language.
The route proceeds beyond the Mirror Wall and onto a perilous-appearing iron footbridge that is affixed to the sheer rock face. A view of a sizable boulder resting on stone slabs below is available from this vantage point. The conventional belief is that the slabs would have been dislodged during an assault, thereby compelling the boulder to descend upon the attackers below. However, it is more probable that the purpose of the slabs was to impede the rock from unintentionally toppling over the precipice.
The Lion’s Context
A substantial spur that emerges from the northern face of the rock just below the summit, the Lion Platform, can be reached via a precipitous flight of limestone steps ascending the rock. A final flight of stairs ascends, passing by the ruins of a colossal lion statue featuring two enormous paws carved from the granite beneath it. The ascent appeared to have been completed through the aperture of the statue. It is conceivable that the beast’s enormous size and intricate symbolism sufficiently shocked the visitors to Kassapa. A lion was the preeminent emblem of Sinhalese royalty; Kassapa’s stature was likely employed to signify his social standing and validate his deceitful aspiration for the throne.
It is ironic that Kassapa appeared to have had a dread of heights, as an initial projection of a tall wall encircles these steps. However, this does little to reassure modern vertigo sufferers, as accessing the summit requires them to climb a precarious iron ladder secured to the exposed rock face. A multitude of striations and grooves ornament the entire length of the rockface situated above, which was formerly comprised of ascent steps.
Sumit of the Sigiriya rock
It appears at the summit of the precipitous ascent to be enormous. This was Kassapa’s palace, and at one point, the area was virtually engulfed in structures. At present, only the foundations remain, rendering the vista beyond bewildering; the primary drawback is the awe-inspiring panorama extending towards the Water Gardens and traversing the adjacent countryside. At this very moment, the Royal Palace is a mere square masonry platform perched atop the cliff. A sizable rock-carved reservoir is located beneath the sloping terraced walls that enclose the uppermost section. It is said that water was redirected to the summit via an advanced hydraulic system that was propelled by windmills. Below this juncture, four additional terraces, presumed to have been gardens in the past, descend to the base of the mountain that towers over Sigiriya Wewa.
If you failed to notice it earlier, you should eventually come across the Cobra Hood Cave on your right after departing the site in a southern direction. The descent follows a path that deviates slightly.
Beware of Bees
It was decided to put wire mesh cages on the lion platform of Sigiriya as a safety measure after recent bee attacks, even though chemicals and rituals were used to try to get the sneaky bugs out of their nests, which can be seen attached to the rock overhang to the left of the stairs. Local Buddhist monks assert that these assaults are divine retaliation against the impious conduct of visitors.
Temple of Pidurangala’s Royal Cave
Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple is situated a few kilometres north of Sigiriya, atop yet another enormous granite outcrop. Kassapa allegedly established the monastery at this location with the intention of compensating the monks, who had to be relocated from Sigiriya to make way for the king’s palace, by constructing new dwellings and a temple. Proceed north of Sigiriya for approximately 750 metres to reach the contemporary white Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya. The brief tuktuk or bicycle ride to the base of Pidurangala Rock is delightful. Additional noteworthy remnants of former monastic structures can be observed, such as the collapsed remains of a substantial masonry dagoba, situated approximately 100 metres up this path on the left. From a platform situated just below the summit of the rock, steep staircases ascend the slope behind the Pidurangala Viharaya to reach the Royal Cave Temple. The imposingly named temple contains only a long, reclining Buddha statue, a portion of which has been reconstructed in masonry. Approximately fifteen minutes are required to ascend significantly. Fading murals featuring representations of Saman and Vishnu adorn the exterior of the statue.
Locating the stony path that ascends to the summit of the rock is an easy 5-minute ascent, assuming one manages to locate it. On the remarkably effortless return, physical fitness and dexterity are required to prevent getting lost. Your efforts will yield the most breathtaking view of Sigiriya, barring the need to charter a balloon. It will unveil the northern face of the rock, which has been concealed from view during the ascent but possesses an altogether more intriguing morphology and irregularity. The ant-like silhouettes of individuals completing the final ascent to the summit are barely perceptible amidst the vast expanse of red rock, situated almost at your level.