Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock – The former royal fortress of Sri lanka

By Vacation India
tourist enjoy Sigiriya View Sri Lanka
A tourist admires the endless views from the top of Sigiriya Rock stronghold. Although the climb up can take between 1.5 and three hours, the spectacular views are ample reward © JBencivenga

The Lion Rock, a former royal fortress in the ancient city of Sigiriya, is proudly proclaimed by the locals as the “Eights Wonder of the World” due to its remarkable look and architectural value. Being listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, this outstanding structure is the complex of ancient ruins on the amber-colored rock plateau towering high over the deep blue sky and the vast spaces of lush green tropical jungles and plains. The remnants of royal fortifications and palace, water garden a mirror wall, stone halls and caves with the vivid frescoes dating back to the 5th century – all of these elements create a unique complex alluring hundreds of tourists every day. Here, in Sigiriya, you will be able to witness a harmonic combination of natural and human efforts resulting into an impressive and highly peculiar site. Passing the giant stone-carved lion paws and climbing steep winding stairways up to the summit, the tourists get a chance to admire local mural art, observe breathtaking surrounding landscape, and delve into the history of the shortest-lived Sinhalese capital.

Sigiriya, being a hermitage of Buddhist monks since the earliest times, was later turned into a towering fortress on the top of a rock of 200 meters above the ground. King Kasyapa, who ruled Sri Lanka back in the 5th century, built a steadfast royal citadel with a number of stone chambers, labyrinths and fortifications for his own residence and kingship.

Sigiriya seen from a distance on the way to the rock. This monolith is so steep that its top overhangs the sides © Efesenko


Nowadays, a touristicly famous amber-colored Sigiriya Rock is an undoubted part of so-called “Cultural Triangle”, Sri Lankan top travel destinations encompassing such cultural and historic sites as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy and Dambulla.  The latter one, the city of Dambulla, known for its astounding cave temples, is within easy reach of Sigiriya itself, only 15 kilometers in the North-East direction.Due to its structural similarity, Sigiriya is often associated with Uluru (otherwise called Ayers Rock), a massive monolithic stone plateau located on the territory of the one of the Australian national parks. However, unlike Ayers Rock which is prohibited from climbing, Sigiriya warmly welcomes its visitors, challenging them to reach the top.

The ancient Sigiriya Fortress on top of the massive Lion Rock was not only filled with temples and a palace, it also had an extensive royal garden with reservoirs and man-made pools © Mtcurado


The Royal Gardens

Sigiriya Rock is encompassed by the ancient gardens which harmonically combine the boulders, water reservoirs and grass terrains in the impeccable geometrical structure as per the concept of ancient Charbagh gardens. A lovely alley leads the visitors through the gardens to the entrance of Sigiriya Rock. Water lilies float abundantly on the water surface in the brick-lined pools, scattered across the garden forming little islands all over the place. The area is perfect for a moment of tranquility and rest either before or after the visit to the Rock.

One of the water features on Sigiriya, the Lion Rock. From the top there are panoramic views of the dense tropical landscapes © Asergieiev


The Legend of Sigiriya

Despite the fact that Sigiriya has been long known as the ancient city and Buddhist settlement dating back to the 3rd century BC, Sigiriyan past is however still greatly ambiguous. According to the common belief, Sigiriya Rock got occupied by King Kasyapa (473-495 AD) after he overthrew the throne of his father, King Dhatusena. Having built his royal castle on Sigiriya Rock, Kasyapa reclaimed the city of Sigiriya a new capital instead of former Anuradhapura. Thereby the ruins remaining on the top of Sigiriya are considered to be the remnants of Kasyapa’s royal residence until it was later abandoned.

However, another story asserts that there was no fortress on Sigiriya Rock, but rather a Buddhist monastery.  The former Archaeological Commissioner of Sri Lanka Dr Raja de Silva, who initiated the given theory, supported his belief by the fact that the monks used to reside at that territory since the earliest time, including during the Kasyapa reign. However, the majority still supports the legend of the impregnable Sigiriya Royal Palace built on the rock summit. The palace constructed by Kasyapa was believed to have been highly impressing, with sophisticating structure and architectural advancements far beyond its time, as well as a giantlike statue of lion guarding the entrance. Nowadays, any visitor can imagine the grandeur of such structure by the lion paws at the entrance, which is the only what was left since then.

The remains of the royal upper palace on Sigiriya Rock, built by King Kashyapa in around 500 BCE to serve as his new capital © Efesenko


The Summit

Even though Sigiriya Rock used to house the entire complex of buildings (believed to be either royal premises or monastic settlement), all that can be seen on the top of the rock plateau nowadays is only foundation ruins. However, the travelers do not have to be discouraged by that, since the summit presents breathtaking landscape. The rock summit itself is a vast platform of approximately 4 acres in extent rising high above the surrounding plains and the royal gardens beneath.

Steps zig zag up Sigiriya Rock. It is often referred to as the Lion Rock because of the once colossal gateway in the form of a lion that guarded the final entrance halfway up the rock. Today only the paws and stone steps remain © Apolonio            


The Mirror Wall

One of the parts on the Sigiriya Rock is called the Mirror Wall due to its shining properties and a certain extent of reflection. Such effect was achieved with a special material that was a natural mixture of egg white, honey and lime, which made the wall glow. Some parts of the mirror wall slightly glisten even nowadays.    

The wall also represents a rich mastership of Sri Lankan mural art. The frescoes of enchanting damsels which have been found on the walls date back to 5th century. As per estimations of the experts, there were a few hundreds of different frescoes of Sigiriya nymphs, even though around 20 of them have been preserved till now. Besides the portraits, the wall had some inscriptions, translations of which can be discovered in the Sigiriya Museum, along with a deeper insight to the history of the place itself. 

Huge rocks at the entrance to Sigiriya. Sigiriya consists of an ancient citadel built by King Kashyapa during the 5th century and had a main royal palace on top with various lesser palaces along the slopes of the rock column © Myshkovsky


Cobra Hood Cave

The cave that outside looks like a cobra spreading its hood is another remarkable site within Sigiriya Rock. The ceiling is decorated with floral artwork, while one of the cave ledges reveals an old Brahmi script known to be more than two thousand years old.

Practical Tip: The best time to pay a visit to Sigiriya would be either in the morning as soon as the ticket office opens or after 3p.m. in the afternoon. Since climbing the winding metal staircase and ladders up to the summit might require certain level of physical activity, it is much more pleasant to do it when it is relatively cool. Thus if you want to avoid both scorching sun and massive crowd on the site, pay attention to choosing your visiting hours wisely.

The exact meaning and identity of the beautiful Sigiriya frescoes of Lion Rock are still a secret and will probably remain hidden forever. Some believe they are celestial maidens bringing offerings to the gods © Bartosz Hadynyah


Additional Facts

  1. The Sigiriya Museum will lead its visitors throughout the course of history, pointing out the key events connected to the formation and functions of the Rock. Some items found in the result of archaeological excavations on the site, including ceramics, statues and reproduction of the destroyed frescoes, are also exhibited in the museum.
  2. Sigiriya Frescoes
  3. Cistern and Audience Hall rocks

Practical Information

The city of Sigiriya offers a wide variety of local dining places and a range of options to stay over at, from family-owned budget guesthouses to the boutique hotels and resorts with the view of Sigiriya Rock right in front of you – the choices are innumerable based on your budget and preferences. Alternatively, the city of Sigiriya can be visited as a day trip from the nearby Dambulla or Habarana.

Another site that is less known, but more favorable among budget travelers in Sigiriya is Pidurangala Rock. Being positioned right in front of Sigiriya Rock at the approximate distance of 1km, Pidurangala offers a great view of the Sigiriya itself, thus being a good alternative for height lovers. Both being granite rock formations, Sigiriya and Pidurangala might be seen as twin brothers, where the former of them turned out to be far more famous than another one.

Visiting hours: 7am—6pm daily (last entry around 5pm)

Foreign tourists enjoy a ride on the back of a working elephant near Habarana, Sri Lanka. Habarana is the starting point for safaris into the tropical jungle and Minneriya Sanctuary close by © Davorlovincic


HOW TO GET THERE

Sigiriya can be easily reached from a number of locations by bus, train, private car or a plane.

Sri Lankan airlines company “Cinnamon Air” provides 30-minute flights from Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo (around 30 km from Colombo) to Kimbissa, the city which is less than 10 km away from Sigiriya.

For those who plan to travel by bus, it should be noted that there is no direct bus going to Sigiriya. Most busses stop at Dambulla, where another bus should be taken to Sigiriya itself. The bus would be the cheapest option and take around 4 hours of travel.

Getting to Sigiriya by train may seem a bit more complicated since there is no railway connection to Sigiriya. The clocest railway station can be found in the city of Habarana, which is 25km away from Sigiriya. It should be also noted that there is only one early morning train going there from Colombo, which limits the options. Train tickets would be twice or three times (based on the travel class of the train) more expensive than the ones for a bus, while the road – one or two hours longer.

If you plan to reach Sigiriya on your own by car, you can take either Kandy Road (A01) with a change to the A06 road at Ambepussa or Katunayake Expressway (E03) to Kurunegala with a change to A06 road towards Dambulla. The road will take approximately 2-3 hours.

A mother with her two daughters walk along a leafy street in the island kingdom of Sri Lanka © Hadynyah


These ancient wall paintings depicting the Buddha in a cave temple in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, date back 1600 years © Himagine


A man-made reservoir on Lion Rock, the massive rock fortress of Sigiriya built by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 AD) © Alan_Lagadu


A total of 1200 stone and metal steps need to be climbed to reach the top of the Lion Rock Citadel of Sigiriya near Dambulla, Sri Lanka © Mtcurado


This pool forms part of the extensive royal gardens on Lion Rock. These gardens are considered amongst the oldest landscaped gardens in the world © Mtcurado


A visitor to Sigiriya admires the frescoes of maidens painted on the rock. Their true identity has never been confirmed, so they are often referred to as the Cloud Maidens. The rock was plastered and covered in white paint before the frescoes were painted on © Wanderluster


Sigiriya Rock Fortress near Dambulla, Sri Lanka towers 590 ft./180 m above the surrounding landscape, offering visitors breath taking views stretching as far as the eye can see © Asergieiev


The horizon seems to stretch endlessly in all directions over the jungle landscape surrounding the Sigiriya Rock Citadel in Sri Lanka © Iryna_Rasko


A metal staircase built into the rock leads the visitor up to the ancient Lion Rock Fortress on top of the Sigiriya rock column. The outcrop is a natural geological feature that remained after an extinct volcano slowly eroded over thousands of years © Pidjoe


Beautiful, extensive and well-planned gardens were part of the Sigiriya Citadel. The royals had their own private ornamental garden, while water, cave and terraced gardens made up a large part of the area © Republica


Two of the so-called Cloud Maiden frescoes that survived on the wall of Lion Rock near Dambulla, Sri Lanka. It is believed that more than 500 damsels were once portrayed, covering a huge area on the western face of the rock © Mik122


Visitors on an elephant safari through a tropical forest in one of Sri Lanka’s national parks © Helovi


Visitors to the Lion Rock Fortress are overshadowed by the sheer size of the rock column. Rock and metal steps lead up to the ancient fortress on top, a climb worth every step © AGEphotography


School students in a classroom in Sri Lanka. The country has a literacy rate of more than 90 percent © Hadynyah


Sinhalese school students enjoying their lesson. All children between the age of 5 and 16 are entitled to free education © Hadynyah


A small group of male students in their school uniforms smile at the camera in a park in Sri Lanka. Most of the schools in the country fall under the government, but there has been a considerate increase in the number of international and private schools © Paulprescott72


A father and child take an elephant ride past Sigiriya Rock. This activity draws many nature lovers and elephant enthusiasts to Sir Lanka © Paulprescott72


Ruined remains of a monastery at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. This ancient archeological city is comprised of hundreds of structures like statues, stupas, temples and tombs © Wanderluster


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