Sigiriya, rock fortress in the jungle of Sri Lanka
Sigiriya is also known as the Lion’s Rock. It is a rock fortress and place of the former Royal Palace.
Usually, you can see photos of Sigiriya as one of the famous cultural and tourist locations in Sri Lanka on the internet. It is inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage site list in 1982 and declared the world’s eighth wonder.
Sigiriya is located in the Matale district, surrounded by the jungle in the middle of the island. The impressive rock looks like someone took it and placed it in the middle of nowhere!
The history of the Sigiriya rock
The Sigiriya rock is of volcanic origin, created from hardened magma. In time the rock changed her shape, making the little caves and paths. The rock is almost 200 meters high and it can be seen from the other parts of the island.
First, the rock was served as a monastery in the 3rd BC.
Then, in the 5th century, Sinhalese king Kasyapa decided to build his royal palace here in order to protect himself. He killed his father, King Dhatusena, and then took the throne by force illegally from his brother Moggallana, who escaped to India. Fearing his attack, Kasyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to this place. For 18 years (477-495), it was the capital of the Sri Lankan kingdom. During his rule, the Sigiriya fortress became an architectural miracle for that time. Even today it is almost unbelievable how the royal palace and all its parts were built in such in an inaccessible place.
Despite its specific position and strategic advantages, his army was defeated in the battle in 495. Kasyapa killed himself. Moggallana became the new king of Sri Lanka and moved back to the capital again to Anuradhapura.
Sigiriya, a tourist attraction
After the death of King Kasyapa, the complex became a Buddhist monastery again.
In the 14th century, it was abandoned until 1831, when the British Major Jonathan Forbes, returning on horseback from a trip to Polonnaruwa, saw the rock Sigiriya beneath bushes. The archaeological excavation started in 1890. And today it is one of the most important tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.
The Sigiriya complex
In the centre of the Sigiriya complex is Lion rock. Even today you can see the network of the moat, canals, ponds, alleys, ramparts, and water gardens.
Also, pay attention to the sign: be quiet and not provoke wasps, they could attack you!
The Sigiriya gardens
The gardens are among the oldest gardens in the world.
They consist of three parts: the water gardens, the boulder gardens, and the terraced gardens.
Going along the main path to the rock, first, you cross the moat. According to the legend, in Kasyapa’s time, the crocodiles were there, to protect the residence from the enemies.
Then there are the water gardens and water pools.
There is one interesting pool from the right side, but the pool from the left side of the path is still under the ground, waiting for new excavation research. It is supposed that these pools were the pools for pleasure.
King Kasyapa’s concubines used them for bathing. And the king enjoyed the view, of course.
According to the legend, he had about 500 concubines in his harem…
But there was also one pool dedicated only to him and his wife, the queen.
Here there are a few water gardens, pools, and fountains. All of them are connected with the pipes and cisterns under the ground with the lake. This irrigational system and technology still surprise engineers, because it is in function in the present days, especially during the rainy season.
Boulder and terraced gardens
After the water gardens, at the bottom of the rock, there are the boulder gardens. They consist of different, natural and large boulders. One of them is like a rock-shaped entrance. It looks unbelievable!
Here you can see the space with Audience Hall rock, like a natural amphitheatre, where King Kashyapa had a throne carved into the rock.
According to archaeological researches, eight caves with Brahim inscriptions were found here. It was proof that this place was a monastery between the 3rd and the 1st century BC. Also, it is believed that Sigiriya could be one of the sites with a 5000-year-old history.
The terraced gardens are located on a natural hill.
They are in a concentric circle around the rock, leading to a higher level.
And these gardens are connected with the stairs. Actually, there are 1.280 stone steps to the top… They are very narrow, small, and steep, so pay attention. As you are going to the top, it becomes harder to walk. There are a few series of zig-zag stairs, leading up through the little terraces. At one moment you will come to the platform where can you rest for a while. And then go upstairs, to the Sigiriya Frescoes, Mirror Wall and the Lion gate.
To reach Sigiriya frescoes, you have to climb a narrow spiral metal staircase, about 20 meters high. You need a couple of minutes for this part because continually, you are spinning around and around. So, take a deep breath and go slowly.
These unique frescoes were painted over 1.600 years ago. Some people think that they represent the concubines of king Kasyapa and some that they were the apsaras, celestial singers and dancers. According to verses from the Mirror wall, there were 500 paintings of the Sinhalese girls. They covered almost the whole western wall. After the king’s death, the monks covered the frescoes because they upset the clergy.
Only eighteen paintings could be seen today. Well, the men can certainly enjoy the view of the beautiful girls with naked breasts! Indeed, they don’t have a lot of clothes on themselves, but they are adorned with jewellery.
The frescoes are hidden in the cave and they survived despite the weather conditions.
Very important TIP: now it is strictly forbidden to take photos of the Sigiriya frescoes.
The Mirror Wall
After visiting frescoes, you have to turn down the spiral staircase and walk along the Mirror Wall.
First, it was made about 1.600 years ago, like a protective wall. Then it was highly polished and served for the king, to look at himself while walking around.
In time, visitors scribed verses and messages on the walls. Some of them are very old, even from the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. They are known as the “Sigiriya’s graffiti”. Today it is also strictly forbidden to touch and write on the Wall.
The path along the Mirror Wall leads to the upper level of the Lion’s Paw Terrace. Go slowly and take care because the stairs are very steep, and usually, it is very crowded here.
When you finally reach Lion’s Paw Terrace, take a little break. You will need strength because there are more stairs to the top. Take photos of the rock, because it looks so impressive and amazing.
In the past, the gate has represented the head of the lion. So the stairs led through the open mouth of the lion’s head between the paws. We can imagine how this view could be scary for enemies and visitors! It is reason why this place was named Sigiriya because it originates from the word “Sinhagiri”, which means Lion Rock.
Today we can see only these two giant paws with the small, narrow path with steep stairs between them.
Yes, there are more winding metal stairs made in this part of the construction…
Climbing to the top…
For me, it was the hardest part of climbing.
The combination of 33 ºC and 90% humidity, the lack of good physical condition, the narrow steps…
Well, it was really stressful climbing. My legs were shaking, I felt the pressure in my head, and I couldn’t take a breath normally. Are you familiar with that feeling? I am sure that everyone has had these moments. But I knew that I had to move on, to go to the top. Luckily, our local tourist guide Indika stayed with me, and finally, we climbed to the top of Lion’s Rock.
And while we were climbing, we met the other visitors, who felt the same as me. Although we saw one another for the first time, we supported and smiled at one another, a crazy feeling! But, our small and brave group set the record in comparison to travellers from the previous agency groups: 45 minutes! It is a very good result having in mind that it usually takes from one to three hours, depending on physical conditions and the crowd.
It is believed that the former Royal Palace has two floors.
Of course, today they don’t exist. Only two little steps are here as a reminder.
The fantastic view of the 360-degree landscape surrounds you.
After a few minutes, I forgot everything.
It is a wonderful scene of the land, forest, hills, and mountain of Sri Lanka.
Around the place of the former palace, there are little ponds, walls, ruins of buildings, and gardens.
And more stairs, of course 🙂
The Asana cave and Cobra Hoove cave
Going back is quicker than climbing. Of course, the legs are still shaking, and the temperature is high. But you feel so alive and thankful because you did and see something unusual.
On our return, at the foot of the rock, we found the Asana cave, which served for mediation to monks during the 3rd to 1st century BC, with the seat carved in the rock.
Also, there is one natural cave, named Cobra Hoove cave, because the rock above it has the shape of a cobra. Close to this cave and the exit, one man was teasing the cobra to come out from the basket. Well, we passed them quickly, just in case 🙂
How to reach Sigiriya?
Sigiriya is located 175 kilometres northeast of Colombo, it is about 3,5 hours by car. From Kandy, it takes about 2.5 hours (92 kilometres).
The best way to visit Sigiriya is on an organized tour.
If you travel solo, you can take a taxi from Habarana (15 kilometres away) or take a bus from Dambulla, which is 17 kilometres away from Sigiriya. Just pay attention to the bus schedule not to miss the last departure. Also, you can take a tuk-tuk from these places. So the way to Sigiriya depends on the location of your accommodation.
Sigiriya is one of the most famous attractions in the country. So the ticket price is a little bit high for the foreigners, 30 USD, but the locals pay less more. It is open for visitors every day from 7:00 AM to 5:30 PM. If you can, get here early to avoid the heat.
Do you know that the famous British pop group “Duran Duran” filmed a video in 1982 for their single “Save a Prayer” also here, in Sigiriya”?
Visiting Sigiriya is a really unusual, interesting and amazing experience.
So, if you visit Sri Lanka, make a plan and come to see this interesting rock in the jungle. Take a bottle of water, a hat, and sunscreen with you, and wear comfortable shoes. And just go on.
Despite the hard access, you will never forget this journey to the top of Sigiriya rock!
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