Sigiriya, a rock and ancient fortress in Sri Lanka
Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) is a 170 m high solitary rock and a fortress erected on it in Matale District, in the central part of the country.
A castle was built on top of the mountain, and its walls are painted with unique frescoes. Some of the latter have survived to this day. At the halfway point to the summit there is a plateau where a huge gate in the shape of lion’s paws meets those who arrive. According to one version, the fortress was built at the request of King Kassap (Kasyapa), and after his death the palace was deserted and stood abandoned. Until the 14th century, there was a Buddhist monastery on the territory of Sigiriya. Today the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected by UNESCO.
Sigiriya is a unique site
According to archaeological excavations, in the area adjacent to the mountain, people have lived since prehistoric times. Numerous grottoes and caves are proof of this.
Photo: Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
In 477, Kasiyapa, born a commoner to a king, forcibly took the throne from the rightful heir Datusena, enlisting the support of the commander in chief of the army. The heir to the throne, Mugalan, was forced into hiding in India to preserve his own life. Having seized the throne of Kasyap, he decided to move the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, where it was quiet and peaceful. This measure was forced because the self-proclaimed king feared that he would be overthrown by the one to whom the throne belonged by birthright. After these events, Sigiriya became a real urban complex, with well-designed architecture, defensive structures, a fortress and gardens.
In 495 the illegitimate monarch was overthrown and the capital returned to Anuradhapura. And on top of the Sigiriya Rock, Buddhist monks settled for many years. The monastery functioned until the 14th century. No information has been found about the period from the 14th to the 17th century about Sigiriya.
Legends and myths
According to one legend, Kassapa, wanting to take the throne, killed his own father by immuring him alive in the wall of a dam. Cassapa’s brother Mugalan, born to a queen, left the country, but vowed vengeance. In South India Mugalan raised an army and, on his return to Sri Lanka, declared war on his illegitimate brother. During the struggle the army betrayed Kassapu, and he, realizing the hopelessness of his situation, committed suicide.
There is a version that the army did not deliberately abandon its leader. During another battle, Kasyapa’s elephant suddenly turned the other way. The soldiers took the maneuver as the king’s decision to flee and began to retreat. Cassapa, left alone but proud and unyielding, drew his sword and slit his own throat.
Archaeological excavations and amazing finds
Sigiriya (Lion Rock) was discovered by Jonathan Forbes a British soldier in 1831. At the time the top of the mountain was heavily overgrown with scrub, but it immediately attracted the attention of archaeologists and historians.
The first excavations began 60 years later in 1890. A full-scale excavation was conducted as part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle State Project.
Sigiriya is an ancient citadel built in the 5th century. The historic and archaeological area consists of:
- A palace on top of the Lion’s Rock;
- the terrace and the gate that lies approximately in the center of the mountain;
- a mirrored wall decorated with frescoes;
- The lower palaces, which are hidden behind lush gardens;
- the fortress moats, which have a protective function.
Archaeologists note that the fortress of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) in Sri Lanka is one of the most striking constructions in the world, which date back to the 1st millennium and are relatively well preserved. The plan of the city surprises with an incredible diversity for that time and exceptional thoughtfulness. According to the plan, the city harmoniously combines symmetry and asymmetry, man-made buildings are skillfully woven into the surrounding landscape without disturbing it at all. In the western part of the mountain there is a royal park, which was created according to a strict symmetrical plan. In order to water the plants in the park area, a complex technical network of hydraulic structures and mechanisms has been created. In the southern part of the rock is an artificial reservoir for water, it was used very actively, since the mountain Sigiriya located in the arid part of the green island of Sri Lanka.
The western slope of Lion Rock is a unique phenomenon – it is almost entirely covered with ancient frescoes. That is why the surface of the hill is called a giant picture gallery.
In the past, the paintings covered the entire slope on the west side, which is a surface area of 5,600 square meters. According to one version, the frescoes depicted 500 girls. Their identity has not been established, and different sources offer different speculations. Some think that the frescoes were the images of court ladies, others believe that they were girls, who had taken part in religious ceremonies. Unfortunately, most of the paintings have been lost.
The Mirror Wall and the Way to the Frescoes
During the reign of Casiapa, the wall was regularly polished so that the monarch could see his own reflection as he strolled along it. The wall was made of brick and covered with white plaster. The modern version of the wall is partially covered with various poems and messages. There are also inscriptions on the Lion’s Rock wall that date back to the 8th century. It is now impossible to leave a message on the wall, a ban has been introduced to protect the ancient inscriptions.
The Gardens of Sigiria
This is one of the main features of Sigiriya, as the gardens are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the whole world. The garden complex consists of three parts.
They can be found in the western part of the Lion’s Rock. There are three gardens.
- The first garden is surrounded by water, connected to the territory of the palace and fortress complex by means of 4 dams. Its uniqueness is that it was designed according to the oldest model and there are very few analogues to it.
- The second garden is surrounded by pools, into which the streams flow. There are fountains in the form of round bowls, they are filled with an underground hydraulic system. In the rainy season, the fountains are working. On the two sides of the garden are islands where summer palace residences are built.
- The third garden is higher than the first two. In its northeastern part is a large octagonal pool. In the eastern part of the garden runs the wall of the fortress.
These are huge boulders, between which there are walking paths. Stone gardens can be found at the foot of Lion Mountain, along the slopes. The stones are so large that buildings were built on most of them. They also served a defensive function – when enemies attacked, they were pushed down on the attackers.
They are terraces around the rock on natural elevations. Partly they consist of brick walls. To get from one garden to the other is a limestone staircase, from which follows the road to the topmost terrace of Sigiriya Castle in Sri Lanka.
How to get there
You can go to the attraction from any city on the island, but you have to make a connection in Dambulla. From Dambulla to Sigiriya there are regular bus services №549/499. Flights leave from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm. The journey takes only 40 minutes.
- Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya. This route is the most convenient, because you can buy a ticket for a comfortable air-conditioned shuttle. From Colombo (Pettah Bus Station) in the direction of the popular Dambulla there is the largest number of buses.
- Matara – Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya. From Matara to Colombo there is a train and a bus. The travel time is about 4.5 hours. Also from the bus station in Matara to the transfer point there is a bus number 2/48, comfortable flights with air conditioning will take you to Dambulla in 8 hours. Similar flights are available if you are in Panadura and Tangalle.
- Kandy – Dambulla – Sigiriya. Buses from Kandy run from early morning to 9 pm. There are many flights, check the number directly at the station.
- Anuradhapura – Dambulla – Sigiriya. From Anuradhapura, there are flights number 42-2, 15-1.
- Trincomalee – Dambulla – Sigiriya. There are two shuttle buses to the transfer point, Nos. 45 and 49.
- Polonnaruwa – Dambulla – Sigiriya. You can get to the transfer point by buses #41-2, 46, 48/27 and 581-3.
- Arugam Bay – Monaragala – Dambulla – Sigiriya. In Arugam Bay, you have to take bus #303-1, the journey takes 2.5 hours. Then in Monaragala, you need to change to bus number 234 or 68/580.
- According to one legend, Casyapa walled up his father alive in a dam when he found out that he wasn’t as rich as he seemed.
- Evidence of the first human appearance in Sigiriya is found in the Aligala grotto, which is located east of the mountain fortress. This proves that humans lived in the area about 5 thousand years ago.
- The western gate of Sigiriya Castle, the most beautiful and luxurious, was only allowed to be used by members of the royal family.
- Mount Sigiriya in Sri Lanka is a rock formation that was formed from the magma of a once active volcano. Today it is ruined.
- Experts note the unique technique in which all the frescoes were made – the lines were applied in a special way to give the pictures volume. The paint is applied in broad strokes with one-sided pressure, to make the color richer at the edge of the image. The frescoes are reminiscent of the images found in the Ajanta caves in India.
- Specialists in Sri Lanka deciphered more than 680 verses and inscriptions made on the wall in the period from 8th to 10th century AD.
- The water gardens of the complex are located symmetrically with respect to the direction east-west. They are connected on the west side by a moat and on the south by an artificial lake. The pools of the three gardens are connected by a network of underground pipes.
- The boulders that make up the stone garden today were used in the past to fight the enemy – they were thrown off a cliff when the enemy army approached Sigiriya.
- The shape of the lion for the gate was chosen for a reason. A lion is the symbol of Sri Lanka; it is depicted on the state symbols, and embodies the progenitor of the Ceylonese.
This is interesting! The climb to the top of Lion Rock takes an average of 2 hours. On the way you are sure to come across packs of wild monkeys begging for treats from tourists.
The cost of the entrance ticket:
- Adult – 4,650 rupees, approximately $30;
- Children – 2325 rupees, about $ 15.
For children under the age of 6, admission is free.
Rock Palace Complex works from 7-00 to 18-00. The ticket office is only open until 5 pm.
The visitor receives a ticket, which consists of three tear-off parts. Each part entitles the visitor to visit:
- main entrance;
- mirror wall;
This is important! The exposition in the museum is weak and not very interesting, so you can not even waste time visiting it.
The best time for a tour is from 7-00, when there is no exhausting heat. You can also see the attraction in the afternoon – at 15-00, when the number of tourists decreases. Be sure to take water with you, because you have to walk for at least 3 hours, and the water is not sold at the complex.
The best weather conditions to visit Sigiriya are from December to April or from midsummer to September. At this time in central Sri Lanka rains infrequently, the weather is most favorable to visit the castle. Most rainfall is in April and November.
The most popular attraction for tourists is to meet the sunrise in Sigiriya. To do this, choose a clear period so that the sky was not obscured by clouds.
Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) is an ancient complex on a cliff, which is recognized as the most visited on the island. It is a unique historical monument of architecture, which can be admired even today.
Mysteries of the construction of the fortress on the Lion’s Rock, history and speculation – watch the video if you want to know more about Sigiriya.
Author: Julia Matyukhina
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Mount Sigiriya, Sri Lanka: The Eighth Wonder of the World
The ruins of an ancient city on the peak of Mount Sigiriya are considered the eighth wonder of the world. The Lion-shaped plateau, King Kassapa’s ruined fortress, rock frescoes, and centuries-old poems. Read an overview of Sigiriya as well as the sights of the surrounding area.
Distance from Airport:
June, July, September, January, February
How to get to Sigiriya – Detailed itinerary of buses, trains, cabs from different points on the island.
Mount Sigiriya – the Eighth Wonder of the World in Sri Lanka
The 8th wonder of the world Sigiriya is an ancient city of the island of Ceylon, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Mount Sigiriya is a rocky plateau, also called the Lion’s Mountain or Rock, which rises 370 meters above sea level! At the top of the plateau are the remains of the city and the ruins of an ancient fortress and palace, built (according to one version) during the reign of King Kashyapa (479-495).
The city of Sigiriya and the Sigiriya Mountain of the same name in Sri Lanka have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The ancient fortress and palace of Sigiriya
The palace was built on the highest point of the mountain: a luxurious structure surrounded by fountains (some of the first in the world!), pools and beautiful gardens. Inside the castle, a magnificent gallery with frescoes depicting the king’s concubines and a hall of mirrors was one of the most unusual and rich structures of the time.
Some documents that have survived tell us that the facade of the palace was decorated with gold and precious stones. Unfortunately, the confirmation of this luxury remains only on paper, but today you can see with your own eyes 18 preserved frescoes, of which there were originally about 500!
The rock of Sigiriya – a plateau in the form of a Lion
The uniqueness of Sigiriya lies not only in the ruins of the fortress and wall paintings, but also in the animal image that the stone represents. The powerful paws carved out of the monolith are a stunning sight.
The paws are the main part by which the image of the wild cat is made up, there is no other evidence, indirect or direct. Legend has it that the rock used to be decorated with a lion’s head, which, over time, was destroyed. In fact, the “Lion” could be any wild animal or even a mythical animal or half-man. Some tourists claim that the structure of the brick creates the outlines of a giant reptile.
Frescoes and poems on the rock. The history of the Lion’s Mountain.
According to one version, the palace and fortress on Lion Mountain were commissioned by King Cassapa, who erected the structure as protection against his persecutors – his own brother and other family members. In order to gain control of the island, Kashyapa killed his father, and then, fearing retaliation, began a massive construction project. It is hard to think of a more comfortable, protected and beautiful place for the new king to live. According to the same version, the frescoes decorating the walls of the stone are images of concubines and dancers with whom Cassapa spent his leisure time.
However, historian De Silva, who has studied the creation of the frescoes in depth, suggests that Mount Sigiriya was never the residence of the new king, according to the historian’s version – there was a monastery of Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. The women depicted in the mural are not related to Kassapa’s harem, perhaps the goddess Tara was depicted there, who appears as different girls. The goddess Tara may have different colors of skin: white, blue, red, green or yellow, which tells us about the different manifestations of the deity.
In addition to the murals, poems and poems dedicated to female beauty are scratched into the rocks. The rock writings are often called “Sigiriya Graffiti,” some of the oldest texts written in the Sinhalese language.
The ascent and how many steps to climb. How many steps?
The narrow stairs leading up to the rock plateau can be a difficult part of the tour for the elderly or children. Especially in the heat. A long staircase and many steps is an interesting but tiring walk. To enjoy the climb, you should arrive early in the morning, 2-4 hours before the heat: during the day, with every hour, the rocks get hotter and hotter, making the trekking much less enjoyable. Tourists should remember to wear comfortable shoes and long clothes that cover your shoulders and legs from the scorching sun. Important and headgear.
The ascent consists conventionally of 3 parts: first the hall with the frescoes, followed by a hall of mirrors, then the ascent itself up to the top at the lions’ feet. Both during the ascent and at the peak there is an impressive view of the mountains and jungle. In addition to the beauty of ancient architecture, unique wall paintings and tropical vegetation, tourists are impressed by the exotic animals everywhere along the way – wild monkeys, bees, parrots, colorful birds, varanas, chipmunks and great squirrels.
Many people wonder how many steps are there at Lion’s Mountain?
Visitors to the attraction will have to climb 1,200 steps up and then the same number on the way back to see the eighth wonder of the world with their own eyes.
Ticket price. Opening hours
Admission and guided tour (inclusive) is $30. Kids under 12 are half price – $15, and kids under 6 are free.
The price of tickets will seem overpriced to many, although this opinion usually changes in the opposite direction after getting acquainted with the attraction.
To find the entrance for free is not possible.
Opening hours are from 7:00 to 17:30 (at 18:30 the sun goes down). It is better to come early to buy tickets before others and start climbing among the first. How much climbing? – Depends on the season, the number of people, weather and fitness.
Sightseeing in Sigiriya. What else to see?
In and around the central province of the island of Sri Lanka, Mount Sigiriya is not the only attraction, there are other places of interest. Pagoda, museum, national park (safari and wildlife tours), souvenir stores, tea shops, stores with silk, paintings, wooden crafts. Of particular interest are the local markets and cafes with national food.
Dambulla Cave Temple – a cultural heritage monument
Dambulla is a town in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and is located near Sigiriya: here is a well-developed transport infrastructure – Dambulla serves as a “staging post” between other villages on the way to the “eighth wonder of the world”.
The golden temple of Dambulla is located 16 km from Sigiriya. The cave sanctuary has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1991. The complex has a total of 80 caves, of which 5 are the most popular, where both tourists and pilgrims from all over the world come.
The temple is active – everyone can visit the sacred place.
The first mention of the caves dates back to the 1st century BC. The rock is divided into 5 main (large) caves, inside of which: stupa, sculptures of sitting Buddha, paintings dedicated to the life and teachings of Buddha, also on the ceiling and walls there are images of Bodhisattvas and other deities. In addition, there are about 25 cells where monks used to live.
Why is it interesting to visit this place? Dambulla Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in a rock in South Asia. A place with centuries of history! In the man-made caves about 150 statues dedicated to Buddha (3 statues over 2000 years old), 3 statues of the ruling kings of the island, 4 statues of gods and goddesses, in addition – the rock mural, which covers an area of 2100 square meters! Of the 153 statues – 73 are covered in gold. The Golden Temple is the history of the island, a monument of cultural heritage.
Minneria National Park. Safari and wildlife
At 20 km from the fortress on the Lion’s Rock (as the main landmark) sprawling natural and protected area – Minneriya Tusker Safaris National Park (Minneriya Safaris), and a large reservoir Minneriya – Ueva. In times of drought, a large variety of animals come to the reservoir in search of water and greenery. Most of them are elephants. At times, 150-200 animals come to the reservoir to drink water!
In addition to the forest giants, the park’s jungle is home to rare species of animals, birds and insects that are endangered: the red-faced gulman, the Ceylon macaw, the goobach, the Sri Lankan leopard and others. Minneria is one of the few areas where gray slender lories (primates of the lorikeet family) reside.
During safaris (jeep tours through the park), you can see not only elephants and monkeys, which are already a lot on the island, but also deer, buffalo, leopards, crocodiles, Indian python and rare species of monitor lizards!
Pidurangala Rock is 15 minutes from Mount Sigiriya, a slightly lower altitude and less popular among tourists. Pidurangala Rock attracts the most beautiful view of the hills and plains that are lost in the clouds. From the top of Pidurangala you can see the Lion’s Rock.
The unspoiled nature and the low number of tourists make it a suitable place for meditation and relaxation in Sri Lanka. Rock writings are encountered during the ascent, as well as a statue of the reclining Buddha.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa
27 km from Sigiriya you can find the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa is the former capital of the Sinhalese and Chola Kingdom, now an architectural landmark and a historical site for excursions and walks.
In the city you can visit the Hall of the Council of Ministers, the Buddhist temple Lankatilyaka (tall statue of Buddha – with the lost head), the ruins of the luxurious palace Parakramabahu, stupa Tuparama (the first religious building). The Gal Vihara complex, a Buddhist temple with four granite Buddha statues carved into the rock, is a must-see.
In the 2nd century BC. in Polonnaruwa appeared the first settlers, as evidenced by the age-old rock texts of the caves! The city of Polonnaruwa is a true history of the island, its life and prosperity.
Anuradhapura – is it worth the trip?
At 80 km from Sigiriya neighbors Anuradhapura – a large city, the administrative center of the district of Anuradhapura. Here you can see the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, under which he meditated Buddha, visit the national park Wilpattu, as well as numerous monuments. Be sure to look here.
Be sure to check out the local market in Sigiriya, where you can buy exotic fruits and vegetables. And also delicious Ceylon tea and coffee. Go to souvenir stores – there are interesting and unusual things: paintings, woodwork, woven mats of coconut fiber, Ayurvedic cosmetics, real silk, saris and sarongs – the national clothing of Sri Lanka, and much more.