Sigiriya rock

The best way to see the spectacular Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka is on a guided tour. It is possible to visit Sigiriya on its own without combining it with any other destination. Many other tours, such as the Sri Lanka 10-day, Sri Lanka 7-day, and Sri Lanka 5-day, can be coupled with the Sigiriya tour. Sigiriya is a must-see historical landmark in Sri Lanka, so it’s included on most Sri Lanka tour itineraries. A trip to Sri Lanka that doesn’t include Sigiriya, however, is basically completed.

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The location of Sigiriya rock

The mighty stronghold of SIGIRIYA may be found about 15 km northeast of Dambulla golden temple, perched atop a massive outcrop of gneiss granite that rises 200 metres above the surrounding countryside. “Lion Rock,” or Sigiriya, is the most impressive and transient of Sri Lanka’s mediaeval capitals. As the country’s most iconic attraction, it was recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1982. The breathtaking surroundings make the remarkable archaeological site even more memorable.

Seeing the Rock of Sigiriya

The best way to see the spectacular Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka is on a guided tour. It is possible to visit Sigiriya on its own without combining it with any other destination. Many other tours, such as the Sri Lanka 10-day, Sri Lanka 7-day, and Sri Lanka 5-day, can be coupled with the Sigiriya tour. Sigiriya is a must-see historical landmark in Sri Lanka, so it’s included on most Sri Lanka tour itineraries. A trip to Sri Lanka that doesn’t include Sigiriya, however, is basically completed.

What are the most common Sigiriya sightseeing tours?

Sigiriya Rock Fort is just one of several historical and cultural sites that are included in every cultural triangle trip. The Seerendipity Tour features the following five activities:

Day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla, including Minneriya National Park

Overview of Culture of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka history and culture

Sri Lanka heritage tour

Sri Lanka beaten-path

Introduction to history of Sigiriya

Inscriptions found in tunnels that entwine with the base of the rock show that Sigiriya was a place of religious seclusion as early as the third century BC. The 5th century AD saw a brief period of importance for Sigiriya in Sri Lankan history, during the power war that ended Dhatusena’s (455–473) control over Anuradhapura. Dhatusena’s most famous queen, Mogallana, produced two sons for him: Mogallana and Kassapa. The news that Mogallana had been named heir apparent sparked a rebellion by Kassapa, who imprisoned his father and banished Mogallana to India. Fearing for his life if he did not reveal the location of the state treasure, Dhatusena consented to tell his son the whereabouts of the money in exchange for allowing him one last swim in the magnificent Kalawewa Tank, which he had managed. Dhatusena, while standing inside the tank, poured the water through his hands and declared to Kassapa that it was his entire fortune. Kassapa was so unimpressed with his father that he abandoned him and confined him in a room.

Mogallana promised to get back from India with his wealth. A new city was built around the base of Sigiriya Rock, a 200-meter-tall rock that Kassapa had erected as a temporary capital and fortification in preparation for an impending invasion. The home was designed to evoke the appearance of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth and plenty. The incredible structure, as legend has it, was built between 477 and 485 in just seven years.

In 491, the long-awaited invasion occurred after Mogallana assembled an army of Tamil mercenaries. Despite Kassapa’s fortified citadel’s many advantages, he courageously rode out with his men on an elephant and descended from his rocky elevation to face the assault on the plains below in a show of fatalistic heroism. Unfortunately, Kassapa’s elephant fled the battlefield in a panic during the heat of combat. His men, assuming he was about to retreat, turned back and cut him down. Kassapa killed himself right before he was going to be captured and defeated.

After the Buddhist monks retook Mogallana, devout ascetics seeking seclusion once more overran the caverns of Sigiriya. After being abandoned in 1155, the site was mostly forgotten until the present day.

The Citadel atop Sigiriya

You can spend two to three hours exploring Sigiriya Rock, though you’ll have more comfort and fewer crowds if you go in the early morning or late afternoon. The rock’s orange tint is reminiscent of Ayers Rock in Australia, and the late afternoon light emphasises it. Avoid going there on the weekends, especially on Sundays, when crowds of people are likely to be there. If you suffer from vertigo, the steep approach may be tough, although the walk is not as arduous as it looks from the bottom of the rock face. Typically, tour guides can be hired at the main gate. However, before hiring someone, it’s a good idea to ask them a few questions to gauge their level of expertise and English proficiency.

The site is divided into the rock where Kassapa built his main palace and the region around it, which includes spectacular royal pleasure gardens and other vestiges of the monastery that existed before Kassapa. Among the many fascinating examples of the unusual blend of wild nature and lofty artifice are the paintings of the Sigiriya damsels, which cling to the site’s steep sides. Unlike Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Kassapa’s Sigiriya doesn’t seem to have had any significant monasteries or other religious buildings. This may point to its satanic roots.

Watre garden

From the entrance to the rock, there is a broad, straight route that roughly follows an imaginary east-west axis. There are two sizable moats surrounding this side of the rock, but the outer one is primarily dry right now. You will enter the two-leveled Water Gardens after crossing the Inner Moat. In the first section, a little island is formed in the middle of four square ponds. There is a network of walkways connecting the pools and gardens. Pavilion ruins can be found in the north and south rectangular regions around the ponds.

The next part of the garden, the Fountain Garden, is smaller but well-planned. One of the features is a serpentine “river” of sorts. Two ponds and canals with limestone bottoms still feature their original sprinkler systems. Even after lying dormant for over a millennium and a half, the little water plumes of the fountains may be seen after heavy rains, thanks to a simple principle based on pressure and gravity. Just clearing the water lines that supply the fountains was enough to get them back up and running.

Boulder garden

The main road starts to climb after passing the Water Gardens, which are surrounded by huge stones that have tumbled down from the cliff. Several of the boulders have had lines of holes drilled into them to make it look like the rock steps are there. However, these footings supported the many buildings that were constructed on top of or against the boulders, whether they were made of timber frames or brick walls.

Both before and after Kassapa’s arrival, the gardens of Sigiriya were the centre of the monastic community’s activities. About twenty rock shelters were utilised by the monks, some of which were marked with inscriptions from as early as the first or third century AD. Dripstone ledges, which are used to keep water out of the caves, may be seen as you enter each one. The ancient decorations of the caverns, such as Sigiriya painting and plastering, can still be seen in some areas. The Deraniyagala Cave can be found immediately after the path begins to wind upward through the gardens, although there is no sign indicating its location. In addition to a well-preserved dripstone ledge, this area features the remnants of ancient paintings, including faded depictions of various apsara figures (celestial nymphs) that resemble the famed Sigiriya Damsels further up the rock. Cobra Hood Cave, so named for its striking resemblance to the head of that snake, may be found at the end of a side path that branches off from the main route up the cliff. Lime plaster pieces, floral decorations, and a faint inscription in Brahmi writing dating to the second century BC can be found on a ledge inside the cave.

Turn left after passing through “Boulder Arch No. 2” (as marked on the trail) to reach the fabled Audience Hall, which is located on the slope above the Cobra Hood Cave. The floor, which was remarkably levelled by chipping the top of a single, massive boulder, and a “throne” measuring 5 metres in width are all that remain of the wooden house, which has long since disappeared. Kassapa’s audience hall is a name for the space, but it was likely used for religious purposes alone (the empty throne represents the Buddha). There are a few additional thrones in the area, and the tiny Asana Cave, which is accessible from the path leading to the Audience Hall, has some striking splashes of various paintings on its top despite being almost entirely covered by contemporary graffiti.

Garden terrace

Back on the main road, you can take “Boulder Arch No. 1” to head uphill after exiting Asana Cave. The path, now enclosed steps, begins at the Terrace Gardens, a series of brick and limestone terraces that run along the base of the cliff and provide the first of many breathtaking views of the vista below.

Sigiriya paintings

The Sigiriya Paintings are the most well-known mural series in Sri Lanka, and you may see them in a cave in the sheer rock face accessible via two discordant metal spiral staircases built in the nineteenth century (no flash photography allowed). Dating back to the fifth century, these busty beauties are the only non-religious paintings from ancient Sri Lanka that have been preserved. They have since become one of the island’s most identifiable and frequently reproduced pictures. Only 21 of the original 500 paintings are thought to be intact. Many of the paintings were damaged by a vandal in 1967, and some of the remaining paintings are hidden by ropes). The original frescoes covered an area of around 140 metres by 40 metres in height. Once believed to show Kassapa’s consorts, the paintings’ true meaning remains a mystery. According to contemporary art experts, the most reasonable interpretation of these works is that they depict apsaras, or celestial nymphs, emerging from a cloud cocoon from the waist up. The depiction of the damsels is incredibly lifelike, with them spreading petals and handing trays of fruit and flowers, in contrast to the much later and more stylized murals at the adjacent Dambulla golden temple. The style is reminiscent of the paintings in the Ajanta Caves in India. One damsel has three hands, and another has an additional nipple, both of which are endearingly human features that the occasional brush slip revealed.

The Mirror Wall

The Mirror Wall encloses the path on one side as it continues along the rock face just past the damsels. Some of the original plaster is still there, and it looks as lustrous as ever. A highly polished plaster of egg white, beeswax, lime, and wild honey was applied over the original plaster. There is a lot of graffiti on the wall, some of it as old as the seventh century. These were used by the earliest tourists to Sigiriya to record their impressions of the city and its inhabitants, especially the local damsels. Even when Kassapa’s magnificent pleasure dome was no longer in use, visitors interested in seeing the remains of the ancient city still flocked to Sigiriya. The combined graffiti resembles a mediaeval visitors’ book, and the around 1500 decipherable comments provide valuable new insights into the history of the Sinhala language and script.

After passing the Mirror Wall, the trail leads across a foreboding-looking iron footbridge affixed to the side of a cliff. From this vantage point, you can see a massive boulder perched on thinner stones. Although the slabs’ original purpose was probably to keep the boulder from falling over the edge of the cliff, legend has it that they might have been pushed aside in the case of an attack, sending the rock crashing down on the attackers below.

In the Presence of a Lion

The Lion Platform is a large spur that rises from the north side of the rock just below the top and can be reached via a steep flight of limestone stairs farther up the rock. The two sizable paws carved from the rock at the feet of what was once a sizable lion statue represent it here as the final flight of stairs ascends. The path to the top seems to have entered the statue’s mouth. The sheer scale of the beast’s pretensions and the depth of its symbolism must have stunned visitors to Kassapa. Kassapa’s massive stature likely served to represent his status and legitimise his false claim to the throne, given that the lion was the most prominent emblem of Sinhalese royalty.

It is thought that a large wall once surrounded these steps, which is ironic given that Kassapa apparently had a fear of heights. However, this is of little solace to modern vertigo sufferers, who must climb a thin iron ladder fastened to the open rock face in order to reach the summit. The entire length of the rockface above, which once had steps leading to the peak, is covered in numerous striations and grooves.

The peak of the rock

It appears enormous from the summit of the arduous ascent. The area was once densely populated with the palace of Kassapa. It’s hard to make sense of what’s left of the structure now that only the foundations remain, but the vista down to the Water Gardens and across the surrounding countryside is stunning. These days, all that remains of the Royal Palace is a square brick platform atop the cliff. Water was purportedly sent to the peak using a complex hydraulic system powered by windmills, and the highest point is enclosed by sloping terraced walls, under which is a massive rock-hewn tank. Continuing down the slope of the mountain above Sigiriya Wewa, a further four terraces (perhaps previous gardens) go to the mountain’s base.

Those who leave the area to the south will eventually pass the Cobra Hood Cave on the right. The way down is a little different than the way up.

Beware of bees attacks

On Sigiriya’s Lion Platform, to the left of the stairs, you can see small wire mesh cages that were constructed as a protective structure in case of bee attacks, which have occurred recently despite efforts (using a mix of chemical and ceremonial exorcism) to drive the offending insects from their nests. Buddhist priests in the area have blamed tourists’ sinful actions for these attacks.

The Cave Temple of Pidurangala

The Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple can be found just a little distance north of Sigiriya, on yet another massive rock outcrop. According to legend, Kassapa built the new homes and temple for the monks who had to leave Sigiriya to make way for the king’s palace when he created the monastery there. The Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya is a white, modern temple located around 750 metres north of Sigiriya. The trip down to Pidurangala Rock’s base on a bike or tuktuk is fun and just takes a few minutes. A large brick dagoba, as well as the ruins of other monastery buildings, may be found a hundred yards farther up this trail, to the left. Steps go up the slope behind the Pidurangala Viharaya to a platform where the Royal Cave Temple can be found, just below the rock’s top. The imposingly named temple merely contains a lengthy, reclining Buddha statue that has had its upper half rebuilt in brick. The ascent is difficult and takes around fifteen minutes. The statue’s exterior is adorned with faded murals depicting Vishnu and Saman.

If you can locate the rocky path that leads to the top of the rock, the ascent will take no more than five minutes. To avoid getting lost on the surprisingly simple trip back, you’ll need to be in good physical shape and quick on your feet. Your efforts will be rewarded with the best view of Sigiriya available, short of hiring a balloon. The more interesting and irregular northern face of the rock, hidden from view for the whole of the climb, will be revealed. You can almost touch the massive red rock slab without losing sight of the ant-like figures of people making the final ascent to the peak.

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