Inscriptions discovered in the tunnels that entwine with the rock’s base show that Sigiriya was used as a religious retreat as early as the third century BC, when Buddhist monks constructed refuges here. Sigiriya did not rise to prominence in Sri Lankan history until the 5th century AD, following the power struggle that ended Dhatusena’s (455–473) control over Anuradhapura.
Table of Contents
- What is the location of Sigiriya Rock?
- Sigiriya Rock Fortress Visit
- What are the most popular Sigiriya trip packages?
- Sigiriya’s Brief History
- The rock fortification of Sigiriya
- Sigiriya water garden
- Sigiriya boulder garden
- Gardens on the Terrace
- The Frescoes of Sigiriya
- “The Mirror Wall” of Sigiriya rock
- The Lion’s History
- The peak of the Sigiriya rock
- Bees attacks at Sigiriya rock
- The Royal Cave Temple of Pidurangala
What is the location of Sigiriya Rock?
The spectacular fortress of SIGIRIYA is located about 15 km northeast of Dambulla, atop a massive outcrop of gneiss granite that rises 200 meters above the surrounding terrain, rising high and impenetrable out of the barren plains of the dry zone. Sigiriya, also known as “Lion Rock,” is the most notable and transitory of Sri Lanka’s medieval capitals. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is the country’s most memorable site. This remarkable archaeological site’s beautiful surroundings add to its memorability.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress Visit
A Sigiriya tour is the best way to learn about this intriguing historical place in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya can be visited on its own, such as on a one-day tour from Colombo. The Sigiriya trip can be paired with a variety of different Sri Lanka itineraries, including the Sri Lanka 10-day tour, the Sri Lanka 7-day tour, and the Sri Lanka 5-day tour. Most trip itineraries include Sigiriya, and a Sri Lanka tour plan without Sigiriya is basically incomplete because it is a must-see historical landmark in the country. The Sigiriya tour from Colombo can be booked as a standalone tour package or it can be combined with other Sri Lankan tour packages.
What are the most popular Sigiriya trip packages?
Every cultural triangle itinerary includes Sigiriya Rock Fort, as well as numerous other historical and cultural tourist attractions. The Seerendipity Tours offers the following five popular tour itineraries, which enable you to explore this fascinating geological site:.
- One-day trip of Sigiriya Dambulla with Minneriya National Park
- A glimpse of Sri Lankan culture
- Tour of Sri Lanka’s history and culture
- Sri Lanka heritage 5-day tour
- 7-day Sri Lanka travel off the beaten path
Sigiriya’s Brief History
Inscriptions discovered in the tunnels that entwine with the rock’s base show that Sigiriya was used as a religious retreat as early as the third century BC, when Buddhist monks constructed refuges here. Sigiriya did not rise to prominence in Sri Lankan history until the 5th century AD, following the power struggle that ended Dhatusena’s (455–473) control over Anuradhapura. Dhatusena had two sons: Mogallana, by his most famed consort, and Kassapa, by a lesser consort. Kassapa rebelled after learning that Mogallana had been named the heir apparent, imprisoning his father and sending Mogallana into exile in India. Dhatusena consented to expose the location of the state treasure in exchange for allowing his son to swim one last time in the magnificent Kalawewa Tank, which he had overseen, out of fear for his life if he did not reveal the location of the state treasure. Dhatusena stood in the tank and poured the water through his hands before telling Kassapa that the water was all of his fortune. Kassapa was unimpressed and confined his father in a chamber, leaving him to die.
Mogallana promised to return to India and collect his fortune in the meantime. A new city was built around the base of the 200-meter-tall Sigiriya Rock, which Kassapa had erected as a temporary capital and fortification in anticipation of the approaching invasion. The home was designed to resemble the fabled Kubera, the god of wealth. According to legend, the magnificent structure was built in just seven years, between 477 and 485.
Mogallana assembled an army of Tamil mercenaries to fight on his behalf, and the long-awaited invasion occurred in 491. Despite the fact that Kassapa’s walled citadel provided various advantages, he fearlessly rode out with his men on an elephant and bravely descended from his rocky elevation to fight the assault on the plains below. Unfortunately, Kassapa’s elephant was frightened and escaped during the combat. He was decapitated as his soldiers turned around, expecting him to withdraw. Kassapa committed suicide just before being captured and defeated.
Following the restoration of Mogallana, Buddhist monks took control of Sigiriya, and pious ascetics seeking solitude packed the caverns there once more. Until the contemporary era, when it was eventually abandoned in 1155, the site was mostly forgotten.
The rock fortification of Sigiriya
Sigiriya Rock tour lasts two to three hours; early morning or late afternoon are ideal times to visit because it is cooler and there are fewer visitors. The late afternoon light highlights the rock’s stunning orange tint, which is reminiscent of Asia’s Ayers Rock. The place is best avoided on weekends, especially on Sundays, due to the high volume of people on the limited corridors and staircases. Though the steep ascent may be unsettling for vertigo sufferers, the walk is not as arduous as it appears from the base of the sheer rock face. In most cases, you can hire guides at the entrance. However, before hiring someone, it’s a good idea to test their expertise and English skills with a few questions.
The site is divided into two sections: the rock on which Kassapa built his main palace and the surrounding area, which has spectacular royal pleasure gardens and other pre-Kassapa monastery ruins. The elaborate paintings of the Sigiriya damsels, which cling to the rocky flanks of the site, are an example of the fascinating mix of raw nature and lofty artifice. Surprisingly, unlike Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Kassapa’s Sigiriya does not appear to have had any notable monasteries or other religious buildings. This could be a hint at its pagan origins.
Sigiriya water garden
A wide, straight route leads from the entrance to the rock, following an imagined east-west axis that serves as the site’s layout. There are two sizable moats surrounding this side of the rock, but the outer moat is currently mostly dry. There are two stories of walls surrounding you as you pass through the Inner Moat and enter the Water Gardens. The first portion features four square-shaped ponds that fill to form a little island in the center. There are paths connecting the pools and the nearby gardens. Pavilion ruins can be seen in the rectangular spaces to the north and south of the ponds.
The modest but well-designed Fountain Garden follows this section. Among the features is a little “river” styled like a serpent. The original sprinkler systems for two ponds and limestone-bottomed waterways are still in place. The little water plumes of the fountains can be visible after heavy rains, even after almost 1500 years of dormancy, thanks to a simple idea based on pressure and gravity. All that was required to clear the water pipes that supplied the fountains was to restore them to functioning order.
Sigiriya boulder garden
The main road continues its ascent after leaving the Water Gardens, passing the Boulder Gardens, which are made up of massive boulders that have fallen along the cliff’s base. Several stones have lines of holes cut into them, giving the impression that there are rock steps. However, on top of or against the boulders, these footings supported the numerous buildings that were constructed, whether they were timber frames or brick walls.
The gardens served as the focal point of Sigiriya’s monastic existence both before and after Kassapa. The monks used about twenty rock shelters, some of which had inscriptions from the first or third century AD. As you explore each cave, you’ll notice that dripstone ledges surround the openings to keep water out. Traces of the ancient painting and plastering that ornamented the caverns can still be seen in some areas. The Deraniyagala Cave is located to the left (no sign) as the trail begins to ascend through the gardens. There are vestiges of previous murals here, as well as a well-preserved dripstone ledge and faded drawings of various apsara figures (celestial nymphs) that resemble the famed Sigiriya Damsels further up the cliff. A minor path that diverges from the main path up the cliff leads to the Cobra Hood Cave, so named because of its striking resemblance to the head of that snake. The cave has lime plaster fragments, floral decorations, and a very weak Brahmi script inscription from the second century BC on a ledge.
After climbing the slope behind Cobra Hood Cave and passing through “Boulder Arch No. 2” (as indicated by signage), turn left to reach the so-called Audience Hall. The wooden house’s walls and roof have long since vanished, leaving only the floor, which was amazingly smoothed by chipping the top of a single, massive boulder, and a 5-meter-wide “throne” fashioned similarly out of solid rock. The hall is known as Kassapa’s audience hall, but it is more likely to have had a strictly religious function (the unoccupied throne represents the Buddha). A few more thrones are cut into surrounding rocks, and the Asana Cave, which is accessible via the route leading to the Audience Hall, still retains some colorful splashes of diverse paintings on its top, despite the fact that current graffiti has nearly completely covered them.
Gardens on the Terrace
After exiting the Asana Cave, return to the main road and proceed uphill by “Boulder Arch No. 1”. The Terrace Gardens, a series of brick and limestone terraces stretching to the cliff’s foot and offering the first of many breathtaking views of the vista below, are where the walkway—now a set of walled-in steps—begins its steep rise.
The Frescoes of Sigiriya
Soon after reaching the cliff’s foot, two discordant nineteenth-century metal spiral staircases lead to and from a protected cave in the steep rock face, which houses the Sigiriya Paintings, Sri Lanka’s most famous mural series (no flash photography). These busty beauties, which date from the fifth century and are the only non-religious paintings from ancient Sri Lanka that have survived, have become one of the island’s most identifiable and most reproduced pictures. The original 500 fresco paintings are supposed to have covered an area of nearly 140 meters by 40 meters in height; however, only 21 paintings are thought to remain (many were damaged by a vandal in 1967, and some of the remaining paintings are hidden behind ropes). The paintings’ exact meaning is unknown, though it was once supposed they showed Kassapa’s consorts. According to modern art historians, the paintings represent portraits of apsaras, or celestial nymphs, which explains why they are only depicted rising from a cloud cocoon from the waist up. Unlike the much later and more stylized murals in the adjacent Dambulla golden temple, the damsels are astonishingly lifelike, spreading petals and handing out trays of fruit and flowers. The pattern is reminiscent of the famed murals in India’s Ajanta Caves. The odd brush slip reveals that one damsel has three hands and another has an additional nipple, adding a wonderfully human touch.
“The Mirror Wall” of Sigiriya rock
The Mirror Wall encircles one side of the walkway, which follows the rock face just past the damsels. A part of the original plaster has been preserved and has a stunning glossy luster. The original plaster was coated with a highly polished plaster composed of egg white, beeswax, lime, and wild honey. The wall is covered in graffiti, with the oldest pieces dating back to the seventh century. The first visitors utilized these to record their impressions of Sigiriya, especially of the native damsels. Those who wanted to see the ruins of the old city continued to visit Sigiriya even after Kassapa’s magnificent pleasure dome was abandoned. The graffiti resembles a visitors’ book from the early Middle Ages when assembled, and the approximately 1500 comprehensible comments provide crucial new insights into the history of the Sinhala language and script.
The walkway continues past the Mirror Wall onto an iron footbridge that appears dangerous due to its attachment to the steep rock face. From this vantage point, a big rock rests on stone slabs below. The popular theory is that in the event of an attack, the slabs would have been knocked away, causing the boulder to fall on the attackers below, but it’s more likely that the slabs were designed to keep the rock from going over the cliff accidentally.
The Lion’s History
Further up the rock, a steep flight of limestone stairs leads to the Lion Platform, a large spur that emerges from the north side of the rock just below the top. A last stairway leads up past the ruins of a massive lion statue with two large paws carved out of the rock at its feet. The path to the summit appears to have gone right through the statue’s mouth. Kassapa’s visitors must have been astounded by the beast’s huge size and complex symbolism. A lion was the most prominent emblem of Sinhalese royalty, and Kassapa’s size was most likely meant to represent his rank and legitimize his fictitious claim to the throne.
Ironically, Kassapa appears to have had a phobia of heights, and it is believed that a large wall would have enclosed these steps at first. However, this is of little comfort to modern vertigo patients, who must scale a slender iron ladder affixed to the exposed rock face in order to reach the pinnacle. The entire length of the rockface above, which once had steps up to the summit, is adorned with numerous striations and grooves.
The peak of the Sigiriya rock
It appears enormous at the summit of the arduous ascent. This was Kassapa’s palace, and construction nearly occupied the entire region at one point. The only thing that remains now are the foundations, and it’s tough to make sense of it all; the major appeal is the stunning view down to the Water Gardens and across the surrounding countryside. The Royal Palace is now nothing more than a basic, square brick platform located at the very top of the cliff. The highest part is enclosed by sloping terraced walls, beneath which lies a vast rock-hewn tank; water is said to have been channeled to the peak by a complicated hydraulic system driven by windmills. Below this point, four more terraces, apparently originally gardens, drop to the foot of the mountain above Sigiriya Wewa.
If you missed it before, you should eventually pass the Cobra Hood Cave on your right after leaving the site to the south. The descent takes a somewhat different path.
Bees attacks at Sigiriya rock
The wire mesh cages on Sigiriya’s Lion Platform were built as a protective structure in case of bee attacks, which have recently occurred despite efforts (using a combination of chemical and ceremonial exorcism) to drive the offending insects from their nests, which can be seen clinging to the underside of the rock overhang above, to the left of the stairs. According to local Buddhist monks, these attacks are divine retribution for tourists’ impious actions.
The Royal Cave Temple of Pidurangala
The Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple is located a few kilometers north of Sigiriya on yet another massive rock formation. According to legend, Kassapa established the monastery here by establishing new apartments and a temple to compensate for the monks who were forced to evacuate from Sigiriya to make way for the king’s palace. Continue for about 750 meters north of Sigiriya to the Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya, a white, modern temple. The short bike or tuktuk ride to the base of Pidurangala Rock is pleasurable. There are also some remarkable ruins of medieval monastery buildings, including the ruins of a large brick dagoba about 100 meters up this trail on the left. The steep stairs that ascend the hill behind the Pidurangala Viharaya lead to the Royal Cave Temple, which is located on a platform directly below the rock’s pinnacle. The only sight in the imposingly named temple is a long, reclining Buddha statue with part of its upper half rebuilt in brick. The steep ascent takes about fifteen minutes. Fading murals of Vishnu and Saman decorate the statue’s exterior.
If you can discover the rocky road that climbs to the summit of the rock, it’s only a 5-minute scramble. To avoid getting lost on the surprisingly easy return, you’ll need to be physically active and agile. Your efforts will be rewarded with the best view of Sigiriya, short of renting a balloon. It will show the northern face of the rock, which has been concealed from view throughout the ascent but has a far more interesting shape and irregularity. The ant-like figures of those making the final ascent to the summit are hardly discernible against the massive slab of red rock.