Sigiriya rock fortress is the most visited tourist attraction in Sri Lanka. It is sometimes known as the Sigiriya Lion Rock, after its original name “Sinha-Giri”. The name comes from its palace entrance through a massive brick sculpture of a lion head. Only the paws of this sculpture remain at the foot of the rock today.Sigiriya rock fortress is a fifth century fortified palace complex, which was used by King Kassapa (477CE-493CE). The Sigiriya rock abruptly rises 600 feet high from the surrounding plains. The ruins of King Kassapa’s royal palace are scattered on the peak rock plateau. The hike to the top is via 1200 steps. Some of them were constructed at the time of King Kassapa. The foothills and immediate surroundings of the Sigiriya rock were once an elaborate royal pleasure garden. The archaeological value of the site is immeasurable, perhaps unsurpassed in South Asia.
Most Sri Lankan ruins have a religious significance. However, the ancient city of Sigiriya is not a pilgrimage site. It provides valuable insight into the non-religious architecture and high culture of ancient Sri Lanka.Along the stairway to the top are the Sigiriya rock fresco pockets. The pockets house 21 fresco paintings of voluptuous women. Five hundred such painting are said to have adorned the rock walls flanking the stairway. These paintings closely resemble the classical art schools of ancient Indian kingdoms. Notably, the cave No.16 of central India’s Ajanta cave paintings are contemporaries of the Sigiriya rock paintings. However, the copper blue pigment and preservative coating used, show distinct technical differences between the schools of central India and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. The Sigiriya rock paintings also point towards a realist movement within the greater Indian classical art spectrum. As far as we know, this realist movement is sorely unique to Sigiriya rock paintings in Sri Lanka. The entire archaeological complex of the ancient city of Sigiriya is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Ancient City of Sigiriya, Sigiriya, Matale,
Central Province, Sri Lanka.
7.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.
Weekdays & Weekends
Sigiriya Rock Fortress Highlights
Sigiriya Lion Rock Pleasure Gardens
The Sigiriya lion rock pleasure gardens cover about 15 hectares of the immediate Sigiriya rock surroundings. This area consists of relatively flat land and foothills that gradually rise up to the main rock. The Sigiriya rock pleasure garden is one of the oldest landscape gardens in the world. Here, the unknown designer(s) had used the natural contour and other features of the land with minimum interference.
The sophisticated design features a water garden, a fountain garden, a boulder garden and a terrace garden. The royal elite of Sigiriya celebrated the sensual pleasures. They were known to hold ceremonial water games, at which the royals, nobles, guests and the harem took part in. Water was a luxury to the ancient Sri Lankans. It was shared with the people by creating public reservoirs.
The ancient Sigiriya wewa reservoir lies just south of the main site. This reservoir feeds two defensive moats that form a square around the Sigiriya rock fortress. Three sets of ramparts follow these moats. Only the brick foundations of the ramparts remain today. However, the outer moat is still infested with crocodiles. The original drawbridge is replaced by a modern pathway, which also borders a security office. The remains of sentry chambers are visible on the inner bank of the outer moat. The entrance is through the inner rampart, which is followed by the inner moat. From there on a wide straight path dissects the symmetrical Sigiriya water gardens.
Sigiriya Water Gardens
The Sigiriya water gardens consist of a collection of pools, fountains and lawns. It is symmetrical. The main pathway and another causeway, divide the pool into four sections with an island at the center. These causeways connect the pool to the surrounding lawns.
Past this pool are the symmetrical fountains on either sides of the main pathway. The fountain sprinklers still work during the rainy season after 1500 years. Next to the fountains are the foundations of Sigiriya summer palaces. The final phase of the garden complex consists of a raised octagonal pool. The famous architect Geoffrey Bawa was inspired by the ambiance of Sigiriya water gardens. He went on the design the Blue Water Hotel in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka based on the ancient gardens.
Sigiriya Boulder Gardens
The main path then leads to the Sigiriya boulder gardens. The design uses natural boulder placements around the base rock to create a set of brick and woodworks. None of the original buildings survive today. Yet, the rock-cut footings on the boulders that supported the walls and pillars are visible. The boulder garden is asymmetrical. It uses the natural contour and boulder placements to create a high aesthetic effect that is almost modern.
Three natural caves are also identified as the garden’s features. They are the Deraniyagala cave, cobra hooded cave and asana cave. Some rare fifth century murals can be seen on the cave ceilings as well. An inscription here states that this area was used by meditating Buddhist monks since third century BCE. This makes it the oldest archaeological site in the Sigiriya rock fortress. The famous architect Geoffrey Bawa was inspired by the ambiance of Sigiriya boulder gardens. He went on the design the Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla, Sri Lanka based on the ancient gardens.
Sigiriya Terrace Gardens
The Sigiriya terrace gardens gradually rise up from the boulder gardens to meet the base of Sigiriya rock. It was designed to provide a series of views that gradually rose up with the natural contour of the Sigiriya foothill. Boulder arch No.1 is located in this garden. The architect has created the stairway through this natural boulder arch to create an effect. The terraces were created with brick and marble. In between the boulders, one can see traces of brickwork terraces. A marble flight of steps leads up through the Sigiriya terrace gardens to the Sigiriya lion rock ancient stairway.
Other historical attractions in Sri Lanka :
Sigiriya Lion Rock Ancient Stairway
A wide square-shaped viewpoint marks the end of the terrace gardens. From here on, a nineteenth-century iron stairway follows the signs of an ancient stairway that probably was woodwork. Hundreds of rock-cut footings can be seen along the new pathway that leads to the Sigiriya lion’s paw sculpture. Two must-see places at Sigiriya lie along the new stairway.
Sigiriya Fresco Paintings Pocket
Sigiriya fresco paintings are Sri Lanka’s most iconic pieces of classical art. The fresco pocket is a depression on the Sigiriya rock flank. It houses 21 fresco paintings of voluptuous women who are popularly known as the Sigiriya damsels. Five hundred such painting is said to have adorned the stone walls flanking the stairway. Sigiriya damsels are women of various ages. Some are middle-aged and many are young. The central figures are painted with a female attendant on their side. Some are light-skinned while others are dark-skinned. All of them are elaborately dressed in colorful jewelry, flowers, and transparent silk. The artist has captured how the silk interacts with skin color and the natural human form.
These paintings closely resemble the classical art schools of ancient Indian kingdoms. Notably, the cave No.16 of central India’s Ajanta cave paintings are contemporaries of the Sigiriya rock paintings. The Sigiriya damsels are very similar to the human form seen at Ajanta paintings. However, a unique copper blue pigment and preservative coating used, show distinct technical differences between the schools of central India and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya rock paintings also point towards a realist movement within the greater Indian classical art spectrum. As far as we know, this realist movement is sorely unique to Sigiriya rock paintings in Sri Lanka. A rare terracotta model of a Sigirya damsel was also unearthed during the Sri Lanka cultural triangle excavations at Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Mirror Wall and Sigiriya Graffiti
Sigiriya mirror wall is a fifth-century brick wall that would have originally covered the whole stairway flanking the rock-face. During King Kassapa’s time, the wall plaster was polished to create a mirror effect and hence the name. After the fall of Kassapa, many local visitors had heard of the Sigiriya rock fortress ruins. Their many visits were recorded in the form of graffiti on the mirror wall. The graffiti are poems written in the Sinhalese language. These Sigiriya graffiti describe the beauty of Sigiriya damsels. Some of the described paintings have not survived. Their only record are these poems.
Sri Lankan Tour Packages :
Sigiriya Lion’s Paws Sculpture
The mirror wall stairway leads up to the ruins of Sigiriya lion’s paws sculpture. The name “Sigiriya Lion Rock” comes from this royal palace entrance. The original entrance was through a massive brick sculpture of a lion head. Only the paws of this sculpture remain at the foot of the rock today. A rare Sigiriya mirror wall poem describes how imposing the lion sculpture was at the time of his visit (Sometime between sixth to thirteenth centuries). The stairway that leads to the top of Sigiriya rock starts from where the lion statue’s mouth would have been.
Things to do in Sri Lanka :
Sigiriya Lion Rock Palace Complex (Sigiriya Rock Fortress)
A long modern flight of steps roughly follows the original path that leads to the Sigiriya lion rock palace complex on the summit. The palace covered the whole 1.5 hectares on the Sigiriya rock plateau. Only the foundations, a rock-cut seat and the royal pool are visible today. The highlight of the summit is the 3600 spectacular view of the surrounding plains.
3600 views from Sigiriya Rock Fortress
The summit of Sigiriya offers amazing views. The summit is 600 feet above the surrounding plains and 1,144 feet above sea level. The gneiss formations of Sigiriya becomes hauntingly colorful at dusk. The west side cliff offers superb views of the royal pleasure gardens below. To the north is the “Mapagala mountain”. To the south is the popular Pidurangala rock. On a clear day, the stupas of Anuradhapura can be seen as dots to the Northwest. The views from the Sigiriya summit are really what makes the hike worth it.
Sigiriya Palace Foundations
The foundations of the Sigiriya royal palace completely cover the summit plateau. The highest point on the summit shows the foundations of King Kassapa’s bedchamber. The plan of the palace complex follows the natural slope to the south. Two rock-cut pools can be seen among the ruins as well. One of these is surrounded by a smooth pavement. Nearby, a finely carved stone seat may have served King Kassapa of Sigiriya himself.
Things to do in Sigiriya
Rural village visits around Sigiriya
The best way to discover authentic Sri Lankan culture is by paying a visit to one of the rural villages. Villages around Sigiriya still hold on to the old ways of life. Arranged visits include lunch at villager’s home, traditional cooking class, slash and burn cultivation visit, canoe ride in a reservoir, bullock cart ride, trekking and bird watching experiences. It is a good way to relax and enjoy a different culture at your own pace.
Hiking the Rose Quartz Mountain (Jathika Namal Uyana) from Sigiriya
Twentyfive kilometers from Sigiriya is the famous rose quartz mountain range. It is the largest rose quartz deposit in all Asia. Here mining is prohibited by the Sri Lankan government as the quartz range lies inside a nature reserve. Around the tiny mountain range is the national ironwood forest (Jathika Namal Uyana). It is the largest man-made forest in South Asia. Ruins of a third-century Buddhist monastery are scattered inside this ironwood forest. In ancient times, dangerous convicts had sought refuge at the monastery and the resident monks had ordered them to plant ironwood trees as penitence for their crimes. As time went by the monastery was abandoned but the ironwood thrived.
Visiting Popham’s Arboretum from Sigiriya
An arboretum is a place where trees are grown for study and display. Popham’s arboretum is the only dry zone arboretum in Sri Lanka. Mr. Sam Popham who was an enthusiast founded the arboretum in 1963. Today is is managed by the tree society of Sri Lanka. It is a relaxing place with many footpaths and a collection of semi-evergreen monsoon dry forest trees. The forest makes a superb bird watching site. The highlight of the arboretum is its night walk in which you can see the slender loris, one of the rarest creatures on earth.
Visiting Ibbankatuwa Megalithic Burial site
Ibbankatuwa megalithic burial site is one of 180 pre-historic sites excavated in Sri Lanka. The site comprises of 42 sets of tombs created by unshaped stone slabs. There are more than 400 burials excavated at the site. Both skeletons and cremated remains were found at the site. Grave goods including clay pots, iron, copper, gold, beads, necklaces and Indian gemstones were also found. A decent site creates many questions than answers.
Watching a Cricket match at Dambulla International Cricket Grounds
Dambulla International Cricket ground is not the busiest cricket ground in Sri Lanka. This 30000 seat stadium has hosted more than 50 matches since its inauguration in 2001. Famous cricketer Tilakaratne Dilshan played his career final ODI here. If you are lucky you might actually get to watch an ODI here.
Elephant riding at Sigiriya & Bullock cart riding at Sigiriya
Sri Lanka is home to many domesticated Asian elephants. It is very common to see them near roadsides, temples and houses. Home elephants are gentle creatures unlike wild elephants. However, there are many concerns regarding the future of elephant domestication. Some people view it as an evil act to tame a wild animal. Yet many Sri Lankans find it most natural to take care of an elephant as a family member.
Bull driven carts were once the preferred way to travel between Sri Lankan villages. Bullock cart racing is a rare sport nowadays but not unheard of in rural areas. If you fancy a ride, there are many bullock carts around Sigiriya area.
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