Sigiriya Rock is no more an abandoned fortress as in the present time it’s visited, by hundreds of visitors every day. However, given its legendary history, climbing it is still an adventure worth living. When I first arrived at this Eighth Wonder of the world, I was left astonished by its advancing magnitude. From the ground level, it appeared merely a giant ancient rock. However, as soon as, I began to walk past the ruins of the walls on the ground floor, a prolonged feeling of derealisation took over. Way back in the 5th century, this site was a gorgeous kingdom that welcomed its guests to a splendid sighting of regal gardens and hydraulic features including a series of pools, ponds, and fountains. Today, these are the collaborative ancient remnants of an era covered in damp green moss. Yet, the excitement is palpable.
The exhilaration of arriving here is so high that you can actually FEEL it! At the same time, your mind is hijacked, by a series of questions like, how do I climb the rock, where are the lion claws situated, can I get a sneak peek at the underground sites and so forth. So I have crafted this blog in segments that will allow you to decide which parts of Sigiriya Rock Fortress you would like to explore. Although, let’s begin with the legendary history of this site.
Legendary History of Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Located in Dambulla, the ancient Sigiriya or Lion Rock is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site that also goes by the name Sinhagiri. This archaeological wonder is a 660 ft high rock which according to Sri Lankan chronicle was once the home of King Kashyapa. However, 50 centuries ago, Sigiriya was, in fact, the City of the Gods, the famed Alakamandava. The Palm Leaf Book of Puskola Potha states that Alakamandava was built by the architect Maya Danava, on the instructions of King Vishravasamuni, the father of King Ravana. Thereafter King Kuvera, the half-brother of Ravana changed the name of the city to ‘Cithranakuta,’ during his reign. This historical site is said to have served as a turning point in King Ravana’s life. After Ravana’s death, Vibeeshana, his half-brother became the king and decided to move to the kingdom to Kelaniya instead.
The ‘Ravana Watha,’ explains the famous wall paintings of the Chiththakuta. In the painting the blue lady represents the Yakka Tribe, wherein, other ladies denote the Serpentine Tribes of Naga, Divine Devas and Celestial Musicians of Gandabhbha. The flowers showcase the unity of the nation. As per Culavamsa, later King Kashyapa moved in and reconstructed and maintained Chiththakuta as once kept by the king Ravana. He chose this site to be his new capital towards the end of the 4th-century AD. The King then set up his palace on the uppermost point of this rock and graced it with colourful frescoes on either side. About midway of this rock, King Kashyapa ordered the construction of a passage to resemble a mighty lion.
That is how this site eventually got its name, The Sinhagiri or the Lion City. During his reign, King Kashyapa used his capital to set a perfect example of ancient urban planning for the neighbouring kingdoms. Yet, as soon as, he passed away, his royal palace and city were abandoned by the residents. While a few Buddhist Monks decided to reside at this site and use it as a monastery until the fourteenth century.
Sigiriya’s Elaborate Site Plan
From visionary water gardens, boulder gardens, frescoes to the mirrored wall, Sigiriya’s urban planning is absolutely-worth appreciating. Each floor of this site is worth exploring as it’s deemed to be one of the most significant archaeological finds of the first millennium. The elaborate-plan unites symmetrical and asymmetrical ideas with the geometrical and organic configurations of the surroundings. Starting with five entrance gates! On a symmetrical plan, you will find a park for the royals. This garden illustrates ancient water-retaining structures, including sophisticated hydraulic systems, some of which are even functional today.
The other side features an extensive man-made water body. On the ground level, the site renders lower palaces behind the lower gardens, along with, a deep, wide water ditch surrounding the fortress and a defensive wall which once protected the fort. The midway terrace portrays the Lion Gate and the mirrored wall with frescoes. Wherein, the flat top of the rock, is where you will find the ruins of an upper palace that features tanks or reservoirs cut into the rock.
Sigiriya’s Mirrored Wall
The Mirrored Wall of Sigiriya may have turned orange with time, however, once it was so thoroughly polished, that the King could see himself in it while he walked past it. The trick to creating this glaze was to cover the brick wall with highly polished white plaster. Over centuries this wall was visited by thousands of visitors, some of which even scribbled verses to leave behind their mark. The scribblings date back to the 8th, 9th and 10th century. To protect old writings, new writings, have been banned by the Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon. Of all the cultural stops I made in Sri Lanka, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress left me most astonished.
Besides, climbing this rock means, clawing your way into a rock plateau that, was moulded from magma of an extinct volcano. That’s an adventure ‘truly’ worth living! To explore Sigiriya Rock Fortress, you must keep aside one whole day and arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds. You will be climbing 1200 steep stairs so wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
This Heritage Museum is open from 7 AM – 4 PM | Admission Fees: LKR 4500 per person
P.S. I visited Sigiriya as a guest of Sri Lanka Tourism Board, however, the views are my own.