Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The beauty of Sigiriya refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock. The rock, which is so steep that its top overhangs the sides, rises to an elevation of 1,144 feet (349 meters) above sea level and is some 600 feet (180 meters) above the surrounding plain. This rock fortress was built by ancient King Kasyapa during 477 – 495 AD.
The past story of Sigiriya
According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicles, this site was selected by the Sinhala King Kasyapa for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock in the shape of a monumental lion on the several acres of ground at the summit, intending it to be a safeguard against his enemies.
On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock, he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure – Sinhagiri, the Lion Rock. After the King’s defeat, the site soon became a pilgrimage destination, however, and it has helped for emerge of the people attraction in Sigiriya. Sigiriya was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
The construction and early history of Sigiriya are connected with several tragic events in the relationship of two royal brothers – Kasyapa and Moggallana. King Kasyapa illegally took the throne. The legal heir of the throne Maggallana was forced to escape to India. Fearing an attack by his brother, Kasyapa decided to move the capital from Anuradhapura to the central parts of Sri Lanka. He constructed a royal palace on a high rock (Sigiriya) to make sure it will not be invaded by the right heir of the throne Maggallana.
The Sigiriya Palace was constructed using the most advanced technologies of the time and was richly decorated with colorful frescos. But Mogallana finally managed to get to Kasyapa and he was killed in the battle launched by Moggallana. The capital was moved back to Anuradhapura. Magdalena destroyed the palace of his brother and Sigiriya became a Buddhist monastery again. Approximately a thousand years later – in the 14th century it was abandoned also by monks.
Archeological remains in Sigiriya
The site immediately attracted the attention of historians and archaeologists, but only in the 1980s major excavations took place here and then identified the value of Sigiriya. Archeologists discovered the 5th-century citadel, royal palace, gardens, parks and 1500 years old frescoes on the western wall of the complex, some parts of which remained amazingly unaltered. There was a sculpted lion’s head above the legs and paws flanking the entrance, but the head collapsed years ago. Sigiriya consists of an ancient citadel built by King Kasyapa during the 5th century.
The Sigiriya site contains the ruins of an upper palace located on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and the mirror wall with its frescoes, the lower palaces located behind the lavish flower gardens, and moats and ramparts which protected the citadel. The beautiful unique frescos (paintings) created in the sides of this huge rock has gained lots of tourist attraction in Sigiriya.
However, most have been lost forever. The true identity of the ladies in these paintings still has not been confirmed. There are various ideas about their identity. Some believe that they are the ladies of the king’s while others think that they are women taking part in religious observances. These pictures have a close resemblance to paintings seen in the Ajanta caves in India.
Palace, Apsara Paintings (frescoes), The Boulder Gardens and Terrace Gardens, Royal Gardens, Water Gardens, Audience Hall, Mirror Wall, Lion Staircase, Cobra Hood Cave, Moat
Visitors who travel Sigiriya arrive outside the outer moats, with a magnificent view of the rock rising above the trees in the mid-distance. Stone stairways are found along the steep slope at the base of the rock reaching a terrace that traverses along the lower edge of the vertical face of the rock. The rock above this terrace, known as the mirror wall, was at one time adorned with frescoes. At the end of the terrace opens out into a substantial courtyard. From here the climb to the top of the rock is via a modern iron stairway that reaches the rock face, the Lion Gate.
The ruined paws are all that remains of a huge head and forepaws of a lion, whose open mouth served as the main entrance to the royal palace. The route continues around, across and up the cliff face via a rather airy iron staircase. The stairway ends at the highest point of the rock – the upper palace falls away in gentle tiers towards the opposite end of the rock from this point. Before or after the traveling you can reach the Sigiriya museum to get a proper understanding about the history and beautiful landmarks in Sigiriya.