Rising dramatically in the middle of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle comprised of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and between the towns of Dambulla and Habarane, lies Sigiriya Rock, also known as the Lion Rock. This UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site is considered one of the best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning on a massive rocky plateau and sits 370 meters above sea level.

Series of staircases and the remnants of an enormous lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the gigantic near-vertical steep slopes and flat topped granite peak of Sigiriya Rock.

King Kashyapa (or King Kassapa) is believed to have fortified and made Sigiriya Rock his citadel for 18 years during 477 - 495 CE. It is believed that the creators tried to soften the rough layout of the Sigiriya Rock structure with water features such as water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and also terraced gardens. The irrigation systems and technology used to supply water all the way up to the palace constructed on the summit of Sigiriya Rock, baffles the experts to this day.

Sigiriya Rock was built in 3 levels: the lower level was given access by five gates and was protected by a broad moat enclosed within two-tiered walls. This level was full of different units housing palace functions and the fortress complex.

The second level is the main access point to the Sigiriya citadel. This was once believed to have been decorated with an enormous lion statue built with bricks and plaster, and its the feet from stone, thus giving it the name Lion’s Rock. The feet made with rock are the only remnants of this massive statue today.

The third and the top level held the palace; however, the ruins of the two-brick-tall foundations of the palace walls are the only remains standing to this day.

Sigiriya Frescoes

The Western wall of Sigiriya Rock is believed to have been almost entirely adorned with the world famous Sigiriya frescoes, of which only 18 have survived today. There are different notions and thousands of years of speculation about the Sigiriya frescoes and the female figures represented in them. Some people believe that they represent celestial nymphs showering flowers upon mortals below and some say that the frescoes are of queens and concubines of the King Kashyapa (or King Kassapa). 

These Sigiriya frescoes bear some resemblance to the Gupta style of painting in the Ajanta Caves in India, however, are judged to be far more vibrant, lifelike and are uniquely Sri Lankan in their character.

Sigiriya Mirrored Wall

1600 years ago it is documented that a highly-polished white masonry parapet wall once covered the Terraced Gardens the Sigiriya Rock Fortress to two hundred meters along a gallery with frescoes. Only about 100 meters of the wall exist today.

The travellers during 600AD and 1400AD are believed to have written pieces of prose, poetry and commentary on the surface of the Mirror Wall. Most of the graffiti is about the beautiful nude figures of the female frescoes which once covered most of the western wall.

The graffiti on the Sigiriya mirrored wall offer an insight into the history, politics and also the evolution of the Sinhala language.

How to get There

Located 165km from Colombo, there are 2 routes that take you to Sigiriya Rock. First one is through the A1 (Kandy Road) exit to A6 from Ambepussa towards Kurunegala, the drive will take approximately 3 hours on a good day.

Next option is through Katunayake Expressway to Giriulla and Kurunegala road straight to Dambulla, which will take about 2 hours.

The cheapest way to travel is by bus as usual. Train is another option; however this takes longer than the bus and only one train is available from Fort, Colombo to Sigiriya Rock.

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