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The Archaeologically Important City Of Sigriya

Updated on October 22, 2011

The city of Sigriya, in Sri Lanka, is an area of archaeological importance lying between the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva. The name is derived from the word ‘Simha-giri' meaning Lion-Mountain. The city consists of a plain, which has a forest along with surrounding villages and a giant rock, rising to a height of 200 metres. This rock provides the main tourist attraction, as it is the site of a city built by a fifth century king. Today tourists can climb right to the top using the approximately 1042 steps, which in places are wide enough only for the space of one foot!

Few SnapShots

Lion Staircase
Lion Staircase


The city of Sigriya was inhabited from the third century BC till the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries AD. Ruins found of the earliest establishment are that of a monastry. However, the most interesting period was towards the end of the fifth century when King Dhatusena I (459-477) was executed by his son, Kasyapa, in a palace coup. The crown Prince, Moggallana, was forced into exile but Kasyapa feared that he would one day return to claim the throne. He chose the rock of Sigriya to build his capital on, thinking that its uniqueness would prevent his brother from inflicting any harm. Outer and inner moats were constructed encircling gardens at the base of the rock. The whole complex complete with gardens and living quarters for nobels, servants and the army was built at different levels. For decoration, there was a great painted backdrop on the western side of the rock.

The whole city was constructed in nine years and is a unique example of the fifth century architecture, art, hydraulic technology and planning. Unfortunately, there was one important thing that the King and his advisors forgot which was to ensure adequate food supply. So, when after an absence of eighteen years the ex-crown prince returned, a siege forced Kasyapa to go out and fight his brother's army. The fight resulted in a defeat and Kasyapa committed suicide. His brother preferred to have his capital elsewhere and Sigriya was once more converted into a monastry.

In the later part of the nineteenth century its archaeological significance was realized and since then excavations have been carried out there.

Water Gardens At Sigriya
Water Gardens At Sigriya
A Sample Of Sigriya Art
A Sample Of Sigriya Art
The Mirror Wall
The Mirror Wall

Some features of Sigriya

GARDENS: The royal archaeologists had designed numerous gardens for the pleasure of the King. These consisted of the three water gardens with fountains which still work, at the ground level; the boulder garden with its ‘audience hall rock' and a five-metre long throne carved out of rock and the terraced gardens. At the summit of the rock there was an immediate palace garden as well.

ART: Artists from the royal court had decorated the side of the rock with a painted backdrop measuring approximately 140 metres long and upto 40 metres high. This picture gallery showed nymphs and is now only intact in two pockets.

MIRROR WALL: Built to enclose a gallery, this wall had a highly polished plaster finish, which originally reflected like a mirror. Polished marble was used to pave the floor. Graffiti dating between the sixth to the fourteenth centuries is found on the inner side of the wall.

LION STAIRCASE: Built of bricks with a thick coat of lime plaster moulded into the shape of a crouching lion, this magnificent structure reached a height of 14 metres. It symbolized power and was the mythical ancestor of the Sri Lankan Kings. The only remainders are the two paws on the sides of the staircase.

PALACE: Having been built on the summit of the rock, the palace forms the inner most part of the complex. Its layout is still intact and it is divided into three parts i.e. the outer palace, inner palace and the palace gardens.


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