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Sigiriya Sri Lanka - The Most Visited Place in Sri Lanka

Updated on June 13, 2016

Sigiriya is one of the most attracted tour destination in Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO listed world heritage site and the most visited ancient site in Sri Lanka. I am privileged to write this article as a Sri Lankan and as a person living nearby the site. Sigiriya is the best available example for ancient urban planning. You will be surprised by the Engineering and hydraulic technology of ancient Sri Lanka.


History of Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a kingdom of ancient sri lanka, it was built by king Kashyapa, he ruled the kingdom for 18 years (477AD to 495 AD). But the archaeologists have confirmed that Sigiriya and the surrounding area was inhabitant for more than 4000 years. Also it was a Buddhist monastery for 800 years before it was converted into a royal palace.

The reason to construct Sigiriya kingdom has a tragic story of two royal brothers, Kashyapa and Mugalan. Kashyapa illegally took the thrown by murdering his father king Dathusena, but the legal hair was Mugalan. Mugalan was the son of the main queen while Kashyapa was a son of another queen. Then Mugalan escaped to India to protect his life. King kashyapa was afraid of a counterattack from Mugalan and decided to create his palace in Sigiriya instead of then capital Anuradhapura. He wanted to make his palace as a rock fortress with all possible protection precautions in place to withstand any attack from the legal hair of thrown Mugalan

Sri Lanka in that era was highly prosperous country; it had a lot of wealth. Kashyapa was the new owner of that wealth and the highly talented work force that Sri Lanka had. Kashyapa brought them from Anuradhapura to build his dream city and the citadel. The sigirya rock is 200m high from the ground and is the center peace of the new city, and the surrounding of the rock was transformed into a new city including a series of moats, water gardens, ponds, fountains etc using the highest technology of that era. It is considered an agricultural and engineering marvel in this 21st century as well.

The palace was constructed on the summit of the rock. The pathway to the citadel from the ground through the rock was designed with the best architectural design while keeping security the main point. The other important thing is the aesthetic value that was added to the entire work.

How Sigiriya was named?

How Sigiriya got its name too, an interesting story. The main entrance to the fortress is through the staircase through a lion’s chest, created by cutting the rock. The Lion’s paws are still there. King Kashyapa had constructed a giant lion of about 35m high over these paws. The other parts of the lion might have done using bricks or wood, but that is not available now. So it is this feature gave the name to the fortress, Lion Rock which in SInhala is Siha-Giri then changed to Sigiriya.

Lion starecase - The entrance to the fortress
Lion starecase - The entrance to the fortress | Source

Ruins in Sigiriya

Archaeologists estimate that ruins of around 20% of the complete construction of ancient city is remaining today. The rest, most of it was made of wood has been destroyed. There are still many ruins to be discovered hidden in the forest. It would be difficult to a guest to imagine the complete splendid surrounding that had been here 1500 years ago. However he can imagine that here is the place of some other world full of lavish gardens, fountains, lakes, symmetrical gardens and the center of it was a one giant rock. The rock was colored with pictures (Sigiriya Frescoes).

Sigiriya Frescoes

One complete wall of the rock is a huge picture gallery, 140m long and 40m high, perhaps the largest picture gallery of the world. But most of the pictures are faded away, but few of them are still in top quality condition.

o imagine the complete splendid surrounding that had been here 1500 years ago. However he can imagine that here is the place of some other world full of lavish gardens, fountains, lakes, symmetrical gardens and the center of it was a one giant rock. The rock was colored with pictures (Sigiriya Frescoes).

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The Mirror Wall

It is a section of the rock wall and it was very tightly polished, so that the king could see his image when he walked alongside the wall. That is why the name Mirror Wall came. Then people used to write poems on the Mirror Wall when they visit Sigiriya. There are around 685 verses, many of which dates back to 8th Century. This give the very important point that, Sigiriya was a tourist attraction in the 8th Century as well.

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A poem written on the Mirror WallA part of the Mirror Wall
A poem written on the Mirror Wall
A poem written on the Mirror Wall | Source
A part of the Mirror Wall
A part of the Mirror Wall | Source

The Gardens at Sigiriya

The gardens at Sigiriya are a prominent feature in Sigiriya, because these are some of the oldest man made landscapes in the world.

Water gardens

There are several water gardens alongside the pathway to the Sigiriya rock. The gardens are built symmetrically on an east-west axis. There is an outer moat around the water gardens. There are few other ponds and fountains as well along with these water gardens as well. All these pools, water gardens and the moat are interconnected with an underground conduit network which is fed by a large artificial lake which is situated to the south of the Sigiriya rock. The underground conduit network and the fountains are still working, specially in the rainy season.

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The outer moatA water spout head
The outer moat
The outer moat | Source
A water spout head
A water spout head | Source

The Boulder Gardens

Once you come along the pathway, first you find the water gardens alongside and the next level is boulder gardens. The water gardens has a symmetrically layout but the boulder gardens are asymmetrical, this is probably due to the fact that boulder gardens were built using the natural formations of rock. There were buildings and structures on top of these gardens but not much of the constructions are remain now. These gardens were constructed by the Buddhist monks centuries before Kashyapa came to Sigiriya, when they use this place as a Buddhist monastery.


The Terraced Gardens

The third set of gardens is the terraced gardens which can be compared to the hanging gardens of Babylon. It is a set of small gardens one rises above the other. These terrace gardens are assumed to have been used as the pleasure gardens of king Kashyapa.

There is a very nice picture gallery of Sigiriya is available at UNESCO World Heritage Sites page for Sigiriya.

Photos Taken from the Summit of Sigiriya Rock

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Ruins on the summitWater gardens and the entrance to the fortress as seen from the summitA photo of Sigiriya taken in 1800
Ruins on the summit
Ruins on the summit | Source
Water gardens and the entrance to the fortress as seen from the summit
Water gardens and the entrance to the fortress as seen from the summit | Source
A photo of Sigiriya taken in 1800
A photo of Sigiriya taken in 1800 | Source

Beware of Warrior Bees at Sigiriya

During the dry months of the year warrior bees tend to colonize near the Lion's Paw. In some years about 10-20 hives can be seen on top of the Lion's Paw. There are various attempts to remove these colonies by using traditional methods, without killing them. In the year 2014, all these hives were removed, but in this dry season there reported to have the hives back. They normally don't bite, authorities and the tour guides are well aware of their situation they will inform the tourists if anything is going to happen. Experts say there are three main reasons for the bees to get disturbed.

  • The loud noise caused by the visitors.
  • white color clothes that reflect light
  • The presence of a specific bird who destroys hives.

Anyway this is not a big deal, no deaths or any serious damages are caused in the known history. Bee bites are reported only once in 1-2 years. That is too to the tourist who keep on climbing the rock without listening to the guides and authorities.

In summery, I would like to invite you all to visit Sri Lanka. There are many other places of tourist attraction, including 8 UNESCO world heritage sites, very nice beach across the island, huge bio diversity, rain forests, hospitality and the nice smile of the Sri Lankan people, etc. But any tour to Sri Lanka is not complete without visiting Sigiriya.


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