Sigiriya is the most exquisite example of ancient Sri Lankan art, architecture and landscaping. Built in 477AD by King Kasyapa, its centerpiece was the 600 ft high black rock which was painted white and appeared like a dazzling white cloud floating above the surrounding forests. Its sides were painted with beautiful frescoes of semi-naked nymphs. A large gatehouse in the form of a lion guarded the entrance to the innermost sanctum of the city – the Sky Palace on top of the rock.
It lasted less than fourteen years and then faded away and was forgotten. Imagine this as a magical place —an earthly paradise of lush gardens, ponds, fountains, and brightly colored pavilions. No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to Sigiriya - King Kasyapa's masterpiece.
The Sigiriya Citadel, more commonly referred to as the Sigiriya Fortress, occupied an area of approximately two and a half kilometers in length by one kilometer in width.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress, today is just a sinister-looking black rock surrounded by ruins.
The compound is divided into two precincts. The Western Precinct was the private preserve of the king, his harem and royal household. Incorporating formal and informal styles it represented an idealized version of nature, a picturesque recreation of paradise. Eye-catching gardens, ponds palaces, pavilions, large and small, halls, gateways, galleries, and towers were scattered throughout the landscape. These in turn, lead to winding paths, natural boulders, and slopes which were ingeniously incorporated to create a series of views and tableaus. Large staircases then lead to the Mirror Wall, the spectacular Sigiriya Frescoes (which once covered the entire western face of the Sigiriya Rock), the Lion Staircase and finally the breathtaking Sky Palace on top of this 200-meter high rock.
The Eastern Precinct (not open to tourists) is largely unexcavated and overgrown with forest. No major archaeological ruins have been found there suggesting that the buildings in this area were predominately made of wood and were for the king's entourage and courtiers.
The Mirror Wall is a 200m long parapet wall built into the side of Sigiriya Rock which was once highly polished to shine like a mirror, hence its name. The wall provided an irresistible surface on which are inscribed with numerous ancient graffiti praising the beauty of this citadel. The Mirror Wall is one of the few structures at Sigiriya which has stood almost intact for over the fifteen centuries. It is a testament to the ingenuity and workmanship of the ancient craftsman who built it.
The Sigiriya Frescoes are located on the western surface of Sigiriya Rock. There were over 500 of them once, but only about 23 survive today in a small pocket half-way up the rock, about 100 meters above ground. There has been much speculation of who they represent. They are most likely the women of King Kasyapa's court were depicted like Apsaras, celestial nymphs showering flowers from above on the human beings below.
The Sigiriya Graffiti are inscriptions scribbled on the Mirror Wall by ancient tourists between 600AD and 1400AD. There are over 1800 pieces of prose, poetry, and commentary which offer a fascinating insight into the history of Sigiriya. The majority of the graffiti refer to the beautiful Sigiriya Frescoes. The majority of these visitors appear to have been from the elite of society: royalty, officials, professions, and clergy as well as soldiers, archers, and even metalworkers. Over 1000 unique words have been identified.
The Lion Staircase (Lion Gatehouse)was built in the form of a crouching sphinx-like lion on a small platform about half-way up the northern side of Sigiriya rock. It guarded the final entrance to the inmost sanctum of the entire complex, the Sky Palace on the summit. The Lion Gatehouse was 35 meters high, 21 meters wide and protruded 11 meters from the rock face. Inside its body was a staircase which led to the summit of the rock. It was rightly colored appeared ready to swallow anyone who dared approach it. The paws and staircase are all that remain of a once colossal gatehouse.
Sky Palace located on the summit of Sigiriya Rock. It was the geometrical center of the city. In its heyday 1600 years ago, it was visible for miles around, the Sky Palace appeared to float above the treetops as though on a gleaming white cloud. According to the ancient chronicles, he lived here like the god "Kuvera in Alakamanda", the mythical city of the gods. This palace was mainly used during the hot, dry season. Given its high elevation of nearly 360 meters above sea-level, it would have been a cool and comforting place. During the wet monsoon season, with torrential rains and high winds, the lower palaces were most likely used.
Miniature Gardens - Each garden is approximately ninety meters long and thirty meters wide. They are very different in layout and composition from the other gardens at Sigiriya. This suggests that this area was occupied and modified over the many centuries after Sigiriya was abandoned as a royal citadel.
Pavilion Gardens - where built nearly 1600 years ago, and are the oldest surviving example of the charbagh quartered garden plan. It pre-dates similar designs at the Taj Mahal and Jaigarh Fort in India by over a thousand years. The gardens consist of a large walled compound with four massive L-shaped pools. At its center is an island linked to the main precinct by four causeways with ornate entrances.
Fountain Gardens - The lower level of the gardens has two long deep stepped pools which were once plastered and polished. Draining into these pools are a series of gentle waterfalls. On the upper level of these gardens are meandering streams which seem to appear and disappear unexpectedly.
Boulder Gardens - cover an area along the entire western side of the Sigiriya rock. It was intentionally organic and designed to create an illusion of natural harmony. A number of boulders have rock shelters beneath them. On top of almost every boulder was built a pavilion of some sort of wood and masonry with tiled roofs. Some of the key features are the Cobra Hood Cave with an interesting motif on its ceiling, the King's Audience Hall with its huge stone throne hewn entirely from the rock.
Terraced Gardens - are fashioned out of the natural hill at the base of the western slope of the Sigiriya rock. Roughly hewn granite blocks were used to build retaining walls with landings that rise in a series of concentric circles.
L-shaped Pools - are located in the Pavilion Gardens. A large island at the center linked was intersected by the main boulevard. The pools were plastered and highly polished.
Octagonal Pond - was used exclusively by the king and his immediate royal court. It is approximately 30 meters in diameter and 110 meters in circumference. It was refilled with fresh water before each use and was flushed out into the moat of the northwest Moated Palace. A bathing pavilion was located on the far side of the pond.
The Sigiriya Citadel was surrounded by three massive ramparts and two moats. The citadel had four entrances. The outer moat was fifty-two meters wide and four meters deep. The inner moat was about twenty-three meters wide. The outermost earthen rampart was forty-three meters wide and over six kilometers in length. It encircled the entire citadel. The middle rampart was thirty-seven meters wide. An eight-meter-wide roadway ran along its top. The ceremonial entrance was through the western gate.
Sigiriya is located in the Matale district of north-central Sri Lanka. It is 181 kilometers from Colombo; a drive of 3.5 hours. The tourist resort of Negombo is 153 kilometers (3 hours) away. It is 98 kilometers (2 hours) from the hill capital of Kandy.
Driving: Sigiriya is 161 km from Colombo,155 km from Negombo and 98 km from Kandy.
Bus: Services run from major cities to Dambulla and Habarana both are 24 km away. There are bus services from there to the site.
Train: There is a train service to Habarana 24 km away. You will need to take road transport from there to the site.
Plane: Cinnamon Air offers a flight from Colombo International Airport to Sigiriya. The flight takes approximately 30 minutes.
No tour of this historic site is complete without climbing Sigiriya Rock. There are approximately 1200 steps to the summit. Not only is the view from the top exhilarating; it also gives you a perspective of the sheer enormity of the building project King Kasyapa and his architects undertook 1600 years ago. The Sigiriya Rock climb is strenuous but not difficult. You will agree, once there, that it was all worth it. Be comforted by the fact that the climb down from the summit seems a lot easier.
Dressing smart will make your experience far more enjoyable.
Clothing - Loose cotton or breathable fabric clothes.
Shoes - Good trainers/runners/ sneakers.
Hat - Broad brimmed hat to keep the sun away.
Sunscreen - Definitely a good idea in the tropics.
Sigiriya, more than other historic sites in Sri Lanka, has a number of minor thrills and spills that a visitor should be aware of. These include the climb to the top, dehydration, hornets, elephants, and crocodiles. Use common-sense, and you will be assured an incident-free visit.
The author has personally stayed in these hotels.
Heritance Kandalama - Iconic "Must Stay" at Hotel
Jetwing Vil Uyana - Luxurious pampered Tranquility
Aliya Resort & Spa - New Excellent Facilities
Sigiriya Village - Convenient with Fantastic View
Back of Beyond Pidurangala - Interesting Eco-resort
Back of Beyond Dehigaha - Wild Eco-resort
Cinnamon Lodge Habarana - Lovely setting
Ride a lumbering giant. The ride usually includes an exciting detour into the lake.
This temple with lovely statues is located 30 minutes (24 km) from Sigiriya. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka.
Best gathering of elephants. Minneriya Safari Park is a 45-minute drive (41km) from Sigiriya. It is renown for its wild elephants.
Located 200m from the Main Entrance, the audio-visual show gives a good background of Sigiriya and provides a good orientation of the site and its vastness.Related Article: Must See Places in Sigiriya
While the citadel is well sign-posted, tour guides can still be useful. They are licensed and know the place well. This can save you a lot of time and frustration getting about. Negotiate the duration of the tour and its price (between $15-25) before you start. A good tour should take approximately 3-4 hours. Anything less than that will probably be a direct trip to the summit and back. It is common courtesy to tip the guide if you think he has done a good job.
Note: These guides can be persistent in trying to get your business. If you are not interested, say "NO THANK YOU" courteously but firmly. They will probably try a few more times and then give up on you.
Sigiriya, like the rest of Sri Lanka, has a hot and humid tropical climate. The weather, in general, is unpredictable. Torrential downpours occur frequently. These are usually short-lived and tend to be in the afternoons.
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