The charme of many of Sri Lanka’s attractions is a combination of works of art and natural beauty. The best example is Sigiriya. It’s the islands most impressive monadnock, a monolithic granite rock of 320 metres length and 200 m height protuding from the scrub jungles in the Cultural Triangle. Sigiriya rock in itself would attract admiration for its sheer natural beauty. Reclusive monks looking for an abode suitable for meditation settled down at the foot of the rock long before Sigiriya became an example of the architectural achievements of the ancient Sinhalese civilization, too. Considering the numbers of excited visitors, Sigiriya has become the top heritage destination of the island.
Locals like to call Sigiriya the “8th wonder of the world” or “the Machu Picchu of Sri Lanka”. Indeed it’s an attraction on a world scale.
The visitor’s entrance is the former main gate of the Sigiriya fortress in the west of the huge rectangulat compund surrounfing the rock. And it makes sense to start from the west, particularly in the afternoon, when the sunshines illuminates the main side of the monadnock, Because after crossing the moat tyou enter the restored historical water gardens of the 5th century. They are from the short reign of King Kassapa, who also built the palace on the summit of the rock and the fortress walls and moats. From this symmetrical water garden, one of the very first such gardens in Asia outside Persia and Mesopotamia, you can enjoy the classical view to Sigiriya rock. During the rainy season, the ancient fountains, fed by natural hydropower, are still working.
Closer to the rock, you will arrive at the Boulder Garden, which is a kind of natural garden. Here you can see the Cobra-Hood Cave and some remnants of rock paintings from the period, when Sigiriya was inhabited by monks only. They were relocated by King Kassapa to the neighbouring Pidurungala Rock, where they remain to this day.
From here you will start your ascent to the top. The stairway will lead you to the foot of an iron circular stair. This is the access to the world-famous Sigiriya paintings. They are located in a rock shelter called “the Hall of Maidens” or “Fresco Gallery”, which is spectacularly situated in this vertical slope. The rock paintings depict young women of breathtaking beauty. They are called “Cloud Maidens” or “Cloud Damsels”, because they are shown without legs, their hips embedded in clouds.
Climbing the second circular stair down again, you arrive at the so-called “Mirror Wall”. It was polished with a shiny plaster. Hundreds of single or double line verses can be identified inscribed in this plaster. They are called “Sigiriya Graffities”. Surprisingly, these graffities are about 1000 years old. They are the very first known examples of texts written in Sinhala language. The short poems are devoted to the beauty of the scenery in general and of the maidens depicted by the frescos in particular. The “Sigiriya Graffitis” prove, that this abandoned former palace attracted travellers already a thousand years ago and was able to inspire their enthusiasm.
After the Mirror Wall, you will emerged at a large terrace at the northen side of the rock, which is situated halway to the top. Here are lion paws of immense size carved out of a brick wall. This is what is left from a giant lion sculpture, which must have been the biggest statue of ancient Sri Lanka at all. It is one reason, why Sigiriya is called the “Lion Rock”.
An iron stairway will lead you to the summit, where you can enjoy stunning views to the whole Cultural Triangle, with this area’s highest hills, the Ritigala Mountains, in the north and the foothills of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands in the south. Cisterns and artificial ponds can be seen amidst a labyrinth of brickstones atop Sigiriya rock. This is believed to be what remained of King Kassapa’s palace. But there are almost no indications or hints, that this was a group of palace buildings. Enourmous efforts were required to construct such a huge ensemble of brick structures on the top of a rock with vertical slopes on all sides. But their purpose remains to be a mystery. To call Sigiriya a myterious place, is not at all an exaggeration.
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