Visit Sigiriya Lion Rock
with Team Sightseeinglanka
Sigiriya is Sri Lanka’s most spectacular and most beautiful and most famous and most visited heritage site, situated in the very centre of Sri Lanka’s historical heartland called Cultural Triangle. Sigiriya’s “Lion Rock”, a lofty cliff of reddish gneiss, is the most prominent granite peak (180 m tall) among the many monad rocks on the island. It would be a natural attraction because of the amazing panorama and the wildlife in this area. But it is a World Heritage Site due to its unique combination of rock and garden and palace and fortified city. There is much more to see in Sigiriya than the exciting ruins on top of vertical cliffs. To see all major attraction you should spend at least three and a half or four hours in Sigiriya. The best time for a visit is the afternoon. But the morning hours are more tranquil to enjoy the beauty of this exceptional place.
For a short period of only eleven years, during the reign of King Kassapa I (477-95), Sigiriya was the capital of Sri Lanka. King Kassapa was the son of Dhatusena and only came to power due to the assassination of his father and the dispossession his brother Moggalana. Fearing the vengeance of Mogallana, Kassapa decided to leave the capital Anuradhapura and to build a palace on the steep rock of Sigiriya and to fortify a garden city surrounding this Lion Rock. Nevertheless, in a battle further north, Kassapa was defeated in 495 by his brother who returned from his exile in India with an army of Tamil merceneries. When loosing the battle, Kassapa cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Sigiriya was left and became inhabited by monks again. Though in ruins, it attracted “tourists” already in the Anuradhapura times (first millennium).
At the foot of the rock are the remains of a palace garden area, protected by the strongest fortivications and best preserved moats of ancient Sri Lanka. Presumably, the city was not inside but to the west of these fortifications, findings of Roman coins indicate a trade area.
The garden consists of three parts. The largest area is a symmetrical water garden in the plains, with ponds, canals, and fountains (still working during rainy season). It’s the by far earliest example of a water garden in South Asia.
The boulders at the foot of the Lion Rock are interspered with walking trails, forming a natural rock garden, a very early example of a landscape garden, from the same time as China’s gardens for poets and scholars. The abris (rock shelters) in this rock garden served as shelters of Buddhist monks since the very beginnings of the Busshist era in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. There are also some remains of frescos painted even before the reign of Kassapa.
Finally, the slopes of the Lion Rock form an elevated terraced garden. Some stairways are modern allowing visitors to reach the upper levels more easily. Additional circular iron staircases will help you to reach one of Sigiriya’s highlights everybody wants to see and must have seen:
Halfway up the rock, within a rock shelter in the vertical wall of the western face, are the world-famous murals called “Cloud Damsels” or “Cloud Maidens”. The female figures, most of them arranged in pairs, are from same period as the Buddhist murals in Ajanta. Theay are less complex, but the faces and upper parts of bodies are singled out. They are of unforgettable beauty, a delight for every visitor - even a thousand years ago, when they were already praised in poems:
The poems on the plastered so-called “mirror wall”, below the level of the “Cloud Maidens”, were inscribed by early visitors and admirers. The inscriptions are known as “Sigiri Graffiti”, these verses are the earliest among the surviving texts in Sinhalese language.
The mirrow wall gallery leads to a staircase emerging from the claws of a sculpture which was once a gigantic lion constructed of bricks.
At the summit of the rock, there are ruins of brick buildings and cisterns believed to be the palace Kassapa. But Sigiriya remains to be a mystery. Typical elements of a palace are missing, so some scholars believe, the ruins are those of an exceptional monastery maybe even from a different period.
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