Sigiriya – A Fortress in the Sky

Sigiriya is a rock fortress and soars 660ft into the sky
Sigiriya is a rock fortress and soars 660ft into the sky

 

22 km Northeast of Drambulla lies the 5th century UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Fortress in the Sky – Sigiriya.  The former palace lies atop a 660ft. rock and is considered the 8th wonder of the world.  On reaching the top of the fortress, there are mind numbing views for many miles of verdant landscape, punctuated by reservoirs and with misty mountains as a backdrop.

Frescoes, remarkably fresh for 1600 years old
Frescoes, remarkably fresh for 1600 years old

 

King Kashyapa
In the early 5th century A.D., Dhatusena, a young man of royal lineage, conducted a guerrilla campaign to oust foreigners. During this time, he had a son named Kashyapa of a woman of a lower caste. After the war was ended, he became King and married a woman of royal descent who became his Queen and had a son named Moggallana.  Moggallana was the heir to the throne because of his royal birth.  All lived together peacefully until Dhatusena killed the wife of his nephew, Migara.  Migara exploited Kashyapa’s feeling of insecurity about his position in the family and turned him against his father.  Kashyapa killed the King and Moggallana, his brother, fled to India in fear of retribution.  Kashyapa inherited the throne of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and built Sigiriya during his reign between the years of 477-495 A.D.

Cormorant in the outer moat of Sigiriya
Cormorant in the outer moat of Sigiriya

Sigiriya is now known as the Lion’s Rock because of the enormous lion constructed of brick at the entrance to the fortress.  All that remains of this magnificent beast are its enormous paws through which the last portion of staircase ascends to the very top of the rock.

The palace would have been nearly impenetrable to attack but there are also two moats surrounding Sigiriya to give extra protection.

 

One of the natural gates into Sigiriya
One of the natural gates into Sigiriya

 

Ancient Stairs
I begin the climb going up ancient stairs that have taken innumerable visitors to the palace at the very top.  The stairs are steep but in good repair.  The ascent begins by passing through a natural gateway.  If you can manage to walk up several stair cases for about 45 minutes, including a spiral one that ascends straight up for a few metres, you will be about ½ way up the sheer rock face and will be rewarded about by access to historic frescoes. The earliest work of Sinhala art is painted into the rock and shows vivid depictions of part of the King’s harem.  One woman is clothed but the rest of the harem are painted nude from the waist up and in great detail.

After viewing the frescoes and descending another spiral staircase, you come across a straight platform where the views to the south take in the moat below and many reservoirs in this vast landscape.  In the middle distance is an enormous white Buddha rearing up into the sky while hills, and ultimately mountains create the vast backdrop.

View from the Lion's Paw at Sigiriya
View from the Lion’s Paw at Sigiriya

An enormous, leafy park surrounds the rock fortress, large sections of which have had foundations re-constructed by archaeologists. Other sections have been left underground for future archaeologists for their digs.

Ready to climb to the top of Sigiriya
Ready to climb to the top of Sigiriya

The pleasure gardens constructed here were the first of their kind in Asia.  There are enormous pools, the outline of a meandering ‘lazy river’ waterway is still visible.  There is an outer moat which is filled with lilies.  Extensive foundations of administrative buildings have been uncovered.  Within these we know there were courtyards, fountains.

The audience room is hewn into an enormous granite boulder.  This is where the King could see subjects or guests that would not come to the palace at the top.

Ruins around the base of Sigiriya
Ruins around the base of Sigiriya

 

If travelling up from Dambulla on the Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Trincomalee Hwy/A6, turn right onto the B162. There will be a clearly marked turn off on the left for Sigiriya.

If coming from the North, take the A11 to Moragas Illukwewa Road (B294) and turn right.  There will be a junction with the B162 on the left and proceed to Sigiriya which is a right turn.

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