Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya or Sihagiri, meaning Lion Rock in Sinhalese, is an ancient rock fortress and capital, built in the first century AD by King Kasyapa. The palace was built on top of a massive 200 meters high (660 feet) rock column, the sides of the rock are almost vertical making it really hard to reach the top.

Sigiriya history:

Before King Kasyapa made Sigiriya his capital, the place was already inhabited (traces of people living near the rock date back to the 20th century BC) and the many caves present there were used to serve as Hindu then Buddhist temples. Some inscriptions date back to the 3rd century BC.

In the first century AD, Kasyapa had had taken the throne illegally from his brother Moggallana who fled to India. Fearing his brother’s retaliation, Kasyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya where he was better protected. He lost his life during a battle against his brother, the capital was then moved back to Anuradhapura and the palace destroyed.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
View from the top of the rock



The fortress was then turned into a Buddhist sanctuary until the 14th century. When it was abandoned once again only to be rediscovered in the 19th century by Johnathan Forbes.

Excavation works only started in the 1980s. It recently have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Aerial view of the palace


Sigriya main features:

The frescoes

Of the city and the palace not much remain, no buildings are left standing, only pillars and some part of walls. The foundations are still there so it’s still easy to imagine what the place looked like before.

What distinguish Sigiriya from the other ruins sites in Sri Lanka are its impressive and incredible well maintained frescoes. The archeologists had to do a colossal work to restore the paintings after people vandalized the place, throwing black paint everywhere.

Sigiriya 7

Unfortunately, it’s not possible anymore to take pictures of the frescoes, it would damage them too much. No one is really sure of who these charming ladies are, but researchers tend to say they were the king’s courtesans.

Archaeologists believe the frescoes used to cover most of the rock, only a small portion is left.

The lion gateway

An other impressive feature of Sigiriya is the lion gate, the paws, on each side of the stairs are really well preserved.  A full lion used to be there, but only the paws remain.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka


The stairs

An other thing, that personally impressed me more than anything else, is the stairs they used to climb up there. It’s not nice stairs like we have today, it’s squared holes in the rock. Here’s a picture so you can have an idea:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

And this rock is not even high, can you imagine the people climbing this with 200 meters of emptiness beneath them?

At the top of the fortress, there were several pool, lucky for the servants, they didn’t have to carry the water up. They had built an hydraulic system using wind power to carry the water from the ground level to the top.

The mirror wall

This wall used to be so polished that the king could see his reflection inside it. It is made of bricks and has a polished plaster finish.  Now, being so old, you won’t be able to see the mirror effect.

The wall has been “vandalized”, some of the graffitis dates back to the 7th century, some are more recent. Between the 7th century and the 11th century, people who came to visit the place would leave a comment on the wall, often praising the beauty of the paintings or writing some poetry. Not your average vandal. This wall is kind of the first version of Trip Advisor.

The surroundings

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
The water garden

There are a lot of ruins at the bottom level and on the way to the top. The water gardens are really nice to stroll by, with still a lot of ponds intact. There are many different ways, at first, to go up. All the paths lead to the stair case to the top, on the way, there are some caves, the most famous one is the Cobra cave and there are also some ruins of official buildings.  There’s a lot to explore.

Assembly Hall, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Assembly Hall

My experience:

Sigiriya was really a place I was looking forward to visiting, actually it was the only site in Sri Lanka I knew about. Unfortunately for me, the day I went there was super rainy, I had been waiting for 10 days for the rain to stop but seeing it was never ending I decided to go anyway. And of course, right the next day, the rain stopped and it got sunny. The only good point about the rain was that the place wasn’t as crowed as it usually is. Apart from the rain, I really enjoyed my day in Sigiriya. It’s a wonderful experience and the place is amazing in so many ways. It always mesmerizes me to see how people lived 2000 years ago and what they were capable of.

Sigiriya 5


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