Sigiriya - History and Facts | History Hit


Ehalagala, Central Province, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya is a vast rock used over time as a Buddhist monastery and as a 5th-century royal fortress.

Lily Johnson

23 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Sigiriya

Sigiriya in Sri Lanka combines a natural phenomenon with history and religion, as the site of an ancient rock fortress and royal palace.

Sigiriya history

Comprised of a vast red rock mound rising over 660 feet, it is thought that Sigiriya (meaning “Lion Rock”) was originally inhabited during the 3rd century BC, when a Buddhist monastery was founded there.

In the 5th century AD, it is thought that Sigiriya’s use changed from a sacred site to a royal one. It is said that, having assassinated his father King Dhatusena and taken the throne, King Kashyapa I of the Anuradhapura Kingdom sought an easily defensible place to build his palace, and that he chose to construct it atop Sigiriya.

In the late 5th century, Kashyapa was defeated in battle and Sigiriya once again became a Buddhist monastery, eventually falling into decline.

Sigiriya today

The ruins of Kashyapa’s castle can still be seen at Sigiriya today, and include the remnants of a city at the foot of the rock. From these ruins, it is evident that the king’s city was grand, with gardens, monuments and, of course, his palace.

One of the most notable sites at Sigiriya is also its series of frescoes painted onto the rocks, depicting numerous female figures. There would have originally been hundreds of similar frescoes. There is a debate as to whether these were created under Kashyapa or whether these were the creation of the Buddhist monks as numerous representations of one of their deities.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982, Sigiriya is now open to the public.

Getting to Sigiriya

Sigiriya is located in the northern Matale District of Sri Lanka, just off the A6 road and along the B162. A train is available from Colombo to Habrana, which would take around 5-6 hours depending on delays, from which a 30-minute taxi can take you to Sigiriya itself.

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