Sigiriya in Sri Lanka combines a natural phenomenon with history and religion, as the site of an ancient rock fortress and royal palace.
Comprised of a vast red rock mound rising over 1,000 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 Kassapa 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 fifth century, Kassapa was defeated in battle and Sigiriya once again became a Buddhist monastery, eventually falling into decline.
The ruins of Kassapa’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 Kassapa 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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