The story of Sigiriya is one of vision, grandeur, beauty and tragedy unparalleled in Sri Lankan history.


Sigiriya rock rises 200 meters above lush green jungles, and is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. Asia’s oldest landscaped gardens and ponds encircle this rock fortress, and at its summit is the renegade King Kasyapa’s “palace in the sky”. Fifth century ingenuity and skill produced a luxurious royal citadel with ramparts, moats, gateways, and a well laid out city, complete with bathing pools and gardens. On the climb up you could view the Mirror Wall, which still produces a glass-like reflection 1500 years after it was first created. Also on the way up you would see the famous Sigiriya frescoes – exquisite images of bare-breasted maidens painted on the rock face thousands of years ago. Located in the Cultural Triangle, Sigiriya is situated in the district of Matale.


The spectacular ruins of Sigiriya point to an equally dramatic history. Never has the paranoia gripping a patricidal king, produced such stunning results. In 473 AD, King Dhatusena was imprisoned and buried alive by his base-born son Kasyapa, who then proclaimed himself king. Mugalan, his half-brother and true heir, fled to India to gather an army to avenge his father’s murder. Meanwhile Kasyapa, fearing an attack, built his impregnable fortress 200m above the jungle, on the 1.6 hectares atop Sigiriya rock. He also constructed two extensive and fortified precincts on the eastern and western approaches to the rock. When the invasion finally happened, and Kasyapa lost and took his own life, Sigiriya became a monastic refuge.


The approach to the rock is via the main western gate, which takes you through the delightful water gardens with its royal bathing pools and little islands, which acted as dry-season palaces. A series of steps then steeply ascends the rock face. About halfway up the rock, you will find a long sheltered gallery, where the famous frescoes of beautiful young women is found. They are the only non-religious ancient paintings to be seen in Sri Lanka, and are similar to those found in the Ajantha caves in India. Recent excavations have been rewarded with the find of small clay figurines of the Sigiriya maidens, thought to be souvenirs made for the many visitors to the rock, from the 7th to 9th Centuries. Beyond the frescoes is the 3-metre high ‘mirror wall’, which is full of graffiti about the painted ladies by such visitors.


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