Walls, moats, gardens and temples stretch out in ever direction around the central rock.

Sigiriya “Lion Rock”, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

January 22, 2015 – January 23, 2015

Full Sigiriya Photo Gallery Here.

After spending some time in Sri Lanka’s central highlands checking out the tea country, we descended back down to the sweltering hot lowlands to visit some of the country’s most famous ruins.  Our first stop was Sigiriya rock which, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is a large rock seemingly sitting out of place on the surrounding level plains.  It is also the site of a large complex of ancient ruins, built on and around the large stone.

We took the first train leaving Haputale to the city of Kandy, got on a bus from Kandy to Dambulla, and then hopped on another bus for the short ride to the small town of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.  A small farming town in an area which once was the site of the country’s ancient capital.  Besides the quiet surrounding farms a handful of guest houses and a couple small restaurants have popped up to handle the influx of tourists to the area which is gaining popularity in recent years.

A large fruit stand out the bus stop in Kandi, Sri Lanka.
A large fruit stand at the bus stop in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

The tall rock which appears out of place over the jungle and farmland is hard to miss and is visible from nearly everywhere in town.  We could see the large rock rising high over the jungle plain from our guest house.

Sigiriya Rock, from our guest house.
Sigiriya Rock, from our guest house.
Our guest house surroundings.
The rural area surrounding our guest house.
A fruit and vegetable vender in the small village of Sigiriya.
A fruit and vegetable vendor in the small village of Sigiriya.

Sigiriya Complex

The town of Sigiriya is fairly small and the guest houses are situated near the entrance to the archeological site and it was only a short walk to the entry gates.

The complex, covering several square kilometers, is a sprawling mass of walls and water filled moats, irrigated gardens and religious temples leading up the central rock and palace high on the rock overlooking the surrounding plain.  The complex was built in the 5th century as the nation’s capital city with a large royal palace complex sitting safely on top of the rock, above the reach of any would be attackers.  It was a new capital built from nothing by King  Kashyapa, who had killed his father King Dhatusena and feared attack by the rightful heir Moggallana who had fled to southern India.

Walls, moats, gardens and temples stretch out in ever direction around the central rock.
Walls, moats, gardens and temples stretch out in ever direction around the central rock.

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The city did fall eventually however and the rightful heir Moggallana moved the capital back to its previous location.  Sigiriya was then used as a Buddhist monastery until the 13th or 14th centuries.  Later the jungle moved back in to reclaim the area which remained nothing more than a curiosity to locals and few outside the area who knew it was there, meaning it has remained nearly untouched for centuries.

The paths around the rock take advantage of natural rock placements, including numerous natural rock arches.
The paths around the rock take advantage of natural rock placements, including numerous natural rock arches.
The foot of the giant rock is home to numerous temples and religious sites, including this one called cobra rock.
The foot of the giant rock is home to numerous temples and religious sites, including this one called cobra rock.

Sigiriya Paintings

After being abandoned as the areas capital city, it became a site for pilgrims seeking to look upon the city’s wonders, especially the many beautifully painted women on the side of the rock.

sigiriya_srilanka_13 sigiriya_srilanka_12 sigiriya_srilanka_11These paintings were made about half way up the side of the large central rock. There are steel platforms and staircases built for tourists today, but ancient visitors and the site’s original artists would have found them much more difficult to access.

Mirror Wall

Along the path leading up to the top of the rock is a long stretch of wall polished until it shined like a mirror, hence the name.  As early as the 8th century, the pilgrims seeking to view the legendary rock paintings have carved their names and poems dedicated to the beauty of the paintings on the wall.  This ancient graffiti has been significant to scientists as an insight into the minds and lives of the average citizens (or at least those able to travel) who visited centuries ago.

This stone wall (left) was built along the side the path leading up Sigiriya rock, and is covered in ancient graffiti.
This stone wall (left) was built along the side the path leading up Sigiriya rock, and is covered in ancient graffiti.
View from half way up the rock.
View from half way up the rock.

Palace

The entrance to the stairway leading up to the top of the rock and the palace ruins goes through the remains of a large stone lion which guarded the entrance.  All that remains today of this giant stone lion are the two massive lions paws.  The path up leads right between the paws.

The giant lion paws which are all that remains of a huge stone lion built to serve as the entrance to the path leading to the very top of the rock.
The giant lion paws which are all that remains of a huge stone lion built to serve as the entrance to the path leading to the very top of the rock.

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After the giant lion paws the path turns vertical and climbs straight up the side of the rock like a stone ladder, with the steps carved directly into the side of the rock.  For modern visitors a steel staircase has been built to make climbing to the top a bit easier and safer.  Once at the top you can see the foundations of dozens of palatial buildings and several pools which still hold water.

Modern and ancient stairway to the top. Notice the vertical drop beneath.
Modern and ancient stairway to the top. Notice the vertical drop beneath.
View from the stairway leading up the rock.
View from the stairway leading up the rock.
The ruins of numerous palaces and pools on the top of the rock.
The ruins of numerous palaces and pools on the top of the rock.

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Wild monkeys which are fairly used to tourists cover the top of the rock waiting to get a hand out of food or just steal yours.
Wild monkeys which are fairly used to tourists cover the top of the rock waiting to get a hand out of food or just steal yours.

We enjoyed visiting the impressive ruins at Sigiriya rock. For a site of its size there were relatively few tourists around. With tourism in Sri Lanka continuing to grow, Sigiriya is sure to pick up in popularity with world travelers in coming years.

Sigiriya rock near sunset.
Sigiriya rock near sunset.

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