A Capital, A Royal Palace, A Buddhist Monastery, and a Fortress of marvelous sculptures and colorful frescoes.
A brief history from the rich culture…
Welcome to a world heritage site of rock fortress with a history of breathtaking architecture and art. Located in the Central province, the Matale District of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a site of historical and archeological value. A massive column of rock nearly 660 feet centers the significance of the site which was selected by King Kashyapa (477-495 AD) as his capital. This new capital was resplendent with lush gardens, palaces, pavilions, frescos and mirror wall. The king built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion half way up the side of this rock, hence the name “Sigiriya” derived from this structure. On the top of this rock, the king built his sky palace and decorated its sides with colorful frescoes.
The Lion staircase
Situated half way up Sigiriya rock, is an impressive gatehouse which protected the entry to the Sky Palace on the summit. Built in a shape of a crouching lion, it had entrance through its chest. The lion gatehouse is 35 meters high, 21 meters wide and protruded 11 meters from the rock face. The paws and staircase are all that remain of once a colossal gatehouse. The paws and fingernails as tall as a man, gives a clear indication of its original size. Brightly colored, eyes blazed, and its mouth agape it appeared ready to swallow anyone who dared approach it.
The Mirror Wall
When the mirror wall was built 1600 years ago, it was a highly polished white masonry parapet wall that inched its way precariously along the near-perpendicular western surface of the Sigiriya rock. Commencing at the top of a flight of steep stairs at the Terraced Garden, it traversed a distance of 200 meters along a gallery once covered with frescos to a small plateau on the northern side of the rock on which the Lion Staircase is located. The gleaming white wall provided an irresistible tablet, on which are inscribed the musings of many an intrepid traveler. These are known today as the “Sigiriya Graffiti”. It is said that the plaster was so highly polished that it reflected the fresco paintings from the opposite rock surface. It is one of the few structures at Sigiriya which has stood almost intact over the 15 centuries. It is a testament to the ingenuity and workmanship of the ancient craftsman who built it.
Frescoes of Sigiriya
The rich adornments, sophisticated clothing, lifelike appearance, vibrant use of color, and the true rendition of facial and anatomical characteristics support the view that the artist drew his inspiration from the ladies of King Kasyapa's court — his harem. They are richly adorned with ample bosoms and sinuous bodies barely concealed beneath translucent gossamer garments. Some say they are celestial nymphs carrying flowers to shower upon kings and mortals below. Others suggest that they are queens and concubines. Some even suggest that they are the manifestations of the goddess Tara. These nymphs of the mountain, in turn, have remained silent, smiling enigmatically, their secret intact for over 1600 years. They were to be admired but not touched. For this reason, they were depicted in true form, voluptuous and desirable, but shorn of any earthly sexuality. They were not intended to be titillating. Depicted as supernatural they are portrayed with flowers to shower upon the humans below. They were intended to evoke a sense of wonderment and to project the opulence and grandeur of Kasyapa the all-powerful god-king. They are a celebration of beauty.
The Sky Palace
The Sky Palace gleamed magnificently atop Sigiriya Rock, 200 meters above the surrounding plain. Standing at ground-level it is hard to comprehend the sheer size of the place or the human effort needed to create nearly 1600 years ago. It was described by ancient chronicles as being a palace fit for the Gods. Visible for miles around, the Sky Palace appeared to float above the treetops as though on a gleaming white cloud. This was innermost sanctum of Kasyapa's fortress. The Sky Palace served two purposes. Firstly it was a grandiose statement of the power and wealth of Kasyapa its builder. Secondly, it was a royal residence. Only the king, queen, and a small retinue of staff lived there.
The Royal Residence (Bedroom)
The royal living quarters were located at the northern-western end at the highest elevation of the rock. It contained a number of courtyards and buildings. A large elevated building with a single central room measuring thirteen by seven meters is believed to have been the royal sleeping quarters.
In the gardens on the southern side grew various fruit and flowering plants, some of them imported from faraway lands. There are indications of successive reconstructions, but the earliest of these is clearly from Kasyapa's time.
To the southeast was a large pond measuring 27 X 21 meters. All sections of the compound converged on this pond. It was obviously central to the summit complex. The western side of this pond was hewn from the rock and the other three sides built up with stone slabs and bricks. The walls may have been plastered. In this pond grew aquatic plants which flowered in various hues throughout the year. A number of stairways lead to, from, and within this pond area. For example, one steep staircase merely leads to a landing up one side of the pond, possibly a resting spot for a swimmer.
To the north just above the pond is a throne carved out of the surrounding rock. The seat faces east and aligns with the central east-west axis of the complex. It provided an uncluttered vista to the horizon. The post holes on the floor clearly indicate that a four-posted canopy was erected to provide shade and protection. A grooved channel was carved behind the seat to prevent water from draining down into it. Seated or reclining on this, King Kasyapa spent the evening watching recitals of poetry and productions of Sinhala theatre. It is said that some of the very first Sinhala plays were performed here during Kasyapa's reign.
Sigiriya has a hot and humid tropical climate. The weather in general is unpredictable. Torrential downpours occur frequently. These are usually short-lived and tend to be in the afternoons. The best time of the year to visit Sigiriya is January to March (February is the best month). The best time to climb Sigiriya is early in the morning, before the day warms up, or in the late afternoon when it cools down. The maximum daytime temperature ranges is 28 - 32 degrees Celsius (82 -90°F). The maximum UV index through the year is 11.