Want to know more about Sri Lanka’s ancient rock fortress known as Sigiriya? The dramatic vertical walls of the rock it’s built on are an unmissable landmark, as the palace stands on a rocky plateau 370m above sea level. It’s considered by many to be the Eighth Wonder of the World and when you see it for yourself, you can’t help but agree. It was built there by King Kassapa (also known as King Kasyapa) to tower over his capital city below. Halfway up the rock was a giant lion-shaped gateway, which led to the name Sīnhāgiri, or ‘The Lion Rock.’
When the king died, the capital was abandoned, and the palace was used as a Buddhist monastery right up until the 14th century. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Sri Lanka’s most cherished historical monuments. Thousands of people visit the ancient city each year, making the Sigiriya Rock one of the most visited tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.
Where is it?
This ancient rock fortress is in Sri Lanka’s Matale District in the heart of the island, near the town of Dambulla. It’s believed that the unique shape of the rocks was formed by hot magma from a now-extinct volcano. The weather in the Sigiriya region tends to be hot and sunny throughout the year, but you’re likely to experience a few showers if you visit in the rainy season.
To reach Sigiriya, you can take a bus from nearby towns. It then takes around two hours to climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock and back down again. Prepare to climb up at least 750 steps and if you want to avoid the crowds, get there as early as possible!
Although Sigiriya Rock is the main attraction of this historical site, there’s actually a lot more to see and explore when you visit. The complex is home to landscaped gardens, fountains, canals and ponds. Unfortunately, much of the original Sigiriya lion has worn away over time and all that remains today is its feet and huge claws. As you explore further, you’ll come across ancient paintings, mainly depicting religious rituals and the king’s many wives.
The Sigiriya Mirror Wall is another must-see feature that includes lots of thoughtful inscriptions left by visitors from years back. Back when King Kassapa ruled, the wall was so polished that he used it to see his reflection. On your way to the top of the Sigiriya Rock, you’ll pass by a number of unique frescoes, many of which have survived for well over 1,000 years.
For a peaceful walk, take some time to explore the landscaped gardens. You’ll discover moats with floating lily pads, cave shrines, bridges and more. The water gardens are particularly complex and fun to walk around. Inside the Cobra Hood Cave, you’ll discover more frescoes similar to those in the fortress.
Reaching the top
When you reach the top of the summit of Sigiriya, you’ll have stunning views of the surrounding landscape of thick forest and emerald gardens. Just make sure you wear comfy shoes and bring plenty of water to keep you refreshed as you climb all those steps!