Little can prepare you for the astonishing sight that is Sigiriya – Sri Lanka’s citadel in the sky and the most remarkable of all Sri Lanka’s former capitals. Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock, is a majestic sheer-sided outcrop towering 200 meters above the surrounding plains and studded with the remarkable remains of one of medieval Sri Lanka’s most extraordinary royal palaces.
The site divides into two sections: the rock outcrop itself where its summit was used by King Kasyapa to establish his principal palace and at the area around the base of the rock, you’ll find elaborate royal pleasure gardens as well numerous monastic remains. Sigiriya, on the whole, is a stunning combination of wild nature and high artifice.
What not to miss in Sigiriya
- The Water Gardens
The Water Gardens of Sigiriya are like diminutive pieces of Versailles transported to ancient Sri Lanka. Framing the western flank of the rock, the Water Gardens comprise beautiful lawns that are dotted with symmetrically arranged ponds, miniature fountains and water channels. It must be said that all of these stunning ponds and channels usually dry up during periods of low rainfall.
- The Boulder Gardens
The Boulder Gardens are in striking contrast to the symmetry of the Water Gardens and consist of a small swathe of scenic forest with twisting pathways winding through massive boulders and pretty rock arches. Many of these boulders are cut with a long line of notches and these notches would have originally been the supports for small wooden pavilions that have long since vanished. The Boulder Gardens are where the monks of ancient Sigiriya lived and several mementoes of the monks can still be seen amongst the numerous cave shelters and rocks.
- The Mirror Wall
One of Sigiriya’s unique sights, the Mirror Wall, originally coated in highly polished plaster, still retains a splendidly lustrous sheen. The face of the Wall is covered in ancient graffiti left by visitors to the rock as early as the 7th century. The graffiti is something akin to a colossal ancient visitor’s book that showcases short poems, literary fragments and a great many tributes to the delightful beauty of the famous damsels of Sigiriya.
- The Sigiriya Damsels
An out of place spiral metal stair case leads up to a sheltered alcove in the rock face and is home to Sigiriya’s single most celebrated sight – the Sigiriya Damsels. This exquisite sequence of frescoes painted on the sheer rock face depicts 21 busty beauties rising waist-up from a cocoon of clouds and scattering flowers and offering trays of fruit.
- The Lion Platform
Continuing up the rock is a flight of limestone steps leading steeply up to the Lion Platform. From here, a final staircase leading to the summit is flanked by two colossal paws carved out of rock leading up across all that remains of a massive lion statue. The whole section of the rock face above is cut with numerous notches and grooves which once supported steps up to the summit of the rock.
- The Summit
Heading up the twisting path, through a rickety-looking colonial-era staircase, the summit of Sigiriya seems enormous. Only the foundations of King Kasyapa’s once magnificent palace remains. At the lowest end of the summit is a series of terraces which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding plains. Only those with a rock-solid head for heights will fail to feel at least a frisson of vertigo on the summit and on the final section of the dizzying ascent.
You’ll need at least three hours to explore the Sigiriya Rock and it’s best to visit in the early hours of the morning or late afternoons when the crowds are less daunting and the temperature more forgiving. Late afternoon also brings out the rock’s extraordinary ochre colouration into full awe-inspiring effect. Being lodged close to Sigiriya in a luxury hotel like this one is your best bet to tackle the rock fortress as early as possible or, if you prefer late afternoon sojourns, the sooner it will be for you to rest those aching legs.