Sigiriya Rock Fortress Sri Lanka

Sigiriya frescoes, Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Tour

Sigiriya Rock Fortress Sri Lanka

“The story of Sigiriya rock fortress Sri Lanka: Thereupon the wicked ruler called Kassapa sent forth his groom and his cook. But as he was unable to slay his brother, he betook himself through fear to Sihagiri which was difficult of ascent for human beings. He cleared the land, surrounded it with a wall and built a staircase in the form of a lion. Thence it took its name of Sihagiri.”

Sigiriya is a remote village in the central province of Sri Lanka (about Sri Lanka) and the population of Sigiriya is not exceeding more than several thousand. Sigiriya is located approximately 200 meters above sea level. This remote village is a popular destination for travellers, due to its strategic location giving easy access to most places in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. And Sigiriya also is the home to one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka, known as SIGIRIYA ROCK FORTRESS. Usually, the travellers who take part in a Sri Lanka road trip make a base here, in order to explore historical and religious sites in the central province of Sri Lanka.

Cultural triangle tour Sri Lanka

Sigiriya rock fortress can be described as the main reason for the popularity of Sigiriya among world travellers. In terms of historical value and contribution for the tourism, Sigiriya rock fortress ranks alongside Kandy, Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. Sigiriya is located within the central cultural triangle, providing easy access to major archaeological attractions in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya rock fortress attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a month. It is declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO due to its historical importance.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka, sigiriya rock fortress

The pathway of the 2000 years old palace and garden complex that leads to the fortress, is paved with granite stones and still in very good shape. Another interesting feature of this garden is the 20o0 years old natural fountains that still bubbles out and goes through the waterways. Giving the impression that this fortress is built to last!

The summit of Sigiriya rock fortress is situated nearly 300m above the ground, and it resides at about 500m from the sea level. The climbing of Sigiriya rock fortress proved to be a tiring task for many people who are not familiar with mountain climbing. The staircase of the fortress is dating back to the 5th century AD but some parts of the steps are recently done using iron.

People who choose Sigiriya rock fortress as the destination for their holiday in Sri Lanka can look forward to having a memorable and unique experience here. When you plan a trip to Sigiriya, you can have the balance of natural attractions and historically important places. Don’t prepare to encounter tourist attractions such as theme parks here. And the nightlife in Sigiriya is almost non-existing. So, what are the attractions you get in Sigiriya? Undoubtedly, the Sigiriya fortress is the major highlight for many travellers, who travel to Sigiriya.

There are several other important historical attractions in Sigiriya such as Buddhist temples, and palaces other than the fortress.  Sigiriya is one of the world heritage sites on the island and it is under the purview of the archaeological department. Entrance to Sigiriya archaeological site cost you 30$ per person. Here you can learn about the advance knowledge of Sri Lankan ancient engineers, who had accomplished one of the most sophisticated landscaped gardens in Asia.

The archaeological museum is also located near Sigiriya fortress and here you have the opportunity to see a large number of artefacts discovered at the archaeological site. The copies of the Sigiriya frescoes are been displayed at the museum, for travellers, who find it difficult to go up to the fresco pocket of the fortress.  Sigiriya fortress is comprised of many attractions such as ruins of palaces, audience halls, fountains, and a beautifully landscaped garden.  Sigiriya archaeological site is dating back to 5th century AD; bricks and stones have been used for the constructions.

Travellers, who visit Sigiriya has to climb the Sigiriya rock on a stone carved staircase, which comprised of 1200 steps. You will encounter the fresco pocket on halfway up to the summit. Even though it is difficult to reach the summit of the rock, you are rewarded with the awe-inspiring scenery from the summit once you accomplished the climb.

Sigiriya is a popular tourist area in the central province, where you can perform many recreational activities such as elephant ride, boating, trekking, bird watching, biking etc

Sigiriya is a small hamlet and there are no cities or shopping area to hang around. But, there are several small boutiques giving you the option to buy things such as water and other drinks, sun-cream, short eats etc, which most travellers are looking for.  There are several hotels around the fortress giving the travellers of affordable dining and lodging options.  As such budget-conscious travellers can find a place to stay without any trouble. Same times, there are many properties with luxurious facilities for travellers, who like to have luxury accommodation in Sigiriya.

sigiriya fortress summit

The tragic story behind Sigiriya

Dhatusena (459-477) ruled from Anuradhapura and had two sons, Kassapa by a wife of unequal birth, and Moggalana born of the anointed queen. The king also had a charming daughter to whom he devoted to. She was given in marriage to Dhatusena’s sister’s son, Migara, who had been appointed the commander of the army. One day Dhatusena noticed the blood-stained garments of his daughter and learned that her husband had brutally whipped her on the thigh although she was blameless.

In high dudgeon the king ordered the general’s mother, his own sister, to be burnt to death. From then on the army commander resolved to wreak vengeance on the king, and planned with Kassapa to conduct a coup d’état. The king was kept a prisoner, Kassapa assumed kingship and proceeded to purge the kingdom of the loyalists. Meanwhile, Moggalana, the rightful heir, escaped to India to raise an army there.

The army commander bent on further revenge induced Kassapa to believe that Dhatusena was hiding his treasures from his son Moggalana, and he obtained orders to have the ex-king put to death. This, Migara, cheerfully proceeded to do by having Dhatusena plastered, in a wall.

Kassapa, fearing the inevitable return of Moggalana whom he had unsuccessfully attempted to have assassinated decided to seek refuge in the inaccessible stronghold of Sigiriya, as recorded in the Mahawamsa quoted above “ He collected treasures and kept them there well protected and for the kept by him he set the guard at different laces.  Then he built there a fine palace, worthy to behold, like another Alakamanda and dwelt there like a God.”  Hoping to atone for his crime Kassapa patronized the cause of Buddhism in Anuradhapura and founded a monastery there.

In the eighteenth year of his rule, he received tidings that Moggalana had returned from India and was preparing for war. Kassapa, feeling assured of victory, set forth from Sigiriya to engage his brother in battle, but an unforeseen manoeuvre caused the tide to turn against him. A stretch of marshy ground lay across the path of advance and Kassapa turned his elephant to take another course. His troops misunderstanding this move as a sign of retreat gave the alarm that their lord was in flight, lost their morale and broke up in disorder. Kassapa seeing his army in flight realized that his capture was imminent and slashed his throat with his own dagger, “raised the knife on high and stuck it in the sheath”.

Moggalana attended to his brother’s obsequies and came to Anuradhapura, where he established himself as king. He handed Sigiriya to the priesthood and this fortress disappear from the public record for about a century; in the early 7th century two kings were executed in order or near Sigiriya. The village Sigiriya is mentioned in the 16th-century book of Sinhalese verse entitled Mandarampurapuwata.

In the 19th century, the vestige of the glory that was Sigiriya was explored and rediscovered by British officers and administrators. The earliest recorded visit paid to Sigiriya in modern times was by Major H.Forbes who rode in search of the fortress in 1831 and revisited the rock in 1933. He recorded his impression of these visits he made to the base of the rock and the walled gallery.

sigiriya lions paw

Rediscover of Sigiriya

With the demise of King Kashyapa (The founder of Sigiriya fortress), Sigiriya was assailed by the slowly advancing jungle and was caught in the demolishing hand of time. In the 19th century, it was rediscovered by British-Ceylon archaeologists. According to the information, the first visitor of Sigiriya was Major H.Forbes, who came across the mighty fortress in 1833.

He recorded his impressions of these visits he made to the base of the rock and the walled gallery. Forbes was not able to climb to the summit but this feat was achieved in 1853 by A.Y Adams and J.Barley, two young civil servants. An anonymous writer has published an account of his visit to Sigiriya in 1852, describing the walled gallery, and the rock which faced it as being plastered and “covered all over with fresco paintings chiefly of lions, which is said to have given it the name of Sinhagiri, Sihagiri or Seegiriya”. These paintings are now no more nor were they ever referred to by any other writer.

T.W Rhys Davids described the rock and ancient remains that were visible in 1875 and related how he saw the paintings halfway up the rock on the western side with the aid of a telescope. He also referred to ornamental patterns on the wall of a terrace higher up the rock. These paintings too were not to be seen at the time of the Archeological Department undertook work at Sigiriya towards the close of the century. T.H Blakesley published a paper in 1876 describing in greater detail the gallery and wall alongside, the paintings in the fresco pocket, and other recognizable remains on the western side below the rock, which was then covered with forest. The few sites recognizable as surrounded by moats in the western low lying area below the rock and the defences in the west and east were also briefly described. Blakesley published the first plan of the ancient remains to be seen in the neighbourhood of the great rock.

In 1889 at the request of Sir William Gregory, a Governor of Ceylon, A.Murray of the Public Works Department succeeded in climbing into the pocket and taking a tracing of thirteen figures therein. For this purpose, holes were bored into the rock at regular vertical intervals and stout iron jumpers were fixed in with cement, to which wooden staging was secured. Within the pocket, iron stanchions were set on the rock surface and a working platform was arranged above the steeply sloping floor of the pocket. When a week’s work of tracing the paintings while lying on his back on the makeshift trestle was over, Murray decided upon the deposition of a memento within the pocket. A bottle containing a newspaper, a few coins of the day, and a list of friends who had visited the chamber, was sealed and cemented into the pocket.

The long concavity to be seen high up on the eastern face of the rock was explored once by H.C.P Bell, the first Commissioner of the Archeological Department, who arranged for a brave Sinhalese lad to receive recognition as the first-ever to gain access to it. There were no signs of this sheltered area ever having been occupied in the past and, as an encouragement for future exploration at some distant date, Bell reported having placed in a niche his sealed record of the daring exploration of this cavern. The clearing of the jungle upon and below the rock was commenced in 1894 and from the following year the survey, excavation, conservation and research has been pursued at this ancient monastery and fortified capital of Ceylon.

Sigiriya Frescoes

Sigiriya frescoes

Sigiriya frescoes in Sri Lanka are exquisitely painted in brilliant colours and these paintings resemble the Ajantha painting in India. The paintings do not show any religious influence and they represent King Kashyapa.

Places to go in Sigiriya Sri Lanka

Archaeological Museum

An archaeological museum is located in the expansive area between the outer moat and the middle rampart on the western side of Sigiriya. Building materials, pottery and other small finds including metal objects are exhibited here. Torsos of Buddha statues, guard stones, a limestone statue of a queen or goddess are also placed in the museum. Some of the valuable artefacts include a blue glazed amphora evidently of foreign origin and an elaborate lock which must have belonged to a massive door are presently exhibited in the national museum of Colombo.

Sigiriya Mirror wall

The mirror wall is one of the most important fractions of the historical site of Sigiriya. The inner surface of the gallery wall is so smoothed; it shines even to this day (after 1500 years) and earned for it the popular name Kadapat pavura (mirror wall). Apart from the boldly incised names of modern visitors that mar its polished surface, a close inspection of the mirror wall reveals a multitude of fine discovered to be scribbling left by visitors to the Rock in centuries gone by. Whereas modern egoist have scraped their ignoble names in characters large and deeply incised, careless of the damage to a fine piece of ancient building construction, the visitors of a millennium ago had taken care, in writing their piece in neat small lightly incised letters, to all only the least possible damage to the shining plaster.

Furthermore, while the latter-day visitor has only interested himself in inscribing his name and date of visit, his medieval counterpart has shown us that he was educated enough not only to appreciate works of art but also to be able to couch his admiration in poetic terms.

Many of these writings, attributed largely to the period 7th to 11th centuries AC, have been published in a major work by Prof. Paranawithana where he concludes that they are expressions in verse, some of a high poetic order, and they constitute the earliest extant examples of Sinhalese verse. The hundreds of graffiti have been written by the same method of incising the letters on the plaster of the wall, very probably with a metal stylus that would have been a common possession of the ancient Sinhalese just as a fountain pen or pencil is carried by a modern educated person.

The verses composed by these early writers are eloquent of their impressions of the magnificent and delightful sights at Sigiriya. Many visitors had written their names and station in life and they are seen to have been persons belonging to various strata of society and hailing from different parts of the country; some had even visited the Rock from India. The verses thus do not exhibit a uniform literary quality. There is, however, no doubt that many of the visitors were acquainted with some degree with poetic literature and assayed to distinguish, from among graffiti left by other visitors, the good verse from the bad. The refined sensibility indicated by the thought and language in most of the verses speaks highly of the education and culture of the ancient Sinhalese citizen.

Some Colorful phrases of Sigiriya Graffiti

The smooth inner surface of the gallery wall which bears a shine even to this day is dating back to the 5th century AD. It shows the advanced building techniques used by the ancient Sri Lankan engineers.  Sigiriya Graffiti is the neatly written incised phrases on the gallery wall. They describe the grandeur of the rock fortress and mostly the beauty of the damsels of the Sigiriya frescoes. Archaeologists have found hundreds of old Sinhalese verses and some of them are high poetic order.

  1. “how could anyone-write songs-about the unmoving eyes-while seeing the-tender breasts-of the golden-hued ones”
  2. “the wall of moonstone-has borrowed its shinning splendour-from you-let’s enjoy the company of the beautiful ladies-who have come into our arms”
  3. “wet with cool dew drops-fragrant with perfume from the flowers-came the gentle breeze-jasmine and water lily-dance in the spring sunshine-side-long glances-of the golden-hued ladies-stab into my thoughts-heaven itself-cannot take my mind-as it has been captivated by one lass-among the five hundred-i have seen here-our mind is sated-as we climbed Sihigiri-and saw the majestic lion-we have no desire now-to see the golden-hued ones on the wall”
  4. “as evening comes-the golden-hued beauties-among those of the shade of the lily-appear like-vatkol flowers-entangled with katrol flowers”
  5. “plucking a flower-from my mate’s dress-i place it-before the golden-hued beauty”
  6. “like the hare drawn on the moon-may you live-for a thousand years-but for me-it would be like one day”
  7. “seeing the golden-hued ladies-being washed away by wain-it is as if-King Kasub himself-had them-painted inside the cave walls”
  8. “among the golden-hued ladies-look at this beauty-to your heart’s content-standing here unmoving, and-does the day be-just one instant in time?

How to go to Sigiriya?

Dambulla is the nearest major town of Sigiriya and Sigiriya lies about 15 km from Dambulla. The travellers need to travel 7km from Dambulla on Dambulla-Habarana main road before taking the turn to the right, which is the road that leads to the Sigiriya rock fortress. After taking the turn to right from the Dambulla-Habarana main road the people need to travel another 8 km before arriving Sigiriya.

The nature of Sigiriya climb

The Sigiriya rock fortress exploration tour begins at the western gate of Sigiriya rock fortress and there is a great deal of walking during this activity. The visitors need to walk through the beautifully landscaped garden about 1 km and then climb the staircase that leads to the summit of the rock. The upward journey will take around 1-2 hours while the downward journey takes around 45 minutes.

How do I find accommodation in Sigiriya?

There are many accommodation providers around Sigiriya rock fortress. Most of them provide easy access to the rock fortress. There are several start class properties also among the hotels in Sigiriya and same times many affordable accommodations such as guest houses, rest houses also can be found here. The demand for accommodation in Sigiriya rock fortress is very high due to the large influx of tourist to see Sigiriya rock fortress, therefore it is best to book accommodation well in advance during the peak holiday season from November to April.

Night outing

There is a big NO NO for night outing in the Sigiriya rock fortress area. Remember the Sigiriya rock fortress is located far away from the city and surrounded by jungle. Therefore there is a very high chance of wild elephant roaming at night in the area.

If you stay in a hotel close to the Sigiriya rock fortress refrain from all outdoor activities in the dark. But the rule is applied if you go beyond the border of the hotels. This is mainly due to wild elephant attacks. There had been many incidents in the past, in which some people were killed due to the wild elephant attacks. Most of such incidents take place at night when the elephants come to the village area from the jungle.

Bird watching in Sigiriya

Sanctuary of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka located around the rock fortress is under the jurisdiction of the department of wildlife conservation. Surrounding the Sigiriya rock are large patches of secondary dry zone forests, containing monsoon, riverine and scrub vegetation. Among this vegetation is a multitude of fauna, with birds being the most visible and audible denizens of these forests. Sigiriya is one of the most visited places with interest in historical, cultural and natural. Sigiriya Sri Lanka attracts thousands of tourists every year, who make their holiday in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has always been listed as a bird’s paradise, because many different habitats lowland rain forests, mountain forests, wetland and monsoon forests – and their birds – are all easily accessible from the island’s capital. Of the 482 recorded species of birds in Sri Lanka, about 150 are common in the dry zone.  Many of these dry zone species can be seen in the Sigiriya area. This area boasts of a multitude of regular such as the endemic crimson fronted barbet and grey hornbill to residents such as the green imperial pigeon, Asian paradise-flycatcher and common lora, as well as migrants such as the Indian pitta.

A walk along a narrow path through dry zone forest up to Sigiriya lakeside permits you to observe many residents such as the pompadour green pigeon and common ixora. Near the lake, you will see Brahminy kites, white-breasted kingfisher and little cormorants darting into the water. During the migrant’s season, you may also see Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Whiskered Terns. Look out also for butterflies as the Crimson Rose, Blue Momon and Lime Butterfly among others. Mammals such as Toque monkeys, Grey Langurs and Giant squirrels are also are common.

There are several tracks in the area of Sigiriya being used for bird watching. It covers the thick jungles, rice fields, other agricultural fields and remote villages such as Kibissa and Diya beduma. One can see a great variety of vegetation along the way invariably means seeing the different species of Birds.  For example, one can see the jungle fowl very often in the thick jungle while crimson barbet and common kingfisher are very common in the villages and farmlands.

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Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

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