Sigiriya Ancient Rock Fortress
March 05, 2021
Sigiriya or Sinhagiri is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock towering 200m sheer rock, thrust upwards from an otherwise flat landscape and often skirted by a veil of mist that shrouds it in mystery, is often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.
The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king’s death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.
There was a sculpted lion’s head above the legs and paws flanking the entrance, but the head collapsed years ago. There is a stairway made of stone that leads from the bottom of the rock to the top. Sigiriya consists of an ancient citadel built by King Kashyapa during the 5th century. The Sigiriya site contains the ruins of an upper palace located on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and the mirror wall with its frescoes, the lower palaces clings to the slopes below the rocks. The moats, walls and gardens of the palace extended for a few hundred metres from the base of the rock. The site was both a palace and a fortress. The upper palace on the top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock.
Sigiriya is considered to be one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium. About halfway up, there are two lion paws that were part of a massive lion with an open mouth. The open mouth is the entrance to the palace. Today only the lion paws remain.
John Still in 1907 wrote, “The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery… the largest picture in the world perhaps”. The paintings would have covered most of the western face of the rock, an area 140 metres long and 40 metres high. There are references in the graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings. The line and style of application of the paintings differing from Anuradhapura paintings. The lines are painted in a form which enhances the sense of volume of the figures. The paint has been applied in sweeping strokes, using more pressure on one side, giving the effect of a deeper colour tone towards the edge. Other paintings of the Anuradhapura period contain similar approaches to painting, but do not have the sketchy lines of the Sigiriya style
The true identity of the ladies in these paintings still have not been confirmed
The water gardens can be seen in the central section of the western precinct. Three principal gardens are found here. The first garden consists of a plot surrounded by water. It is connected to the main precinct using four causeways, with gateways placed at the head of each causeway. This garden is built according to an ancient garden form known as char bagh, and is one of the oldest surviving models of this form.
Views from the top of Sigiriya Rock
It is amazing to see how an untouched rock can be transformed into a living complex as well as an impressive work of art. A visit to Sigiriya should definitely be a part of any itinerary when traveling to Sri Lanka.