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Sigiriya | Sigiriya Rock Fortress | Sigiriya Kingdom | Sigiriya Rock


Sigiriya, located in Sri Lanka, has been described by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau as “part hedonistic pleasure palace, part fortress and part sacred complex,” and is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982, the complex consists of an enormous rock, the summit of which was once covered with buildings and surrounded by gardens. Although there are various theories about the historical function of the site, Lonely Planet notes that the “visible ruins today suggest a significant urban site complete with relatively sophisticated architecture, engineering, urban planning, hydraulic technology, gardening and art.”

King Kasyapa’s Fortress Palace

The first theory about the creation and purpose of Sigiriya connects the complex to the reign (from 477 to 496 AD) of King Kasyapa. According to legend, Kasyapa built the structures atop the summit of the rock after murdering his father, King Dhatusena (walling him up alive) and seizing power from his half-brother, Mogallana. The palace and fortress were built to protect the usurper from the avenging armies of Mogallana.

Buddhist Monastery

Lonely Planet outlines a different theory about Sigiriya supported by “archaeological, literary, religious and cultural evidence, rather than local legend.” This theory proposes that Sigiriya functioned as a “long-standing Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist monastery built several centuries before the time of King Kasyapa.” As early as the 3rd century BC, the site operated as a hermitage and had developed into an important monastery by the 10th century AD (and abandoned after the 14th century).


Remnants of plaster and pigment remain throughout the site. Although only a fraction of the approximately 500 images remain, the frescoes of Sigiriya “represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism” according to Discoversrilanka.com. The still-visible images of women have been variously interpreted as “Heavenly Maidens,” ladies of the Kasyapan court, “Lightning Princess and Cloud Damsels” and, according to Lonely Planet, Tara Devi, a Mahayana Buddhist goddess.

Mirror Wall Graffiti

According to DiscoverSriLanka.com, a path runs up the western and northern sides of the Sigiriya rock to “provide access to the seeming inaccessible summit.” This path is protected by a 9 1/2 foot high plaster wall so highly polished and glazed that “even today, after fifteen centuries of exposure to sun, wind and rain, one can see one’s reflection in it.” Called the Mirror Wall, it displays the writings of visitors to the Sigiriya complex between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. As the graffiti is translated, it offers scholars a valuable historical resource.

Lion Rock

When climbing the pathway of the rock to the summit, a platform emerges halfway up the north side. Here once sat the giant lion that gave Sigiriya, “Lion Rock,” its name. In order to reach the summit of the rock, travelers had to pass between the lion’s paws and through its mouth. DiscoverSriLanka.com notes that “based on the ideas described in some of the graffiti, this Lion staircase could be visualized as a gigantic figure towering majestically against the granite cliff, facing north, bright coloured and awe-inspiring.” Today, only the paws and several steps remain.

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