Ruins of an Ancient City

This is one of the shortest and most physically challenging trips I have taken, staying only in the country for 2 days. Following a 9-hour travel time (including a 3-hour lay over), I checked in at my hotel past 2 am.  By 6 am, I was on my way to a new adventure with barely 3 hours of sleep.

It took us close to four hours to reach our initial destination:  Dambulla, a town in the Matale District, just around 20 kilometers from our final destination.  After a short visit to the Dambulla Cave Temple and lunch, we proceeded to Sigiriya.  I took a tripod with me, thinking that I would be doing selfies.  But after thinking about the steep climb under a 32 degree Celcius weather, I thought the USD20 fee for a 2-3 hour tour was well worth it. Frankly, I hired the guide to take pictures.  Of course, the history telling was also much appreciated.

Sigiriya History (

Before Sigiriya became a Kingdom, the Sigiriya Rock base had been dwelled by Buddhist monks from around 3rd Century BC. It is also found that these areas had been inhabitant by people prior to King Kassapa’s rein. After King Mahanama who ruled Anuradhapura from 410- 432 AD, a Prince named Dhatusena became the King of Anuradhapura in 459 AD, defeating the Indian invader ‘Pandu’. He had two sons from two queens. Mugalan from the head queen and Kassapa’s from a companion queen. Prince Kassapa, with the help of the general, got his father killed and became the King. Prince Mugalan, fearing for his life, escaped to India. The Buddhist Bhikkus and the people were against his conduct and favoured Price Mugalan for the rulership. Fearing that Mugalan will come with an army from India to avenge him at a later day, King Kassapa decided to make Sigiriya as his kingdom. During his rule of eighteen years from 477 AD to 495 AD Sigiriya Kingdom was created. It is believed that he sought the refuge of Sigiriya rock for his safety fearing for his life.

After 18 years, Prince Mugalan came with an army from India to fight with King Kassapa. During the battle Kassapa killed himself thus Mugalan became the King. He went back to Anuradhapura and ruled the country from there and handed over Sigiriya back to the Buddhist priests. Sigiriya as a Kingdom was abandoned in around 1150 AD and was almost forgotten for the next seven centuries Though King Kassapa is not regarded in high esteem in Sri Lankan history due to his dubious conduct, he is credited as a ruler with unsurpassed imagination put into reality to create a Sri Lankan style marvel of high calibre art and engineering skills that could even challenge the outer world structures at that time, which definitely is amazing even in the 21st century with whatever is remaining as ruins of Sigiriya.

The Landmarks (ibid)

IMG_2535The Rock itself has a unique identity on its shape not found anywhere else in the island and can be recognized miles away from the distance.  Sigiriya was rediscovered during the rule of the British, by Major H. Forbes in 1831. Climbing of the Sigiriya summit was achieved by A.H.Adams and J.Bailey in 1853.

Sigiriya being a fortress, had been well designed for its defenses by having ramparts and moats built around it. There are several approaches to the inner city and the most prominent is the Western entrance.  We entered through this entrance, coming from the ticketing office.  The entrance fee is pretty expensive, at 3,900 Sri Lankan Rupees or approximately 30 US dollars.  After purchasing the Ticket, one needs to walk by foot up to the Sigiriya Rock through the path bordered with trees for about a kilometer. Passing the outer moat and the rampart one comes to the water reservoir.  There is a second Moat that has to be crossed by the bridge erected there to proceed towards the Sigiriya rock. Moats were used as a defensive method at earlier times to safeguard citadels from enemy.

Passing the moat will bring you up to the massive inner rampart which runs parallel to the moat. These ramparts were heavily guarded day and night so penetrating inside was not an easy task during the Rule of King Kassapa. Coming over the rampart brings the splendid view of the Sigiriya Rock at the distance ahead. Also coming into the view is the Royal Pleasure Garden. The Sigiriya Water Garden with a variety of ponds, fountains and remains of structures are unique since water technology that had been used to distribute water in conduits by pressure works even today, when there is enough rain water accumulated in the upper ponds. There are about ninety five pools or ponds found at Sigiriya altogether.

So, how does one get to the summit?  Walk, of course.  Up those 1,202 steps (according to my guide).  Read More.  It was a challenging journey.  I could feel my sweat dripping my sunblock off my face.  But no worries for the king whenever he wants to come down from his palace to visit his gardens (and his ladies).  According to the guide, his soldiers carry him up and down the fortress.

The Boulder Arch which is in the ancient pathway to the Sigiriya Rock amply describes the natural landscaping skills on the city planning. The two caves by the sides of the two rocks had been dwelling places for the monks at earlier times.The Terraced gardens in this area formed out of the natural hill had been constructed by making stone retaining walls at various elevations to prevent soil erosion due to rain water.The stairway to the Sigiriya rock runs at a side of the terraced garden.

Wall Paintings (Ibid)

The Sigiriya Paintings are found on about the halfway height of the Sigiriya western rock face, or about 100 meters from the base of the rock. A spiral iron staircase takes the visitor about 44 feet from the gallery below and an iron platform runs throughout the length of the frescoed rock depression. There are around 21 paintings in this area and it is believed to be the Fresco-Lustro method used for these paintings. All these paintings are of young and old female figures and there are no two similar figures among them. These figures are popularly called as ‘Sigiri Apsara’ [ Celestial nymphs ] or Sigiri Damsels.  There now remains around 21 paintings of Sigiriya Damsels but there had been around five hundred paintings during King Kassapa’s’ time along several other places of the same Western Rock face.

The Mirror Wall and Sigiriya Graffiti (Ibid)

After King Kassapa’s’ demise, the people who came to see Sigiriya wrote down verses in Sinhala scripts of that time on Sigiriya Damsels and the Sigiriya Lion on the wall running below the Sigiriya frescoes. This wall is called as the ‘ Kedapath Pavura’ or the Sigiriya Mirror Wall. It is done in brick masonry and has a polished plaster finish. Many of these writings on the Mirror Wall belongs to the time period between the 7th and the 11th Centuries AD. some of these had been written by native women indicating the literacy among the females at that time. These graffiti had been written using a metal styles which might had been common among people at that time for writing purposes. The expressions made in the verses are refined and the beauty of the ladies had been much appreciated in a simple literal way.

Terrace of the Lion Staircase (ibid)

The first thing I asked my guide was why the fortress is called the Lion Rock.  He mentioned that  the Lion Rock has been derived from the gigantic Lion statue constructed so that the rock resembled a Lion figure. He even showed me a picture of what was thought to be the original lion figure. From whatever the original lion statue, only two of its huge paws are remaining now on the Northern side of the rock.  Through the Lion’s paw is the stairway leading to the rock summit . There is a fairly large terrace with the remains of earlier building’s ruins to the northern side to the Lion’s paw entrance. On this terrace, the first accent from the base of the rock terminates.  After entering through the lion’s paw entrance begins the second ascend and climbing the old stairway, one finds a few decades old iron ladders and an iron platform with railings to reach the major part up to the summit. These Sigiriya Rock steps are anchored to the Rock surface and the visitor gets a birds eye view on the surrounding areas of the Rock. The final climb is again from an ancient stairway taking the visitor to the uppermost section of the Rock.

At this point, I was exhausted.  I was glad that this was the last staircase leading to the summit.  From the summit of the rock, the land areas up to distances of tens of miles can be watched making it hard for the enemy to make a surprised attack to the kingdom.  The peak offers a magnificent view.  On the Summit of the Sigiriya Rock was the Citadel in the 5th Century AD. The terrain on the summit ranges to around 1.5 hectares [ about 3.5 acres ].The layout of the palace and the landscaped gardens on several terraces can be seen on the summit. It is said to be that the palace constructions must have mainly done out of timber unlike in other ancient places where the doorways etc. were made out of granite. A large pool of the dimensions 90 feet x 68 feet made by cutting out the rock . There are also few smaller ponds made using brick. The foundations of earlier buildings are still intact so the complete plan of the palace can be seen even today.

Going down was easier and provided good respite from that long trip up the summit.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience.  Physically challenging, yes, but the excitement of learning so much provided me with the needed fuel to conquer the Lion Rock.



4 thoughts on “Ruins of an Ancient City

  1. I was fortunate it was a lean season. According to my guide, it can get very busy especially during school days because students from all over Sri Lanka take field trips to this heritage site. 😀

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