Sigiriya is an archelological site in North Central Sri Lanka. It contains the ruins of an ancient palace complex, built during the regin of King Kasyapa (477AD – 495 AD). It is one of the 7 world heritage sites in Sri Lanka and is one of it’s most popular tourist destinations.
The Sigiriya site consistes of a 180m tall granite rock, whose sides are so steep that at some points the top overhangs the base. At the top of the site there is a palace complex. The ruines of various chambers, stairways and pools can be seen at the top. There is a stone stairway leading from the base to the top of the mountain. About half way to the top, there is a pair giant pair of lions paws which is infact the ruind of a huge head of a lion whose open mouth served as the entrance to the royal palace. Surrounding the palace complex are the ruins of a garden complex consisting of two moats, various pools.
The History of Sigiriya
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through Pre-Historic times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 3rd century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the Buddhist Sangha. The garden and the palace was built by Kasyapa 477 – 495 AD. Then after Kasyapa’s death it was a monastery complex upto about the 14th century after which it was abandoned. The ruins were discovered in 1907 by British Explorer John Still.
Ruins of the Royal Court
The Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kasyapa as the son of King Dhatusena. who murdered his father by walling him alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallan. Mogallan fled to India to escape being assasinated by Kasyapa but vowed revenge. In India he raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka which was rightfully his. Knowing the inevitable return of Mogallan, Kasyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and pleasure palace. Mogallana finally arrived and in the battlefield Kasyapa’s armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by falling on his sward. Mogalan returned the capital back to Anuradapura and turned Sigiriya to a Moastory complex.
John Still in 1907 had observed that; “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, covering an area 140 meters long and 40 meters high. There are references in the Graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings.
Will Sigiriya qualify to be eighth wonder of the world
Kasyapa, the controversial King and master builder, wanted to own it and built himself a lofty palace atop the huge rock, rising 200 metres out of the flat, irrigated dry zone landscape. Thousand five hundred years later, Sir Arthur C. Clark mooted the idea that Sigiriya qualifies to be the eighth wonder of the world, ranked closely with the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.
While there is no designated world authority to bestow this honour upon Sigiriya- Kasyapa’s fortified palace and city- it still makes an attractive marketing slogan. “The eighth wonder of the world is Sigiriya, in the Indian-ocean island of Sri Lanka.”
Sigiriya has great tourism potential. The Cultural Fund hopes that there will come a day when tourists flock to the country especially to see the Lion Mountain as they would the Pyramids or the Great Wall.
The claim is not merely a boast either. Sigiriya was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. A millennium publication listing the 70 wonders of the world features Sigiriya quite high in the order.
Senake Bandaranayake, Director General of the Central Cultural Fund and Vice Chancellor and professor of Archeology of the Kelaniya University has been working on the Sigiriya Project for two decades. Now on the verge of taking up appointment as the Ambassador to France, Bandaranayake is pleased to announce that the excavation work on the site is almost completed.
“Sigiriya is one of the most important urban sites of the first millennium. The city and palace planning is very imaginative and extremely elaborate.”
The site compares with other Asian wonders of the era like Ankor in Cambodia, Taxila in Pakistan and the forbidden city of Beijing. Sigiriya is one of the best-preserved sites where the layout of the buildings and gardens is still clearly evident.
“It is smaller in size in some cases but Sigiriya has an extraordinary sense of grandeur, Bandaranayake said.
Sigiriya has a very complex rampart system. The city was walled and moated. Besides the inner and outer cities within the ramparts, there is evidence of suburban dwellings immediately outside the walled area. The complex is three kilometres from East to West and one kilometre from North to South.
“It speaks of grand urban planning. A brilliant combination of a geometric square module and natural topography.” The architects and engineers at the time took care to incorporate nature and never to deny it. Existing lakes, rocks and hills were cleverly woven into the general plan. “It’s a combination of human mind and the natural world.” Bandaranayake said.
The palace on top of the rock is the earliest surviving palace in Sri Lanka. The Lion’s staircase at the entrance to the palace is one of Sigiriya’s famous features, along with the apsara paintings on the western rock face and the mirror wall below the paintings.
While of the staircase only the two gigantic paws remain, there is evidence to show that the lion structure was indeed much larger and extended – head and shoulders out of the rock in a crouched position. The cuts and grooves on the rock above the paws indicate that the lion structure- built with brick masonry and limestone, presumably with a timber framework, was some 14 metres in height.
The gardens of Sigiriya, a combination of natural flora and imaginative landscaping, are ancient botanical garden’s carefully planned and laid out. According to the Sigiriya Conservation Policy the gardens will be soon stripped of all plant species introduced between the years of 1940-1980 leaving only the ancient varieties.
In Sri Lanka research on Sigiriya is not confined to the city and palace that Kasyapa built, fleeing the wrath of the people of Anuradhapura for having committed patricide. Evidence of prehistoric dwellings has been unearthed in Sigiriya caves.
Iron production factories operated here. Studies extend to the ancient villages and settlements in the “Sigiriya Basin”, the irrigation network of the Sigiriya Mahawewa, and the old monastic complexes that existed before the coming of Kasyapa and flourished after his tragic death.
In the Aligala caves, east of the rock but within the Sigiriya complex, lies evidence of one of the earliest dates of iron production in the world- carbon dating has determined it as 9th century. Prehistoric skeletal remains have also been unearthed and there are two sites in Sigiriya which have a continuous sequence for around 20,000 years, Bandaranayake said.
Many of the village settlements are believed to extend over three millenniums- long before the written history of Sri Lanka. Even the monastic settlements are quite ancient- beginning around 3rd century BC.
“The nearly two decades of work at Sigiriya is now beginning to find expression in a number of publications,” said Bandaranayake.
This year, the book, SIGIRIYA published by the CCF and written by Senake Bandaranayake, will soon be available to the public. A colour-coded map of Sigiriya -the city and palace is in the press.
One of the earliest publications was “Settlement Archeology of Sigiriya and Dambulla Region” and its follow-up, “Further Studies”- these books mapped out the archeological landscape of the entire Sigiriya Basin.
Several other interesting publications are due. One is Benil Priyanka’s New Readings of Sigiriya Graffiti- this will be the first new reading of 150 writings since Prof. Paranavithane’s efforts 40 years ago.
Mangala Illangasinghe has translated Senake Bandaranayake’s film script ‘Sigiriya-The Lion Mountain’ into Sinhala. A collection of work of Sigiriya graffiti- readings, graffiti drawings and mapping of the entire mirror wall- is now underway.
Senake Bandaranayake has now taken it upon himself to compile an entire collection of the work and research on Sigiriya in the past 20 years. This project should take two to three years more, he said.
With excavation work at its tail end, the Sigiriya Project concentrates on two other main aspects of the site- namely visitor management and research.
Visitor management looks at developing Sigiriya as an important archeological site in the world. The shortcomings of the present, manifest in the lack of trained guides, written information and proper explanation of the antiquity and significance of various features at the site. For instance, the Cobra Hood cave which is below the main Sigiriya rock has some very interesting and different motif paintings on the rock surface the likes of which has not been found elsewhere in the country. But a casual visitor would know nothing about these or even of the existence of the cave.
“We are planning a new Visitor Centre and museum at Sigiriya,” Bandaranayake said. A grand sound-and-light show is planned at Sigiriya as an added attraction for visitors. It will use the actual rock as a backdrop while the shows will be of historical significance.
An Environmental Research Programme to study climate change through the past centuries has been established at Sigiriya. The Centre was initiated to study the ornamental botany of the gardens soon deviated to researching old climate using microfossil plant remains.
The Sunday Times
Old photos of Sigiriya from from www.imagesofceylon.com
- Sigiriya – Who are these maidens and what is their message
- Mystery of Sigiriya: “Palace in the sky”
- Sigiriya: The Ascent
- The mystique of the Lion Rock
- The mystique of Sigiriya
- Sigiriya, the Eighth Wonder of the World
- Oldest landscaped gardens in the world
- Captivating tales of Sigiriya’s rediscovery
- Forts and Fortifications of Sri Lanka
- List of Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
Map of Sigiriya Fortress
The map below also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Travel Directions to Sigiriya
Route from Colombo to Sigiriya
Route from Moragaswewa ( Habarana – Minneriya Road) to Sigiriya
|Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla – Inamaluwa
Distance : 175 km
Travel time : 3 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Distance : 15 km
Travel time : 30 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map
first published : Aug 2006