Sigiriya: The Temple Fortress

Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is a temple fortress carved literally from a solid piece of rock nearly 200m high. Lying in the north central region of Sri Lanka, this is perhaps the single most famous monument in Sri Lanka.

Retreating from the vulnerable Buddhist capital of Anuradhapura, the rebel King Kassapa (477 - 495 CE) selected Sigiriya as his new capital. It is an awe-inducing multi-purpose structure, designed for defence, beauty, comfort and practicality. As with Anuradhapura, it seems that that this incredible location was inhabited from at least the 3rd Century BC when its caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks and ascetics. The major part of its construction, however, was undertaken and completed during the rule of Kassapa.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress and palace are carved into the summit of the rock itself. The city and a magnificent system of water gardens sit around the rock's base. Reached by a spectacular trail, the route up to the summit passes some of Sri Lanka's most beautiful and ancient paintings and works of art: the beautiful Sigiriya Damsels. These paintings - thought to portray King Kassapa's lovers - are very natural in style and visually reminiscent of famous paintings at Ajanta caves in India. Following the Damsels, the next beautiful piece of art at Sigiriya is the Mirror Wall - a wall of highly polished plaster, lime, egg white, beeswax and wild honey. Some sections of the plaster still retain their original surface and fantastic shine! The mirror wall is also covered with more than 1500 clearly readable images and comments made by visitors more than 15 centuries ago.

A last staircase to the rock's summit is encompassed by a spectacular carved lion statue with the trail finally leading into what was originally a lion mouth and the remains of the King's fortress and palace.

Around the rock base we find a wide, straight avenue and a pair of broad moats, connected by intricate gardens. The gardens themselves are connected by fountains and water channels which are still functional after 1500 years.

Although this is one of Sri Lanka's most impressive and physically impressive capitals, it was also the shortest lived. King Kassapa's empire lasted only 18 years before he died in battle against his own brother, King Mogallana - the 'true' heir to Sri Lanka's throne - who re-invaded Sri Lanka with a Tamil army from Southern India. Sigiriya then became a Buddhist temple until the 12th Century AD when it was finally abandoned to be reclaimed by the jungle.

Gardens and woodlands around Sigiriya have some very good birdwatching, including opportunities to see the magnificent Malabar Pied Hornbill, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Greater Racket-trailed Drongo and lots more.

Aqua-Firma can take you to visit Sigiriya as part of a privately guided Wildlife & Cultural Highlights journey through Sri Lanka; as part of a relaxing bespoke tailor made holiday to Sri Lanka; or as part of a Privately Guided Birdwatching, Wildlife & Cultural Highlights experience. We can also include it within a privately guided visit to the Wilpattu National Park based in, or close to dry forests surrounding Anuradhapura.

  • Sigiriya - Lion Rock
  • Sigiriya - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Water Gardens at Sigiriya - Jane Coleman
  • Scarlet Minivet

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Cultural Sites & Monuments Guide

Sri Lanka National Park & Reserve Guides

  • Wetlands Surrounding Sigiriya - Ralph Pannell
  • View from Sigiriya - Charlotte Caffrey


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