Tourist’s guide to Sigiriya – rock and ancient fortress in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) – a single rock with a height of 170 m and a fortress erected on it in the district of Matale, in the central part of the country.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

At the top of the mountain a castle was built, the walls of which are painted with unique frescoes. Some of the latter have survived to this day. Halfway to the top there is a plateau where arrivals are met by huge gates in the form of lion paws. According to one version, the fortress was erected at the request of King Kassap (Kasyap), and after his death the palace was empty and stood abandoned. Until the 14th century, a Buddhist monastery functioned in Sigiriya. Today, the attraction is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is under its protection.

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Sigiriya – a unique attraction

According to archaeological excavations, in the area adjacent to the mountain, people lived in the prehistoric period. Numerous grottoes and caves are proof of this.

Photo: Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.

View of Mount Sigiriya
So Sigiriya could look

In 477, Kasyapa, born of a commoner from the king, forcibly took the throne from the legitimate heir of Datusena, enlisting the support of the army commander. The heir to the throne, Mugalan, was forced to hide in India in order to save his own life. Having seized the throne of Kasyap, he decided to transfer the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, where it was calm and quiet. This measure is a necessary one, because the self-proclaimed king was afraid that he would be overthrown by the one to whom the throne belongs by right of birth. After these events, Sigiriya became a real urban complex, with well-designed architecture, protective structures, a fortress and gardens.

In 495, the illegal monarch was overthrown, and the capital returned to Anuradhapura again. And on the top of the Sigiriya rock, Buddhist monks settled for many years. The monastery functioned until the 14th century. About the period from the 14th to the 17th century, information about Sigiriya was not found.

Legends and myths

According to one of the legends of Kassap, wanting to take the throne, he killed his own father, walled him alive in the dam wall. Kasyapa’s brother Mugalan, born of a queen, left the country, but took an oath to take revenge. In South India, Mugalan gathered an army and, on his return to Sri Lanka, declared war on his illegitimate brother. During the struggle, the army betrayed Kassap, and he, realizing the hopelessness of his situation, committed suicide.

There is a version that the army did not intentionally abandon its leader. During the next battle, Kasyapa’s elephant suddenly turned in the opposite direction. The soldiers took the maneuver as the king’s decision to flee and began to retreat. Kassapa was left alone, but being proud and unyielding, he drew his sword and cut his throat.

Archaeological site and amazing finds

First excavation

Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) was discovered by Jonathan Forbes, a British soldier in 1831. At that time, the top of the mountain was heavily overgrown with shrubs, but immediately attracted the attention of archaeologists and historians.

The first excavations began 60 years later in 1890. Within the framework of the state project of Sri Lanka “Cultural Triangle”, full-scale excavations were carried out.

The ruins of the palace

Sigiriya is an ancient citadel built in the 5th century. The historical and archaeological area consists of:

  • the palace on top of the Lion’s rock;
  • terraces and gates, which are located approximately in the center of the mountain;
  • a mirror wall decorated with frescoes;
  • lower palaces that hide behind lush gardens;
  • castle moats performing a protective function.
Sigiriya rock at the end of the 19th century
Photo: Sigiriya rock, Sri Lanka

Archaeologists note that the Sigiriya fortress (Lion’s rock) in Sri Lanka is one of the brightest buildings in the world dating back to the 1st millennium, and is relatively well preserved. The city plan surprises with incredible diversity and exceptional thoughtfulness for that time. In accordance with the plan, symmetry and asymmetry are harmoniously combined in the city, man-made buildings are skillfully woven into the surrounding landscape, without completely breaking it. In the western part of the mountain there is a royal park, which was created according to a strict symmetrical plan. A complex technical network of hydraulic structures and mechanisms has been created for watering plants in the park area. An artificial reservoir for water is located in the southern part of the cliff, it was used very actively, since Mount Sigiriya is located in the arid partgreen island of sri lanka .


The western slope of the Lion’s Rock is a unique phenomenon – it is almost completely covered with ancient frescoes. That is why the surface of the hill is called a giant art gallery.

Ancient murals

In the past, paintings covered the entire slope on the western side, and this surface is 5600 square meters. According to one version, 500 girls were depicted on the frescoes. Their identity has not been established, in different sources there are different assumptions. Some believe that the frescoes are images of court ladies, others believe that these are girls who participated in religious ceremonies. Unfortunately, most of the drawings are lost.

See also: Pinnawela Elephant Shelter – the largest in Sri Lanka .

Mirror wall and the path to the frescoes

Mirror wall

During the reign of Kasyapa, the wall was regularly polished so that the monarch, walking along it, could see his own reflection. The wall is made of bricks and covered with white stucco. The modern version of the wall is partially covered in various verses and messages. On the wall of the Lion Rock there are also inscriptions dating back to the 8th century. Now you can’t leave a message on the wall, a ban was imposed to protect the ancient inscriptions.

Gardens of Sigiriya

This is one of the main features of Sigiriya, because the gardens are included in the list of the oldest landscape gardens in the world. The garden complex consists of three parts.

Water gardens
Water Gardens of Sigiriya

They can be found in the western part of the Lion Rock. There are three gardens.

  • The first garden is surrounded by water, connected to the territory of the palace and fortress complex through 4 dams. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is designed according to the oldest model and very few analogues have survived to this day.
  • The second garden is surrounded by pools where streams flow into. There are fountains in the form of round bowls, they are filled with an underground hydraulic system. In the rainy season, fountains are open. On both sides of the garden are islands where summer palace residences are built.
  • The third garden is above the first two. In its northeastern part there is a large octagonal basin. In the eastern part of the garden is the wall of the fortress.
Stone gardens
Stone gardens

These are huge boulders, between which pass paths. Stone gardens can be found at the foot of the Lion Mountain, along the slopes. The stones are so large that most of them were built buildings. They also performed a defensive function – during the onset of enemies they were pushed down on the attackers.

Terrace Gardens
Terraced Gardens

These are terraces around the cliff on natural elevations. Partially they consist of brick walls. You can get from one garden to another by the limestone stairs, from which the road to the highest terrace of Sigiriya Castle in Sri Lanka follows.

How to get there

By bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya

You can go to the sights from any city on the island, but you will have to change trains in Dambulla. Bus routes No. 549/499 regularly depart from Dambulla to Sigiriya. Flights depart from 6-00 to 19-00. The road takes only 40 minutes.

Possible routes to Sigiriya
  1. Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya. This route is the most convenient, since you can buy a ticket for comfortable air-conditioned regular transport. From Colombo in the direction of the popular Dambulla follows the largest number of buses.
  2. Matara – Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya. From Matara to Colomba, a train and a bus follow. The journey takes about 4.5 hours. Also, bus number 2/48 leaves from the bus station in Matar to the transfer point, comfortable flights with air conditioning will take you to Dambulla in 8 hours. Similar flights can be used if you are in Panadur and Tangalle.
  3. Kandy – Dambulla – Sigiriya. Buses from Kandy follow from early morning until 21-00. You can get there by many flights, check the number directly at the station.
  4. Bus number 43
  5. Anuradhapura – Dambulla – Sigiriya. From Anuradhapura there are flights No. 42-2, 43 and 69 / 15-8.
  6. Trincomalee – Dambulla – Sigiriya. Two shuttle buses depart to the transfer point – No. 45 and 49.
  7. Polonnaruwa – Dambulla – Sigiriya. You can get to the transfer point by regular buses No. 41-2, 46, 48/27 and 581-3.
  8. Arugam Bay – Monaragala – Dambulla – Sigiriya. In Arugam Bay you need to take bus number 303-1, the journey takes 2.5 hours. Then in Monaragal you need to transfer to bus number 234 or 68/580.

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Interesting Facts

  1. According to one legend, Kasyapa walled his father alive in the dam when he found out that he was not as rich as it seemed.
  2. Evidence of the first appearance of a person in Sigiriya was found in the grotto of Aligal, which is located east of the mountain fortress. This proves that people in this area lived about 5 thousand years ago.
  3. Only the members of the royal family had the right to use the western gates of Sigiriya castle, the most beautiful and luxurious.
  4. Unique mural technique
  5. Sigiriya Mountain in Sri Lanka is a rock formation that formed from the magma of a once active volcano. Today it is destroyed.
  6. Experts note a unique technique in which all the frescoes are made – the lines were applied in a special way to give volume to the drawings. The paint lay in sweeping strokes with one-sided pressure so that the color at the edge of the image was more saturated. According to the technique, the frescoes resemble images found in the Indian caves of Ajanta.
  7. Sri Lanka has deciphered more than 680 verses and inscriptions made on the wall from the 8th to the 10th century CE.
  8. The water gardens of the complex are located symmetrically with respect to the east-west direction. In the western part they are connected by a moat, and in the south by an artificially created lake. The pools of the three gardens are connected by an underground pipeline network.
  9. Lion shape for the gate
  10. The boulders, which today are a stone garden, were used in the past to fight the enemy – they were thrown off a cliff when the enemy army approached Sigiriya.
  11. The lion shape for the gate was chosen for a reason. The lion is a symbol of Sri Lanka, is depicted on state symbols and represents the progenitor of Ceylon.

It is interesting! Climbing to the top of the Lion’s Rock takes an average of 2 hours. On the way, you will surely meet flocks of wild monkeys that beg for goodies from tourists.

Useful information for tourists
Admission fee

Admission Ticket Price:

  • adult – 4500 rupees, approximately $ 30;
  • children – 2250 rupees, about $ 15.

Admission is free for children under 6 years old.

The rock palace complex is open from 7-00 to 18-00. Cash desks work only until 17-00.

The visitor receives a ticket, which consists of three tear-off parts. Each part gives the right to visit:

  • the main entrance;
  • mirror wall;
  • a museum.

It is important! The exposition in the museum is weak and not very interesting, so you can not even waste time visiting it.

The best time for an excursion is from 7-00, when there is no exhausting heat. You can also see the attraction after lunch – at 15-00, when the number of tourists decreases. Be sure to bring water with you, since you will have to walk for at least 3 hours, and water is not sold in the complex.

Number of days with precipitation in Sigiriya

The best weather conditions for visiting Sigiriya are from December to April or from mid-summer to September. At this time in the central part of Sri Lanka it rains infrequently, the weather is most favorable for visiting the castle. Most precipitation falls in April and November.

It is important! The most popular entertainment among tourists is to meet the dawn in Sigiriya. For this, a clear period is chosen so that the sky is not obscured by clouds.

Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) – an ancient rock complex, which is recognized as the most visited on the island. This is a unique historical monument of architecture that you can admire today.

An interesting video with useful information – see if you want to know more about Sigiriya.

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