Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka

The rock fortress of Sigiriya is located in the centre of Sri Lanka on a huge rocky hill of solidified lava. The castle between heaven and earth was built together with the surrounding city in the 5th century, and its remains can still be seen today.

The impressive rock fortress of Sigiriya is located in the centre of Sri Lanka and is one of our top 10 sights of Sri Lanka. On the gigantic, 200-metre-high monolith of solidified lava are the remains of a 5th-century fortification. Sigiriya was added to the UNESCO World HeritageList in 1982.

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History of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress

The name "Sigiriya" is derived from "Siha Giri" - "Lion Rock". The name probably comes from the huge lion's head through whose mouth one used to enter the last and steepest section of the ascent to the fortress.

The fascinating building was erected in 473 by Kassapa, the then king of Anuradhapura. He murdered his father in order to ascend the throne himself as the son of a concubine. Fearing his half-brother Moggalllana, the king's rightful heir, he had Sigiriya built and entrenched himself there. Around the Magmabock he built the new capital of his kingdom, which he protected with a moat.

Nevertheless, he was defeated in 495 by Moggalllana, who reclaimed the throne that was his and moved the capital back to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was used as a monastery complex until the 14th century, as a fortification for the kingdom of Kandy in the 16th and 17th centuries, and remained abandoned thereafter. In 1890, the first archaeological research was carried out at Sigiriya, which intensified 100 years later.

Visit the rock fortress of Sigiriya

Today, only the foundation walls and a few cisterns remain of the fortifications and palaces. Of the monumental Lion's Gate, too, only the two mighty paws remain today. Of the once splendid pleasure gardens around the rocky hill, there are still remains of the artistically designed fountains, pavilions and a monastery complex, some of which have been rebuilt. The geometric layout of the water, stone and terraced gardens was created in perfect harmony with the natural landscape.

Tip: The ascent to the remains of the installations on Sigiriya leads directly along the 200m high vertically sloping cliff and is absolutely not an undertaking for people with a fear of heights or vertigo! There is also no shade on Lion Rock and nothing to buy to drink, so be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water.

Mirror wall

Besides the ruins, there are two other highlights to see at Sigiriya. On the way to the northern plateau is the so-called "mirror wall". This 15x20m rock face used to be polished to a shine for the king, so that he could see himself as he passed by.

Today, it is mainly important because of its inscriptions. The Sinhala sayings and poems left in the rock face by earlier visitors date from the 7th to 11th centuries and contributed enormously to the study of the ancient language.

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Cloud Girl

Halfway up the climb to the rock fortress of Sigiriya are numerous frescoes, mostly depicting women with large naked breasts - the so-called "cloud girls", Sri Lanka - © Dima Fadeev / Shutterstock
© Dima Fadeev / Shutterstock

The second attraction can be seen halfway up the climb. Under a rock overhang are numerous frescoes, mostly showing women with large naked breasts. The so-called "cloud girls" can be closely examined today via a steel spiral staircase (by the way, this spiral staircase was originally located in a railway station in London).

Of the 500 drawings, according to an inscription, 22 still remain today and some were restored in the 1970s.

Originally, the entire west wall is said to have been painted 40m high and 140m long, probably the largest effigy ever created. It is not known who these images represent, but it is certain that they resemble the figures in the Indian Ajanta caves.

Tip: Only about 20km away is the cave temple of Dambulla with its countless Buddha statues, the next sight in the rock.

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