The gardens were also the centre of Sigiriya’s monastic activity before and after Kassapa: there are around twenty rock shelters hereabouts which were used by monks, some containing inscriptions dating from between the third century BC and the 6rst century AD. The caves would originally have been plastered and painted, and traces of this decoration can still be seen in a few places; you’ll also notice the dripstone ledges which were carved around the entrances to many of the caves to prevent water from running into them. The Deraniyagala Cave, just to the left of the path shortly after it begins to climb up through the gardens, has a well-preserved dripstone ledge and traces of old paintings. On the opposite side of the main path up the rock, a side path leads to the Cobra Hood Cave, named for its uncanny resemblance to that snake’s head. The cave preserves traces of lime plaster, floral decoration and an inscription in Brahmi script on the ledge dating from the second century BC.
Follow the path up the hill behind the Cobra Hood Cave to reach the so-called Audience Hall. The wooden walls and roof have long since disappeared, but the impressively smooth floor, created by chiselling the top oft a single enormous boulder, remains, along with a five-metre-wide “throne”, also cut out of the solid rock. The hall is popularly claimed to have been Kassapa’s audience hall, though it’s more likely to have served a purely religious function, with the empty throne representing the Buddha; a rectangular cistern is carved out of another part of the same boulder. The small cave to one side of the Audience Hall retains colourful splashes of paint on its ceiling and is home to another throne, while a couple more thrones can be found carved into nearby rocks.
Return back to the main path from here and you should come out at “Boulder Arch no. 1” (as the sign calls it). Continuing through here, the main pathway – now a sequence of walled-in steps – begins to climb steeply through the Terrace Gardens, a series rubble-retaining brick and limestone terraces that stretch to the base of the rock itself, from where you get the first of an increasingly majestic sequence of views back down below.