Sigiriya Rock Fortress

A “citadel in the sky” – the spectacular Sigiriya Rock Fortress rises sheer and impregnable out of the denuded plains of the dry zone, sitting atop a huge out crop of gneiss rock towering 200m above the surrounding countryside. The shortest-lived but the most extraordinary of all Sri Lanka’s medieval capitals Sigiriya was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is now the country’s most memorable single attraction; probably an eighth wonder of the world…

A remarkable archeological site made unforgettable by its dramatic setting. It is also proposed that the site should be named the eighth wonder of the world, indicating it is in the same league as other international wonders such as the Grand Canyon and Ancient Pyramids.  Translated as ‘Lion Rock’ into English, the name of the monument indicates the way in which visitors used to begin their final ascent to the top – through the open jaws and throat (‘giriya’) of a lion (‘sinha’).  Unfortunately, the only remains of this lion figure are the gigantic paws, sculpted into the side of the rock.  The topography of the area is flat except for the massive rock outcrop of the fortress itself (which rises an incredible 600 ft up from the green scrub jungle).  The unusual rock is particularly interesting due to its flat top (nearly an acre in size), that was used in its entirety to build King Kasyapa’s fortress complex, still evident by the presence of the extensive ruins.

Shortly after reaching the base of the rock, two incongruous metal spiral staircases lead to and from a sheltered cave in the sheer rock face that holds Sri Lanka’s most famous sequence of frescoes, popularly referred to as the Sigiriya Damsels (no flash photography).These busty beauties were painted in the fifth century and arc the only nonreligious paintings to have survived from ancient Sri Lanka; they’re now one of the island’s most iconic – and most relentlessly reproduced – images. Once described as the largest picture gallery in the world, it’s thought that these frescoes would originally have covered an area some 140 metres long by 40 metres high, though only 21 damsels now survive out of an original total of some five hundred (a number of paintings were destroyed by a vandal in 1967, while a few of the surviving pictures are roped off out of sight).

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What to See at the Sigiriya Rock Fortress

You'll need two to three hours to explore Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Visit in the early morning or late afternoon, when the crowds are less dense and the temperature is cooler.