Sigiriya Rock Fortress of Ancient Sri Lanka

My Travels to Sigiriya Rock Fortress

After staying near Galle, Sri Lanka for a few weeks we decided to travel to Kandy and then proceed to the ancient rock of Sigiriya. Fortunately, there is a train that runs between Galle – Colombo and also Colombo-Kandy. The train ride from Colombo to Kandy was especially scenic because it runs along the mountaintops of the Sri Lanka interior. Then, after visiting Kandy we procured a driver with the assistance of our Sigiriya hotel and set out for the day.

Galle – Sigiriya MapGalle to Sigiriya Map

Historical Background of Sigiriya

In 477 ACE Sri Lanka was ruled by King Dhatusena. The king had two sons named Kashyapa and Mogallana. However, Kashyapa was his son by a non royal consort and was therefore not a legitimate heir to the throne. On the other hand, Mogallana was King Dhatusena’s son by the true queen and he was the legitimate heir to the throne of Sri Lanka. 

Unfortunately, Kashyapa decided to take matters into his own hands. With the assistance of the army commander Kashyapa gained control. Next, he seized the throne by killing King Dhatusena. Kashyapa was a very cruel man and he effectively buried King Dhatusena alive by walling him in. As a result, Mogallana fled for his life to India and Kashyapa assumed control of Sri Lanka. Patricide had been committed by Kashyapa and thus became part of Sigiriya history in Sinhala.

King Kashyapa knew that his brother would raise an army in India and return to claim the throne. Therefore, he relocated his throne from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya in north central Sri Lanka. King Kashyapa turned this remote rock outcropping into a palace fit for a king. As a result, the 200 meter high Sigiriya rock was embellished with frescoes and manicured gardens surrounded the rock fortress. Additionally, he fortified it with a moat and military installations to fend off the return of Mogallana. 

Sigiriya MapSigiriya map

Photo of Sigiriya Taken from the Garden PathSigiriya Rock Fortress

The Ignoble Demise of King Kashyapa

Indeed the worst fears of King Kashyapa would come true and eventually his brother returned with a massive army to reclaim his throne. However, King Kashyapa chose not to flee and he met his brother in battle. Unfortunately, there was a strange twist of fate that would befall King Kashyapa as they prepared to clash on the battlefield. Apparently, the battle elephant that King Kashyapa was mounted on abruptly attempted to shift locations. The troops were in formation behind King Kashyapa and they thought that King Kashyapa was trying to flee the battle! As a result, they fled and left Kashyapa to face his brother’s army alone. Kashyapa immediately fell on his own sword rather than face the wrath of Mogallana. The ignoble demise of Kashyapa would be a significant event in Sigiriya history in Sinhala.

The Climb to the Top

The Sigiriya rock climb is an exhilarating experience and fortunately there is a well constructed pathway to the summit. Initially, the climb starts at the junction of the moat and garden path.

The first thing that I noticed is that there was a serpent swimming in the moat! Perhaps a cobra? Therefore, invaders would have had natural enemies to fend off if they should try invade the fortress.

Snake swimming in Sigiriya moat

I was feeling very energetic and couldn’t wait to get started. Hahaha, actually my guide encouraged me to jump for the photo.

Sigiriya rock climb

The climb was mildly strenuous but well worth it to watch the landscape below unfold in front my eyes. Additionally, we would pass through the garden path and the grounds around the base of the rock were still very well kept.

Sigiriya rock climb

The pathway was literally cut into the side of the cliff face.

Sigiriya rock climb

Sigiriya rock climb

Surprisingly it is still possible to get injured walking down stairs! Unfortunately, this hapless western tourist seems to have fallen down and injured her leg. She was making lots of noise with all the moaning. 

Sigiriya tourist gets injured

      Sigiriya Frescoes and Architectural Designs

Sigiriya would now be abandoned by King Mogallana and it would be used as a Buddhist Monastery until the 14th century. Fortunately, a few of the frescoes would survive intact for over 1,500 years and can still be viewed today.

These world famous frescoes are located about halfway up the Sigiriya rock climb along the pathway. Unfortunately, there is much dispute about who the women are in the Sigiriya frescoes. However, my guide suggested that they may have been some of Kashyapa’s palace consorts.

Sigiriya frescoes

Sigiriya frescoes

Sigiriya frescoes

Sigiriya frescoes

These Sigiriya frescoes seemed to be in excellent condition for being over 1500 years of age. Unfortunately, these few frescoes are all that has managed to survive antiquity. In fact, the entire rock used to be covered with pictures and would have been a magnificent sight to see during the reign of King Kashyapa. Additionally, the rock face had been polished and shined to mirror like perfection so King Kashyapa could see his reflection as he walked past!

There was signs of ancient graffiti left behind from ancient visitors to Sigiriya. I wonder what it says?

Sigiriya graffitti

Sigiriya Lion Terrace & Beyond

Additionally, about half way up there is a stone terrace that King Kashyapa constructed in the shape of a lion. Therefore, when the king and his court climbed the final distance they would pass through the mouth of a lion before reaching the palace. Fortunately, my guide had a small illustration to depict what it would have looked like in the 5th century ACE. 

Sigiriya Lion Terrace

The sands of time have washed away the paint and more intricate stone work. However, the paws and claws of the lion remain. 

Sigiriya Lion Terrace

Sigiriya lion terrace

As I was walking the final length of the Sigiriya rock climb I was thoroughly amazed at the dexterity of these acrobatic macaques. The fatality rate of this kind of lifestyle must e pretty high!

Sigiriya photos of Macaques

Sigiriya rock climbing macaques

The view from the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress is amazing. It is easy to see how it may have created the illusion of security in the mind of King Kashyapa.

Garden Path seen from the top of Sigiriya RockSigiriya Garden Path

My guide led me to “the highest point on Sigiriya rock” which was in fact a small step which had led into the palace. The palace is now gone but the step remains and it makes a good launching point. 

Jumping on top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.d-maps.com/carte.php?num_car=604&lang=en
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigiriya