Sigiriya - The Lion Mountain in Sri Lanka.

Inscriptions found in the caves which honeycomb the base of the rock indicate that Sigiriya served as a place of religious retreat as far back as the third century BC, when Buddhist monks established refuges here. It wasn’t until the fifth century AD, however, that Sigiriya rose briefly to pre-eminence in Sri Lankan affairs, following the power struggle which succeeded the reign of Dhatusena (455-473) of Anuradhapura. Dhatusena had two sons, Mogallana, by the most pre-eminent of his various queens, and Kassapa, his son by a lesser consort. Upon hearing that Mogallana had been declared heir to the throne, Kassapa rebelled, driving Mogallana into exile in India and imprisoning his father. The legend of Dhatusena’s subsequent demise offers an instructive illustration of the importance given to water in early Sinhalese civilization. Threatened with death if he refused to reveal the whereabouts of the state treasure, Dhatusena agreed to show his errant son its location if he was permitted to bathe one final time in the great Kalawewa Tank, whose creation he had overseen. Standing in the tank, Dhatusena poured its water through his ha hands and told Kassapa that this alone was his treasure. Kassapa, none too impressed, had his father walled up in a chamber and left him to die.

Mogallana, meanwhile, vowed to return from India and reclaim his inheritance. Kassapa, preparing for the expected invasion, constructed a new residence on top of the 200-metre-high Sigiriya rock — a combination of pleasure palace and impregnable fortress, which Kassapa intended would emulate the legendary abode of Kubera, the god of wealth, while a new city was established around its base. According to tradition, the entire extraordinary structure was built in just seven years, from 477 to 485.

The long-awaited invasion finally materialized in 491, Mogallana having raised an army of Tamil mercenaries to fight his cause. Despite the benefits of his impregnable fortress, Kassapa, in an act of fatalistic bravado, descended from his rocky eminence and rode boldly out on an elephant at the head of his troops to meet the attackers on the plains below. Unfortunately for Kassapa, his elephant took fright and bolted at the height of the battle. His troops, thinking he was retreating, fell back and left he cut off. Facing certain capture and defeat, Kassapa killed himself. Following Mogallana’s recon quest, Sigiriya was handed over to the Buddhist monks, after which its caves once again became home to religious ascetics seeking peace and solitude. The site was finally abandoned in 1155, after which it remained largely forgotten, excepting brief periods of military use by the Kingdom of Kandy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, until being rediscovered by the British in 1828.
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Sigiriya - The Lion Mountain Highlights

Sigiriya Sri Lanka

The Apsara paintings

The Boulder Gardens and Terrace Gardens

Beyond the Water Gardens the main path begins to climb up through the very different Boulder Gardens, constructed out of the huge boulders which lie tumbled around the foot of the rock, and offering a naturalistic wildness very different from the neat symmetries of the water gardens. Many of the boulders are notched with lines of holes — they look rather like rock-cut steps, but In fact they were used as footings to support the brick walls or timber frames of the numerous buildings a which were built against or on top of the boulders – difficult to imagine now, although it must originally have made an extremely picturesque sight.

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 form between the third century BC and the first 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 of 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 (there’s no sing), has a well-preserved dripstone ledge and traces of old paintings including the faded remains of various apsara figures very similar to the famous Sigiriya Damsels further up the rock. On the opposite side of the main path up the rock, a side path leads to the Cobra Hood Cave, named for its uncanny decoration and a very faint inscription on the ledge in archaic Brahmi script dating from the second century BC.
Follow the path up the hill behind the Cobra Hood Cave and up through “Boulder Arch no.2” (as it’s signed), then turn left to reach the so-called

Audience Hall the wooden walls and roof have long since disappeared, but the impressively smooth floor, created by chiseling the top off a single enormous boulder, remains, along with a five-metre-wide “throne” also Cut out of hall, though it’s more likely to have served a purely religious function, with the empty throne representing the Buddha. The small cave on the path just below the Audience Hall retains colorful splashes of various paintings on its ceiling (though now almost obliterated by cretinous contemporary graffiti) and is home to another throne, while a couple more thrones can be found carved into nearby rocks.

Carry on back to the main path, then head on up again as the path – 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 views back down below.
The Boulder Gardens and Terrace Gardens

The Royal Gardens

The Water Gardens

From the entrance, a wide and straight path arrows directly towards tithe rock, following the line of an imaginary east-west axis, drawn straight through the rock, around which the whole city was planned This entire side of the city is protected by a broad moat enclosed within two-tiered walls. Crossing the moat (which once enclosed the entire west-facing side of the complex), you enter the Water Gardens. The appearance of this area varies greatly according to how much rain has recently fallen, and in the dry season lack of water means that the gardens can be a little underwhelming. The first section comprises four pools set in a square; when full, they create a small island at their centre, connected by pathways to the surrounding gardens. The remains of pavilions can be seen in the rectangular areas to the north and south of the pools. Beyond here is the small but elaborating Fountain Garden. Features here include serpentining miniature “river” and limestone-bottomed channels and ponds. Two of which preserve their ancient fountain sprinklers – these work on a simple pressure and gravity principle and still spurt out modest plumes of water after heavy rain. The whole complex offers a good example of the hydraulic sophistication achieved by the ancient Sinhalese in the dry zone: after almost 1500 years of disuse, all that was needed to resort the fountains to working order was to clear the water channels which feed them.

Audience Hall

The Mirror Wall

Shortly after reaching the base of the rock, two incongruous nineteenth – century 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 are the only non-religious 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 meters long by 40 meters 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). The exact significance of the paintings is unclear: they were originally thought to depict Kassapa’s consorts, though according to modern art historians the most convincing theory is that they are portraits of apsaras (celestial nymphs), which would explain why they are shown from the waist up only, rising out of a cocoon of clouds (although even if this theory is true, the figures may, of course, have been modeled on particular beauties from Kassapa’s own court). The portrayal of the damsels is strikingly naturalistic, showing them scattering petals and offering flowers and trays of fruit – similar in a style to the famous murals at the Ajanta Caves in India, and a world away from the much later murals at nearby Dambulla, with their stylized and minutely detailed religious tableaux. An endearingly human touch is added by the slip of the brush visible here and there: one damsel has three hands, while another sports three nipples.

Just past the damsels, the pathway runs along the face the rock, bounded on one side by the Mirror Wall. This was originally coated in highly polished plaster made from lime, egg white, beeswax and wild honey; sections c of the original plaster survive and still retain a marvelous polished sheen. The wall is cc covered in graffiti, the oldest dating from the seventh century, in which early visitors recorded their impressions of Sigiriya and, especially, the nearby damsels - even after-the city was abandoned, Sigiriya continued to draw a steady stream of tourists curious to see the remains of Kassapa’s fabulous pleasure-dome. Taken to together, the graffiti form a kind of early medieval visitors’ book, and the 685 comments which have been deciphered give important insights into the development of the Sinhalese language and script; some are also of a certain poetic merit. Sadly, the older graffiti are very small and rather hard to see under the h layers of deranged scribbling left by later and less cultured hands.

Beyond the Mirror Wall, the path runs along a perilous-looking iron walkway bolted onto the sheer rock face. From here you can see a huge boulder below, propped up on stone slabs. The rather far-fetched popular theory is that, in the event of attack, the slabs would have been knocked away, causing the boulder to fall onto the attackers below, though it’s more likely that the slabs were designed D Stop the boulder inadvertently falling down over the cliff.

The Lion Staircase

Continuing up the rock, a flight of limestone steps climbs steeply up to the Lion Platform, a large spur projecting from the north side of the rock, just below the summit (vendors sell fizzy drinks here at slightly inflated prices). From here, a final staircase, its base flanked by two enormous paws carved out of the rock, leads up to all that remains of a gigantic lion statue – the final path to the summit apparently led directly into its mouth. Visitors to Kassapa were, one imagines, suitably impressed by this gigantic conceit and by the symbolism – lions were the most important emblem of Sinhalese royalty, and the beast’s size was presumably meant to reflect Kassapa’s prestige and buttress his questionable legitimacy to the throne.

The wire-mesh cages on the Lion Platform were built as refuges in the (Fortunately unlikely) event of bee attacks – you can see bees’ nests clinging to the under said of the rock overhang above, to the left of the stairs. The whole section of rock face above re is scored with countless notches and grooves which once supported steps up to the summit: in a supreme irony, it appears that Kassapa was afraid of heights, and it’s thought that these original steps would have been enclosed by a high wall — though this isn’t much comfort for latter-day sufferers of vertigo, who have to make the final ascent to the summit up a narrow iron staircase attached to the bare rock face.

The Palace

The Sigiriya Hinterland

Snare Rock

Palace (Sigiriya - Sithala Maligawa)

Cobra Hood Cave

Guard Cottage (Sigiriya)