Situated in the centre of Sri Lanka, the Rock of Sigiriya, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is without a doubt the most spectacular site of the country. Surrounded by moats and the world’s oldest gardens, Sigiriya, also known by the name « Lion Rock » (Simhagiri), symbolizes both the past cultural richness of Sri Lanka and the extravagance of its landscapes.
If the history of Sigiriya still remains mysterious, we know from the ancient chronicles that the rock, born out of the remains of a hardened magma plug from an extinct volcano, was built into a citadel at the end of the 5th century. It is Kassapya, who after killing the king, his own father, abandoned Anuradhapura as the capital and settled in Sigiriya as the new monarch. He chose this natural fortress as his residence, which he deemed invincible, in order to prepare to avenge his elder brother exiled in India.
The system designed to irrigate Sigiriya, from the gardens to the summit, where the palace is situated more than 350 meters above the resevoir level, demonstrates the technical expertise of the Sinhalese engineers of that era. As we go through the remnants of the palace, we can easily imagine what an oasis of minerals and vegetation it was, with its well-designed gardens, trees scattered purposefully and water present all over: in the swimming pool of the king, tanks, across the fountains, and in the ponds covered with flowers and lotuses.
Among all the particularities of Sigiriya, we notice that the construction had followed the natural geological formations of the rock, which partly explains how the fortress was constructed within only seven years. It is astonishing to note the harmony that prevails throughout the entire complex, between nature and human genius.
But the secrets of Sigiriya, like its extraordinary view from the summit, is only visible after climbing a vertiginous staircase attached with a metal railing to the rock. As the climb could be difficult for some, it is better to start early in the morning to avoid large numbers of visitors, as well as the hottest hours of the day. During the climb, we come across the damsels of Sigiriya, paintings of courtesans and nymphs according to popular belief, drawn on the face of the rock. The ascent continues after contemplating these magnificent secular works of art until we reach the lion statue marking the entrance of the fortress, of which only the paws remain, framing the new set of steps. The reward that awaits you when you reach the summit exceeds expectations. The view offered is spectacular, particularly at dawn, before the waves of fog stretch across the jungle.
The reign of Kassapya in Sigiriya lasted 18 years, before his brother returned from exile and attacked the citadel. Due to the lack of supplies at the top of the rock, the patricidal king surrendered without a fight. He was executed and the Rock of Sigiriya abandoned, until it became a place of religious retreat, as it was during the 3rd century B.C, before being abandoned again…