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Exploring Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, the Remarkable Rock Fortress Complex

Royal Garden with sigiriya rock in the background

Complete Guide to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, also known as Lion Rock, is a breathtaking architectural marvel located in the heart of Sri Lanka. This ancient fortress, built in the 5th century CE (AD), sits majestically atop a massive rock formation that rises to about 200 meters above the surrounding jungle.

This was built as the capital city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by the second Moriya King Kasyapa I. The site is considered as one of the most important cultural landmarks in Sri Lanka and probably most the visited tourist attraction by both Sri Lankan and Foreign tourists alike.

Though magnificent, it was built at the end of tragic happenings, about which we will talk in a few minutes. However, if you are a history buff first and then a traveler, please click here for the historical events leading up to the building, of one of the finest examples of urban planning of that period called the rock fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. So here is our complete guide to Sigiriya based on our experience including the enchanting stories of Kings and Queens!

Click Here for a Get Your Guide: Sigiriya Walking Tour

What to see and what to do at the Rock Fortress complex of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya city was the capital of Anuradhapura the reign of Kasyapa (also spelt as Kassapa or Kashyapa) for 18 years. After which the Capital returned to Anuradhapura. For the next 800 years it was used by the monks and later completely abandoned. Soon nature took over the whole place. In the early 19th century, a young Bristish army officer called Jonathan Forbes, while hunting elephants, stumbled upon the ruins of the gardens at the foothill of the Sigiriya hill. The rest, as they say, history was rediscovered and restored. 😊  

The remarkable Rock Fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka is filled with a rich history, breathtaking architecture, and stunning art. From exploring the ancient ruins to climbing the seemingly impossible rock to the summit, there’s something for everyone when visiting this magnificent complex.

Here is athe Sigiriya blog, a complete guide to Sigiriya detailing what to see and do while at the Majestic Palace in the sky complex at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.

First View of the Sigiriya fortress complex at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

As you approach the main entrance of the Sigiriya Rock Complex, you are greeted by lush green landscapes and the towering rock that stands in the center. You will see a pathway that leads to the base of the rock, surrounded by water gardens and ponds. All these seem to lead your vision to the majestic rock mesa (tabletop or plateau), that seems to magically rise from the ground. There are no other rock outcrops in the vicinity.

Klook: Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Click here for more options

Water Garden at Sigiriya Rock Fortress complex
Water Garden, Sigiriya

Imagine the whole rock is white in colour, like a cloud. Now imagine there are 100s of paintings and frescos of Apsaras and celestial maidens covering a strip of about 10 – 20 Metres high, encircling the rock at the middle part of the rock. You can see in your mind’s eye, these figures floating around, praying, cavorting and dancing. You are probably already in heaven.

Vasu's imagination of how the sigiriya rock would have looked in its heydays.
Exploring Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, the Remarkable Rock Fortress Complex 29

It is believed that King Kasyapa wanted to recreate the city of gods, Alakamandawa, with an ornate golden palace on top of the rock fit for Kubera or Kuvera, the god of wealth. He also wanted this fortress with the sky palace to be a pleasure place to entertain his royal guests and friends and their families.

Visit the Water Gardens, Fountains & Ponds

On either side of the dry-weather pathway leading to the bottom of Sigiriya rock, you will see the water gardens. These gardens are considered some of the most sophisticated in ancient Sri Lanka and are dotted with stone and brick structures and fountains, adding to the serene beauty of the complex. The ponds, pools and fountains are symmetrically laid out on both sides of the central path.

Water Garden at Sigiriya Rock Fortress complex
water garden, Sigiriya rock in the background

The artificial ponds, fountains and canals were used to create a cool atmosphere in summer. The pressure of water for the fountains was created by gravity. The water itself was fed from the rainwater collected by pools, moats, elaborate underground drains and terracotta conduits right from the top of the summit to the bottom most pool. Wow! Think of a gigantic “Rainwater harvesting” and you have it here.

As per the information board, an artificial serpentine stream was created to regulate the speed and volume of water. The more you see it the more you wonder, how did they achieve it 1500 years ago! There were also supposed to be summer palaces (in ruins now) in the center of the ponds.

Another view of Water Garden with serpentine stream
The serpentine stream at Water Garden

From the main entrance of Sigiriya rock fortress complex to the base of Sigiriya, it is about 1 KM.

Marvel at the Octagonal Pond, Moats, Boulder Garden and Ramparts

At the next higher level, after climbing a few steps, on the left side, is the octagonal pond. For some reason it is not duplicated on the other side. On one side of the octagonal pool is a boulder which carries tell-tale marks of a roof over this place, which the ravages of nature have destroyed.

Octagonal Pond Sigiriya in Sri Lanka Water Garden
Octagonal Pond at Water Garden

As you cross the moats and climb on to the rampart, you will come across remnants of the old monastery. It is said that there was a monastery here before the Sigiriya fortress was built and again later when the capital was shifted back to Anuradhapura. While the images are not there in the Image house cave of the monastery, we could still see some paintings and plasters. The info board says that before Sigiriya was made the capital, this was dwelling for the monks and after Sigiriya period this was converted to the image house.

This is also called the boulder garden (boulder rampart) as we can see a lot of boulders strewn interspersed with pathways. This also provides protection against enemy attack as one can defend by rolling the boulders on the oncoming army of the enemy.

There are many caves, some of them still sporting faded old paintings on the walls and ceilings of the caves.

Climbing Sigiriya Rock

The climb to the summit of Sigiriya hill, which is about 180 Metres high, starts after entering an archway formed by two boulders leaning on each other. There are about 1200 steps to the top of the rock from the water garden. A series of galleries and staircases provide access to the summit, where the famed Sigiriya Sky Palace was situated.

Boulder arch at boulder garden of sigiriya complex
Boulder arch at entrance at boulder garden

Once you start the climb there are very few places to stop and rest till you reach one of the most significant parts of Sigiriya, the Lion’s Paws Terrace. The climb is moderately difficult but the steps are quite well laid out and once can do this stretch in about 20-25 minutes.

Sigiriya is evolved word from the older Sanskrit word Simhagiri (सिम्हगिरी ) or the tamil word Singagiri (சிங்ககிரி). Simha means lion and giri is mountain. However, till now we had not seen anything that remotely resembles the lion or its features. Neither any paintings nor a sculpture of a lion.

It is said that HCP Bell (Harry Charles Purvis Bell), the archaeologist who first excavated this site, had the same question (!). From 1894 to 1898, they excavated most of what we can see today. The above question still persisted.

The Lion’s Paw Terrace

The only part they had not yet excavated was the last terrace before the final climb. The team had already installed iron ladders from the terrace to the top starting from a mound of what they thought was the debris of some earlier brickwork above. (Maybe a gallery). A mound is the most important starting point of any excavation and so they started digging into it and found some hard brickwork.

A closeup of one of the lion's paws with ferocious claws, sigiriya at sri lanka
A closeup of one of the lion’s paws with ferocious claws

In his own words, HCP Bell, writes, “When following the curved ground line of the north façade to the massive brick structure, some stucco-covered work was uncovered. This at first seemed to represent very roughly moulded elephant heads – three on either side of the central staircase – projecting from the brick work in high relief, life size. Closer examination and the presence of a small boss further back than the ‘heads’ gave the clue to a startling discovery – the most interesting of many surprises furnished during the four season’s work at Sigiriya.

These alto relievos were not a variant form of the ‘elephant-headed dado’. They were none other than the huge claws – even the dewclaw – of a once gigantic lion, conventionalized in brick and plaster, through whose body passed the winding stairway, connecting the upper and lower galleries, towering majestically against the dark granite cliff, bright coloured and gazing northwards over a vista that stretches almost hill-less to the horizon, must have presented an awe-inspiring sight for miles around.

Thus, was clinched forever to the hill the appellation Sihigiri “Lion Rock.” …here then is the simple solution of a crux which has exercised the summaries of writers – the difficulty of reconciling the categorical statement of the Mahawamsa and the perpetuation to the present day to the name “Singha-giri” (Sigiri) with the undeniable fact that no sculpture or paintings of lions exist on Sigiri-gala”.

Lions Paw Terrace at Sigiriya
Lions Paw Terrace at Sigiriya

Wow! What an interesting life these archaeologists lead!

The lion’s paw terrace is the gateway to the summit and the royal palace. Not everyone was allowed to enter the “Den of the Lion”, so to speak!

The paws and the claws were gigantic. Just the claws were over one meter in height, chest high of an average male. This alone gives an idea of the proportions. the top is about 50Metres from this terrace. Just imagine a 50 Meters tall sitting lion.

Sigiriya Lions Paw Terrace . Things to do at sigiriya. imagining a lions face on the mountain side
The Lion Gatehouse at Lions paw terrace. Vasudevan visualizing a lions face above the stairs

After resting for a couple of minutes, we started our final ascent with the steps in between the two paws. The steps and iron ladders were now steeper, made more perilous due to the intermittent showers which made the iron steps slippery. The iron ladders are well fastened to the rocks, but at least once thoughts would arise as to the safety of these contraptions. Well, I made it back to write about it! It took us 16 minutes to climb the final 50 metres! By far it was the most difficult part of the climb.

Steep iron ladder to reach the summit of sigiriya
Steep iron ladder to reach the summit of sigiriya. Note markings on the rock. This could be to support the brick work of the Lion’s face which must have fallen centuries ago.

The staircases are often steep and made of steel clasped onto the sides of the rock. It is not very difficult to climb if you do not have any joint issues and lead a reasonably active life. It took me around 1 hour to reach the top, from the water garden, including taking photographs on the way and resting for a couple of minutes.

If you have enough time, you may want to stay back for a spectacular sunset at the Sigiriya Summit.

Explore the Ruins of the Royal Sky Palace

The tabletop summit was quite huge but not well marked. You would surely need a guide to explain stuff at this Palace on the sky also called Akasa Maligawa (Sinhalese – Alalamandawa, Tamil Agasa Maaligai , Hindi -Akash Mahal).

As expected, the place is in ruins, but one can make out the foundations of several levels of stairs, rooms, ponds, gardens, palaces etc. There is a huge bathing pool which serves multiple purposes of ablution and the water here is piped to reach the ground level by series of underground drains!

Foundations of rooms and palaces at the top of sigiriya in sri lanka
A view of the elaborate Sigiriya summit.

It is believed that a compound wall fully surrounded the summit rising from the rock’s slopes.

Since there are no walls or roof extant here, you would have to use your imagination to visualize several golden roofed rooms and the central palace with the biggest golden roof of all. The central palace is also the highest point on the Sigiriya mesa summit.

Lions Paw terrace and in the backgroud is Pidurangala hill
Lions Paw terrace and in the background is Pidurangala hill. The green colored box is the cage for tourists to get into if there is wasp attack

Take time to look around for some amazing views of the emerald forests and Pidurangala Hill. Do not miss the stunning view from the Western side. The view of the gardens below is just out of the world! If time is not a constraint you may want to climb Pidurangala Hill for a view of Sigiriya fortress.

Check out the Mirror Wall and its Ancient graffiti at Sigiriya Lion Rock

Descending the iron steps was a bit more challenging in the light drizzle. The slippery surface of the narrow metal tread meant one had to descend ever so slowly. The authorities had made sure after a point the route for descent was different to enable smooth traffic of tourists. Upon reaching the Lion’s Paw terrace we continued to descend to the staircase that led us to the next attraction, the famous Sigiriya mirror wall.

As per the original design, along a 100 M ledge about midway up the rock a protective brick wall was erected, plastered, smoothened and polished using special chemicals, to a point that it reflected like a mirror. It is said that this was done so that King Kasyapa could admire himself while passing by.

Mirror wall Sigiriya in Sri Lanka , Sigiriya Graffiti wall
Exploring Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, the Remarkable Rock Fortress Complex 30

Over period, the sheen wore off and people and monks used it to post stuff (graffiti) on the wall (why am I reminded of social media!). Expert epigraphists have identified more than 1500 different messages, many of them poems in Sinhalese. The graffiti on the mirror wall is a rich source of original information about the Sinhalese people 800 or more years back. Many of these poems are about the Sigiriya Frescoes, on the rockface above. Some of them describe the lion on the western terrace.

Even though it is not shiny, the mirror wall did reflect people’s thoughts, wouldn’t you say!

On the internet I found this interestingly funny poem, scribbled on the mirror wall of Sigiriya. The English translation goes like this:

I am Budal.
Came with hundreds of people to see Sigiriya.
Since all the others wrote poems,
I did not!

If you are interested in more on the graffiti poems, head here!

Admire the Frescoes of Heavenly Maidens or Apsaras or Celestial Nymphs or Cloud Maidens

The Mirror Wall Gallery leads us to an iron spiral staircase which takes us to the Frescoes of the cloud maidens.

When the ancient city Sigiriya was at its peak, researchers say that western side (main entrance side) of the rock was not only painted white but also frescoes of semi-nude Apsaras or the celestial damsels were created on a canvas of 40 Meters height by 140 Meters length! It seems, as per one of the messages on the mirror wall, there were 500 such figures.

We saw that only about 21 or so survived in this particular stretch of the overhang, called the “fresco pocket B”, in a depression in the rockface. As per our guide there are a few more but not allowed for tourists and not as beautiful.

Sigiriya frescos of celestial maidens Sigiriya in sri lanka cloud maidens lightning ,aidens
Sigiriya Frescoes, Note: Photography is not Allowed here.
This is an earlier photograph sourced from Sri Lanka Tourism
https://sigiriyafortress.com/sigiriya-image-gallery/

Some of the ladies are seen carrying flowers as if in a procession. One common factor is that all the figures start only waist up as if rising from the clouds. It is still a matter of debate if these mysterious ladies are from the harem of the king or depict the heavenly maidens or someone else! Some of the paintings are in pairs. One of them fair skinned and the other dark skinned. Some scholars say, the dark ones are the cloud ladies, and the fairer ones represent lightning. We don’t think we will have any definitive answer soon. 🙂

These paintings reminded me of Ajanta caves frescoes. Our guide mentioned the technique used to create these exquisite frescoes was quite the same. Only after getting on to the gallery, we realized that we were literally hanging in the air! There was no solid rock beneath us. Just a steel box covering the place.

Photography and Videography is Strictly prohibited in this fresco gallery. There are guards watching you!

It was not always so till a few years back when photography was allowed without flash. However, many tourists did not pay heed and often used flashes. The menace was so much that the authorities completely banned all forms of photography including the use of mobile phones.

Discover more Attractions at Boulder Garden level

The exit is by another spiral stairway that takes to a terrace on the Southern side. (Lion’s Paw is North). On reaching Boulder Garden we found there were more 5th century structures.

Audience Hall: This is probably the royal visitors waited before being escorted up. It once had a roof then but not anymore.

Audience hall at the Boulder Garden near exit
Audience hall at the Boulder Garden while exiting Sigiriya Rock. Look at the huge bench / throne at the back

Asana Cave: Asana means a chair or a seat which has been carved out of the rock. This was made for use by meditating monks, when Sigiriya was a monastery.

Boulder garden near the exit . This is the Asana Cave. Sigiriya Sky palace
Asana Cave at Boulder garden near the exit .

Cobra Cave: It is so called as the roof looked like a cobra ready to strike. Also used by monks.

Cobra Hood Cave Sigiriya Rock Fort
Cobra Hood above the cobra hood Cave Sigiriya.

Visit the Archaeological Museum at the Sigiriya Lion Rock Fort Complex

For want of time we did not visit the museum at Sigiriya. However, if times is not a constraint, then it is very much worth a visit.

All artifacts such as clay pots, human skeletons, Jewelry, tools etc. discovered during the excavation of Sigiriya Lion Rock, are exhibited here.

For those who cannot climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock Summit, they must visit the Sigiriya Museum, near the entrance. The museum has been designed to mimic the look and feel of the Rock Fortress Complex of Sigiriya.

We are told that more information on and translations of the messages on the mirror wall are found here. Also, for those who would like to take home photos of the Apsaras, they can do so here. There are reproductions of the original frescoes for you to click away.

After returning to our vehicle, the only thought in my mind was how did they achieve this engineering marvel built during a period when almost everything had to be done by manual labor.

Story of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock Fortress is steeped in a fascinating history—some believe the complex dates to the 5th century CE and others relate it to the Ravana period.

There are various versions of the story of Sigiriya doing rounds. We will, however, stick with the one told to us by our guide and some research we did by studying the English translation of Chulavamsa (Culavamsa), one of the ancient chronicles delineating the history of Sri Lanka.

The Story of Sigiriya, the rise and fall of King Kashyapa I

Before diving into the history, let us know who the main characters are.

King Peetiya (Pithiya)- 458 CE to 459 CE: He was the last of the line of 6 Tamil kings who represented the Pandiyan Dynasty of Southern India. The island of Sri Lanka was split into two or three kingdoms traditionally. Of which Ruhuna in the south was always ruled by Sinhalese Kings and often provided refuge to the Sinhala Kings and their family when they were not in power. Anuradhapura was the more affluent and often the target of Tamil kings.

King Dhatusena – 459 CE to 477 CE: Anuradhapura was ruled by 6 successive Tamil kings. Dhatusena, when he came of age, three of them had already died of natural causes. Dhatusena, then called Lord of men, assembled a resistance movement in 455 CE and killed the 3 remaining Tamil Kings, King Peetiya being the last. From Lord of men, he became the King of Anuradhapura in 459 CE.

He was one of the most popular kings and credited with the all-round development of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. Apart from all the constructions of reservoirs and viharas, he is also credited with building Vajra-Chumbata (Lightning conductor) on some of the Viharas. I am sure it is one of the oldest lightning conductors (lightning rods) in the world.

He founded the Moriya dynasty.

In the words of “the English translated version of Chulvamsa”, Dhatusena had two sons, Kasyapa (Kassapa, Kashyapa) and Mogaallana. Kassapa by a mother of unequal birth and the mighty Moggallana by a mother of equal caste (meaning royal blood).

Mother of Moggallana: She was the primary Royal Queen Consort. The ancient chronicle does not tell us more about her. In Hindi she would be पटरानी (Chief queen). In Tamil, பட்டத்து ராணி. As per the traditions it would be her son (Moggallana) in line for the throne.

Mother of Kasyapa: She was perhaps the favorite concubine of Dhatusena and of non-royal background. Her son Kasyapa was not in line for the throne even though he was the older son of the King.

Prince Kasyapa I – 477 CE – 495 CE: Born to King Dhatusena and a woman of non-royal background. Being the eldest, he did wield enough power in the royal corridors.

Prince Moggallana I – 495 CE– 512 CE: Moggallana was the heir apparent and the younger brother of Kassapa, born to Dhatusena and his chief queen.

Sister of Dhatusena: Mother of Migara, the senapati.

Princess – Daughter of Dhatusena: We could not find her name, but it is said that the King dearly loved her as his life.

Migara: Migara was the son of King Dhatusena’s Sister. He was married to the daughter of King Dhatusena. That is, he was the nephew and the General (Senapati) of Anuradhapura Army. A very powerful and important position in the Kingdom. He later married King Dhatusena’s daughter.

Events leading up to the creation of Sigiriya Rock Fortress

How did Kasyapa become the king of Anuradhapura?

The popular and powerful King Dhatusena gave his daughter in marriage to Migara, son of his sister (Nephew). Once it came to be known that Migara was ill-treating the princess, torturing and beating her too, the king was furious. He punished Migara by burning Migara’s mother (King’s own sister) alive…. (why man, why?)

Migara was angered but decided to wait for the appropriate time to take revenge.

Migara kindled a desire in Kasyapa’s mind, saying that Kasyapa should be the successor and not Moggallana. He also poisoned Kasyapa’s mind to the extent that Kasyapa started hating his father and nursing a desire to be the king sooner than later.

Kasyapa won over the subjects and some courtiers and imprisoned his father and crowned himself as the King of Anuradhapura. He also selectively punished all the people who were loyal to Dhatusena.

Mogallana could not fight back as he could not raise an army, fled to Jambudipa. We need to assume he took refuge under some friendly Tamil kingdom.

*Note: Jambudipa or Jambudveepa is the old name for mainland India in Sanskrit. In Chulavamsa, India is always referred to as Jambudipa. While performing Havans in India and chanting sanskrit mantras, we Indians also refer to our location as Jambudveepa.

Why did Kasyapa build Sigiriya?

As far as Migara was concerned, he wanted further revenge. He again went to the now King Kasyapa and said there was an untold amount of wealth which Dhatusena had hidden for use by Moggallana. In reality, there was no treasure.

When Kasyapa confronted his father in the prison with this information, asked Dhatusena to reveal the treasure’s hiding place. He kept his silence even after being asked repeatedly, day after day. Dhatusena thought this was a new ploy to kill him. After a few days finding no other choice, he asked the soldiers to take him to Kalavapi or Kalavewa reservoir (one of the biggest reservoirs built by Dhatusena), he would reveal the hiding place of the wealth.

The erstwhile king was taken to the tank where he spent time enjoying the refreshing bath. He then called the soldiers and told them that this tank was his entire wealth.

The soldiers took him to Kasyapa and related the events to him. Kasyapa thought Dhatusena was keeping the treasure for Moggallana, which was why he did not reveal its place. Kasyapa just could not believe that there was no treasure.

Kasyapa and migra on their elephants in front of Sigiriya citadel
Kasyapa and Migara on their elephants. Based on our imagination Copyright Lemonicks.com

He ordered Migara to take Dhatusena away and kill him. Migara decided not to give him an easy death. This was the time for revenge. He chained Dhatusena and immured him in a wall. (World history is full of such atrocities). It is to be noted that Kasyapa did not order his father to be immured.

When word got out that he was a patricide, the people and the monks were not too happy. Slowly he was afflicted with fear that one day Moggallana would return with a big army and kill him.

So, he decided to create a new capital with a fortress that would not be easy to breach. On seeing the Sigiriya rock outcrop, he knew this was where he would build his new capital. He got the area cleared, built a wall around it. He wanted the whole complex to look like Alakamandawa (Palace in the sky), as it was described in one of the scriptures. It had gardens, the lion gate and the palace on the clouds. He built the mirror wall to admire himself as he passed by, probably to reinforce his thought that he was the most powerful king…. as powerful as Kubera himself!

Note: Some scholars say that part of construction of Sigiriya as a pleasure place for the people was already completed by Dhatusena, an ardent builder. That is how Kasyapa was able to complete the project quickly.

Death of King Kasyapa and return of the capital to Anuradhapura.

As time passed King Kasyapa was ashamed of his past actions and repentant. He did a lot of good for his subject including building orchards, reservoirs, viharas and such. He is known to have expanded the Isurumuni Raja Maha Viharaya to 10 times more than what it was.

On the 18th year of his reign, what Kasyapa feared happened. Moggallana had collected a huge army and was coming towards Sigiriya. In due course a mighty battle ensued between the two brothers of a scale not seen before.

Kasyapa noticed while progressing, a swamp in front of him and turned his elephant to find another route. The soldiers following him thought that their king was fleeing, which brought down the morale of the soldiers and all of them retreated.

King Kasyapa was astonished and cried out to the army to return but it was too late. Kasyapa knew that in no time Moggallana would arrive and take him prisoner. Kasyapa took his dagger out and cut his throat, raised the dagger high and sheathed it, before he fell dead.

In due course, Moggallana collected all the treasures from Sigiriya, handed over the Sigiriya complex to senior Buddhist monks, to be converted into a monastery, and moved the capital back to Anuradhapura and ruled for 17 years.

Legendary Past of Sigiriya Sky Palace, the Ramayana Connection

……..Involving Ravana, the villain of the Epic Ramayana 

There are older histories and legends involving Sigiriya.  

One researcher, Dr Mirando Obesekera, says that Sigiriya with its golden palace itself was the abode of Kubera (the god of wealth) several centuries ago. It was called Alakamandawa (Akasa Maligawa, Sky Palace). 

Ravana , sigiriya sky palace, Alakamanadawa akasa maligawa
Ravana, photo Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravana#/media/File:Ravana_British_Museum.jpg; Photo Credit By Pete Birkinshaw – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2237902

Kubera was the ruler of Lanka Island. He was also the half-brother of Ravana, the notorious villain of Ramayana, the grand old epic.  

In time Kubera was sent to the Himalayas to find a place near Mount Kailash and Ravana took over the reins of Lanka.  

It is also said that Ravana had kept Sita as prisoner at the Cobra Hood Cave at Sigiriya.  

Useful Information on the Lion Rock Fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

Tidbits, Snippets, Trivia

  • Duran Duran’s song video “Save a Prayer” was completely shot in Sigiriya and other parts of Sri Lanka. Don’t say a prayer for me now
    Save it ’til the morning after
    No, don’t say a prayer for me now
    Save it ’til the morning after
  • The Ancient city of Sigiriya is one of the 8 UNESCO world heritage sites accorded in the year 1982.
  • Yet another myth doing rounds is that the flat topmost part of the Sigiriya Summit, which is as big as a small helipad, was used to land the Pushpaka Vimana, which Ravana had stolen from Kubera. Some others say that the airfield was in Wariapol.
  • Locals call Sigiriya, the 8th wonder of the world.
  • From the sources, it does not look like this Moriya Dynasty is not related to the Mauryan Dynasty of India. They are about 700 years apart.

Tips on Sigiriya

  • Better to arrive early in the morning before 9am or late in the afternoon. It may be hard to climb during noon due to hot weather during some parts of the year.
  • Wear a hat or a cap to protect you from heat at the summit. There are no shelters on the top of Sigiriya.
  • Carry an umbrella (Locals always do), raincoat or a waterproof poncho as it may rain without much warning.
  • Book your tickets online to avoid standing in long queues
  • Monkey Menace. There are a lot of monkeys in the complex right from the ground level to the Lions Paw terrace. Be careful when you open a bag of chips. That may be the last you will see of it. We did not see any at the summit.
  • There are also Bees and Wasps. There are enough notice boards warning of wasp or bees attacks. The best way not to disturb them is to be as quiet as possible, wherever the warnings are there. It is even more difficult when you have school tours on the premises.
  • Having a guide is surely a plus. Alternately you may read this article just the night before the climb and refer to it while climbing. This, I am sure is one of the most comprehensive guides on Sigiriya in Sri Lanka
  • If you keep a whole day for Sigiriya, then we strongly suggest using morning time to climb Pidurangala, then the museum and finally Sigiriya and stay till sunset. We are sure to do it during our next trip.
  • We stayed at Dambulla, as it was more central to visit various attractions like Dambulla Rock Temple, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Minneriya Elephant Reserve etc.
  • However, if you want to reach Sigiriya very early, then you may want to stay closer to Sigiriya. See our section accommodation options.

Opening Hours

From 6.30 AM to 5.30 PM every day

Last entrance is 5:00 PM

Ticket Price

  • Non Saarc Foreign Adults – 30 USD
  • Non Saarc Foreign Children – 15 USD
  • Saarc Foreign Adults – 15 USD
  • Saarc Foreign Children – 15 USD
  • Local Adults – 100 LKR
  • Local Children – 50 LKR
  • Please note that Museum tickets are separate and costs 5 USD
  • Pidurangala Rock – 500 LKR buy at site only

Can I Buy a Sigiriya Lion Rock Entrance Ticket Online?

The short answer is yes. In fact, it is better to buy online to avoid standing in long lines at the ticketing booth.

Where to stay near Sigiriya Archaeological Complex?

There are a lot of accommodation options like hotels, guest houses and homestays too, around Sigiriya, Dambulla and Habarena.

Please Click here for other accommodation options in Sigiriya, Dambulla and Habarena

We Stayed at Jetwings Lake. Click here to book.

pond in jetwing lake hotel dambulla
A small lake in the premises

Book Your Tours Here

Get Your Guide: Sigiriya Walking Tour

Klook: Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Click here for more options

FAQ on Things to do in Sigiriya

Where is the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka?

Sigiriya is located in Matale District and is about 175 KM North-East of Colombo.

How to Get to the Ancient City of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka?

We suggest staying at Dambulla or Habarena, which is central to a lot of other attractions like Dambulla cave, Sigiriya, Minneriya elephant reserve etc.
Sigiriya is just about 18 KM from Dambulla by road. There are tuk-tuks and regular buses to Sigiriya. Checkout the last bus back and plan accordingly. We had hired a cab for our entire Sri Lanka trip of 7days which was comfortable, convenient and time-saving.
Alternatively, it’s also possible to hire a taxi or join a guided tour from Colombo or other nearby cities.

How much time does it take to explore the Rock Fortress complex of Sigiriya?

On an average it would take about 3 hours give or take a few minutes to explore the water garden, lions paw, Sigiriya summit, Mirror Wall, Fresco gallery and boulder garden. The museum is likely to take an hour or so, depending on your interest.

What is Sigiriya?

Sigiriya is an ancient royal palace located in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, built by King Kashyapa in the 5th century A.D. It was originally developed as a fortress-palace complex and is renowned for its beautiful gardens and amazing architecture. The site consists of impressive ruins, archaeological remains, artworks, and sculptures.

What is the meaning of Sigiriya?

The name ‘Sigiriya’ translates from Sinhala to mean ‘Lion Rock’ as it resembles a lion that stands guard over its kingdom at the top of the cliffs surrounding the royal palace complex below. It seems to be adapted from Sanskrit word Simhagiri. Simha (Lion) + Giri (mountain)

What is the best time to visit Sigiriya?

The best time to visit Sigiriya is during Sri Lanka’s dry season which is s between December and April when temperatures and humidity levels are lower, making it more comfortable for the arduous climb with no cover.

Is Sigiriya rock a wonder of the world?

Sigiriya is not part of the top wonders of the world. However it is one of the 8 UNESCO heritage sites in Sri Lanka. The locals, however, do call Sigiriya as the 8th wonder of the world!

Why is Sigiriya rock famous?

Sigiriya Rock is famous for its ancient rock fortress, stunning frescoes, and breathtaking panoramic views, making it a must-visit destination for history buffs and nature enthusiasts alike.

Who built Sigiriya rock?

Sigiriya Rock was built by King Kasyapa in the 5th century AD as his royal palace complex, featuring elaborate architecture and intricate water gardens that showcase the ingenuity of ancient Sri Lankan civilization.

What is Sigiriya rock made of?

Sigiriya Rock is primarily made of volcanic rock, specifically a hardened magma plug, known as ‘trachyte,’ which provides the fortress with its formidable structure and enduring presence amidst the lush greenery of Sri Lanka’s landscape.

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15 thoughts on “Exploring Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, the Remarkable Rock Fortress Complex”

  1. Very interesting article. And very detailed too!

    Why don’t you write a novel? You have a knack for writing very well about these historical stories.

    1. Thank you for the compliment! Writing a novel sounds like a great idea, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of commitment. I think I’ll stick to shorter pieces for now, but who knows what the future holds? Maybe one day I’ll be the next bestselling historical fiction author!

  2. Your detailed guide provided me with invaluable information about this UNESCO World Heritage Site and has inspired me to plan a visit there myself. I particularly enjoyed learning about the tragic events that led to the construction of the rock fortress, and how it was rediscovered and restored in the 19th century.

    1. I’m glad to hear that my detailed guide on Sigirya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka, was able to provide you with invaluable information about the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and even more so that it has inspired you to plan a visit there yourself. It’s always rewarding to hear that our knowledge and insights can have a positive impact on someone’s travel plans. The history behind the rock fortress is truly fascinating, and it’s wonderful that you enjoyed learning about it, particularly the tragic events that led to its construction and the restoration efforts. I hope you have a fantastic trip and enjoy exploring this incredible site firsthand!

    1. Well, it’s always great to discover a piece of history, whether it’s in Mexico or right in our own backyard! Archaeologists are still exploring our ruins, trying to piece together the mysteries of our civilization.

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed your visit to Sri Lanka! With its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality, it’s no surprise that the country is a popular destination among travelers. If you do have the opportunity to visit again, you may want to explore some of the other regions or attractions that you may have missed on your previous trip. Sri Lanka has so much to offer, from ancient temples and historical sites to breathtaking beaches and wildlife reserves. I hope you get the chance to return and create even more amazing memories! Please checkout our other articles on Sri Lanka https://lemonicks.com/category/asia/sri-lanka/

    1. It’s great to hear that you find Sigiriya in Sri Lanka interesting and would like to see it in person! There’s nothing quite like experiencing a unique destination firsthand and being able to take in all the sights, sounds, and the experience that make it so special. If you do end up visiting, I hope you have a wonderful time and make lots of unforgettable memories!

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