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UNESCO World Heritage Site | Siringiya (Lion’s Rock), Sri Lanka

August 28, 2010

Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) is an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings, which are reminiscent of the Ajanta Caves of India. The Sigiriya was built during the reign of King Kassappa 1 (AD 477 – 495), and it is one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya is located in Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is within the cultural triangle, which includes five of the seven world heritage sites in Sri Lanka.The Sigiriya rock is a hardened magma plug from an extinct and long-eroded volcano. It stands high above the surrounding plain, visible for miles in all directions. The rock rests on a steep mound that rises abruptly from the flat plain surrounding it. The rock itself rises 370 m (1,214 ft) above sea level and is sheer on all sides, in many places overhanging the base. It is elliptical in plan and has a flat top that slopes gradually along the long axis of the ellipse.

Sigiriya, the spectacular ‘Lion Rock’ fortress, stands majestically overlooking the luscious green jungle surroundings, and is one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions.
The beautifully and elaborately landscaped water gardens, contain a complex network of underground water distribution system, which provides water to the Royal baths, the many little moated islands & fountains, some fountains still work during the rainy season! A superb view of the Gardens could be had from halfway up the rock.
halfway up the rock is a sheltered gallery of frescoes painted on the sheer rock face. The ‘Heavenly Maidens’ are similar in style to the paintings of Ajantha in India. Some of them are still in remarkably good condition. Only 22 out of an estimated 500 pictures now remain. Flash photography is not allowed at this site.

Beyond the fresco gallery, the pathway circles the the sheer face of the rock, and is protected by a 3m high wall. This wall was coated with a mirror-smooth glaze, in which visitors over 1000 years ago noted their impressions of the women in the gallery above. The graffiti was mostly inscribed between the 7th and 11th Century AD. 685 of them have been deciphered and published. The graffiti are a great source for the scholars to study the development of the Sinhala language and script.

The Northern end of the rock the pathway emerges to a platform, from which the rock derives its name Sigiriya (the Lion Rock). At one time a gigantic brick lion sat at the end of the rock, and the final ascent to the summit was between the lions paws and into it’s mouth! Today the lion has disappeared, only the paws and the first steps are visible.

Covering an area of around 1.6 hectares, the remains of the foundations show that the summit would have been completely covered with buildings. The design, layout and magnificent views that it still enjoys to this day, suggest Sigiriya would have been more of a royal palace of pleasure than a fortress. A pond scooped out of solid rock measuring 27m x 21m, looks like a modern rooftop pool. A smooth slab of flat stone, often referred to as the kings stone throne, faces the rising sun.

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