Located in Sigiriya City in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress or Lion’s Rock is an ancient palace ruins that is beautifully surrounded by other remains, which include a garden, reservoirs, and other historic structures. With ancient paintings that are similar to those found in India’s Ajanta Caves, this looming rock fortress in Sri Lanka is cited as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of Sri Lanka’s eight) and the 8th Wonder of the World, also according to UNESCO.
This imposing rock shelter complex was most probably inhabited in prehistoric times, and was used as a mountain monastery beginning in the 5th century BC. According to the Mahavamsa, which is a historical poem written by the past kings of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya was built by King Kashyapa and was later used as a Buddhist monastery after the king died until the 14th century.
Today, it is one of Sri Lanka’s premier tourist attractions. Visitors are mesmerized at the sight of the ancient castle, an upper palace on the flat top portion of the rock, terrace at the middle portion of the rock where the Lion Gate, Mirror Wall and frescoes can be seen, a lower palace on the slopes below the rock, and a number of moats, gardens and walls extending to hundreds of meters from the base of the rock.
An amazing feature is the Mirror Wall, which people believe was once well polished that the king could see his reflection clearly. The porcelain wall has lost its ability to cast reflections through the years, however. It is now partially covered with graffiti of poems and verses written by visitors dating from the 8th century. The Mirror Wall and spiral stairs lead to the well preserved frescoes that depict female figures in smooth contour or lovely color. They point to the direction of the temple of Kandy, the most sacred city in Sri Lanka especially to the Sinhalese. The frescoes show a unique painting style that is different from the better known Anuradhapura paintings. The Sigiriya paintings have deeper color tones towards the edge with distinct boundary lines. Also painted on the walls are portraits of the daughters of King Kashyapa. They were painted in gold and black color.
People believed that there used to be more frescoes on the palace wall before the stone fortress was converted into a monastery. In 1907, John Still, a well known Sri Lanka historian, proposed that “The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery… the largest picture in the world perhaps.” If this is correct, then the frescoes must have covered a total area 140 meters long and 40 meters high. There are other frescoes scattered in other parts of the complex.
The main palace entrance was built in the shape of a lion’s mouth. Many believe that there used to be huge lion’s head on top of the structure but have disappeared for some reason. The lion’s paw is still visible today. Sigiriya Rock Fortress is also referred to as a Palace in the Sky as it majestically overlooks the surrounding jungle and gardens.
Another important feature of the city of Sigiriya near the Sigiriya Rock Fortress is the gardens. The Gardens of Sigiriya are among the world’s oldest landscaped gardens. They are divided into three distinct gardens that are linked with each other. The divisions are the water gardens, cave and boulder gardens and terraced gardens.