Sigiriya is famous for its 200 metre (above the surrounding plain; 370 metres above the sea level) high red stone fortress and palace ruins which are surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. The rock was a Buddhist monastery between the third century BC to 477 CE. The palatial complex on the top of the rock were built by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 CE), who had seized power after committing patricide. The rightful heir to the throne, Moggallana, fled to South India. Fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya. Most of the constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date back to this period. Kashyapa was defeated in 495 CE by Moggallana, who moved the capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the 13th or 14th century.
Around the rock is a walled citadel covering an area of about 15 hectares. This citadel presents an irregular, broadly elliptical plan, which defines the outer limits of the hill slopes around the base of the rock. This boulder-strewn hillside has been fashioned into a series of terraces, forming a terraced garden around the rock. It also incorporates rock-shelters and rock-associated pavilions which form the distinctive architecture of the boulder gardens both to the west and the east of the citadel.
The area to the west of the citadel is laid out as a symmetrically planned royal park or pleasure-garden with elaborate water-retaining structures and surface and sub-surface hydraulic systems. It is surrounded by three ramparts and two moats forming a rectangle whose inner dimensions are about 900 by 800 metres. To the east of the citadel extends the 'eastern precinct' or inner city', a rectangular form whose inner precincts measure about 700 metres from east to west and 500 metres from north to south with a high earthen rampart, gateways and vestiges of a moat. The outermost rampart of the Sigiriya complex is a low, eroded vestigial earthen embankment defining the extent of the still largely uninvestigated eastern residential or 'outer city' area. This is more or less laid out as a rectangle, 1,000 by 1,500 metres, with two eastern gateways, suburban settlements beyond its northern walls, and the man-made Sigiriya Lake to its south.
Among the most remarkable aspects of the urban form at Sigiriya are its planning mathematics and total design concept. The plan of the city is based on a precise square module. The layout extends outward from the coordinates at the centre of the palace complex on top of the rock. The eastern and western entrances are directly aligned with the central east-west axis. The royal water-gardens and the moats and ramparts of the western precinct are based on an 'echo plan, which duplicates the layout on either side of the north-south and east-west axes.
There is very little to see in Dambulla and ideally you want to climb Sigiriya for a sunrise so if given a choice, you should avoid staying in Dambulla altogether and try to stay locally at Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Airport (IATA: GIU – ICAO: VCCS).
- FitsAir from Colombo-Ratmalana,
- Millennium Airlines from Colombo-Ratmalana,
- Cinnamon Air from Colombo-Bandaranaike, Batticaloa, Trincomalee
If you are foreced to stay at Dambulla, Sigiriya can be reached by a regular bus service. These buses run between 06:30 to 18:00 every day at 30 minutes intervals, and cost 40 LKR. Travel by tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) from Dambulla costs 800-1,000 LKR. Sigiriya is located about 25 kms from Dambulla, the closest city, and it is recommended not to miss the last bus back to Dambulla at around 18:00..
No direct bus from Polonnaruwa to Sigiriya, so you'll have to go first to Inamaluwa (Inamaluwa junction) by bus, where you can change for the bus to Sigiriya. The bus ride from Polonnaruwa to Inamaluwa junction will cost Rs. 20 and takes some 90 minutes. At Inamaluwa junction, buses for Sigiriya run at intervals of 30 minutes until 18:00. You can also take a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya — the distance is only 10 km and will not cost more than Rs. 500.
It is very important to carry water before entering Sigiriya as the walk through the gardens and the climb to the top of the rock takes about one and half hours. There are no tourist stalls selling water inside the complex and the risk of dehydration is high. If there is a rainfall, it is recommended to wait until the rain stops. It is possible to climb Sigiriya in the rain but care should be taken to avoid slipping on the stone steps which might become slippery in the rain. Additionally, the view at the top might get obscured due to the rain. Guides charge around 1,500 LKR. Guides would be helpful if you are travelling alone and want someone to take pictures of you, but otherwise the services of a guide would not be required as the path up to and including the climb to the top of the rock are well defined. There are notice boards along the way that give details of the structures and landmarks around. There is a straight pathway from the entrance to the complex till the rock. The gardens and other features are located on either sides of the pathway.
Entry fee to the site is US$15 for citizens of South Asian countries and $30 (RS 4200, as of Sept. 2015) for those from other countries. Citizens of South Asian countries are required to show passports as proof of citizenship.
- Water Gardens. The first feature one would encounter after entering the complex is the water garden. It is an elaborate network of water pavilions, pools, courtyards and water courses. There are five units in this garden with buildings supported by pools. The pools have pebbeled or polished marble floors which were covered by shallow, slowly moving water. It was laid out in the last quarter of the 5th century, abandoned and again partially built over in the last phases of the post-Kashyapan period, probably during the 10th and 13 centuries.
- Boulder Gardens. Some rocks in this garden contain inscriptions recording the names of patrons who donated them to the monks before the arriving of King Kassapa. Other features are the King's Audience Hall with its stone throne carved in rock and the Cistern Rock.
- Cobra Hood Cave.
- Fountain Gardens. There are four fountains symmetrically built, with two on each sides of the pathway. These fountains were fed by two moats which are adjacent to these fountains. Water is carried to the fountains by underground water conduits and work on simple principles of gravity and pressure. Another unusual feature is the shallow serpentine stram designed to control the movement of water.
The Apsara paintings
One of the most famous features of the Sigiriya complex are the fifth-century paintings found in a depression on the rock face more than 100 metres above ground level. These paintings can be reached by a spiral staircase. These paintings are fragmentary survivals of an immense backdrop of paintings that once extended in a wide band across the western face of the rock. The painted band seems to have extended to the north-eastern corner of the rock, covering thereby an area nearly 140 metres long and, at its widest, about 40 metres high. All that survives of this painted backdrop are the female figures preserved in two adjacent depressions in the rock-face known as 'Fresco Pocket A and 'Fresco Pocket B'. Three other depressions: 'Fresco Pockets C, D and E higher up the rock-face, also contain patches of plaster and pigment and, in at least one instance, fragments of a painted figure. Traces of plaster and pigment elsewhere on the rock-face provide further evidence of the extent of the painted band. They represent apsaras or celestial nymphs, a common motif in the religious and royal art of Asia. The Sigiriya paintings have been the focus of considerable interest and attention in both ancient and modern times. The poems in the graffiti on the Mirror Wall, discussed below, dating from about the sixth to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, are mostly addressed to the ladies in the paintings, who seem also to have been studied and reproduced in the eighteenth century by the Kandyan artists who painted the Damhulla murals. Antiquarian descriptions of the figures in the fresco rock date back to the 1830s. The first proper descriptions in the nineteenth century are based on the examination of the paintings by telescope from the plain below.
- Hotel Sigiriya. staff are very friendly, the rooms are clean but not modern. The food is buffet style with predominantly western food, is targeted towards tourists and whist acceptable is nothing special. 80 $ par night (2015).
- The Elephant Corridor Hotel, Inamaluwa - Sigiriya Rd, ☎ +94 66 228 6950 51, e-mail: email@example.com. All-suite luxury accommodation. From US$280 (2015).
- Kassapa Lions Rock, ☎ +94 66 5677440. From 100$ (2015).
- Aliya Resort and Spa, Avudangawa, ☎ +94 11 7 386386, +94 66 2 040400 (mobile). Probably the best hotel in Sigiriya.