In the second half of the 5th century, Kashyapa has usurped the throne and fearing of retaliation from a rightful heir moved his capital from Anuradhapura to the interior of Sri Lanka where on a 200 meters high rock he has erected a walled fortress with a gate in form of a gigantic lion.
Because of these gates, it was named Sigiriya or the Lion Rock. Besides the fortress, Kashyupa has built a complex of gardens, pools, and fountains around the Lion Rock, which are interconnected by underground waterworks of which many are functional to this day.
The written history of Sigiriya starts in the 3rd century BC when some of the caves surrounding the rock were donated to various Buddhist monastic orders as residences for ascetics. But some of these shows human occupancy that reaches as far as nearly 5,0000 years ago.
After the short reign of Kashyapa has ended, Sigiriya became a Buddhist monastery until it was abandoned in the 14th century.
Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important archeological sites in Sri Lanka. If you visit Sigiriya on your trip through Sri Lanka, here is the list of must-see and must-do things in Sigiriya.
The single most popular thing to do in Sigiriya is to climb Lion Rock and explore the remains of the citadel. The trip starts on the western side of the rock where beside Lion’s Gate another striking feature is located, the Mirror Wall.
This wall was constructed at the same time as the fortress as a defensive structure, with one side being adorned with frescoes, of which only images of 16 nude women have survived to this day.
The other side is covered with highly polished white plaster, according to legend it was so polished that the king could see his own reflection in it. Over centuries many visitors to Sigiriya have left their mark on the wall in the form of graffiti, which suggests that it was a popular tourist destination as far back as the 8th century AD.
After climbing the rock you can explore the ruins of the ancient palace and the pools and water tanks built in the rockface.
The Lion Rock is surrounded by a complex of gardens that are made of three distinct forms, which is among the oldest known landscaped gardens in the world. The Water Gardens are complex of three different forms consisting of lakes, ponds, pools, and circular water fountains; with pathways and bridges meander around these features.
These features are interconnected by underground and overground water conduits and streams, and particularly during the rainy season, these fountains become active.
Near the foot of the rock are located the Boulder Gardens, a series of large boulders with a path that winds between them. Many of these boulders show signs of previously existing pavilions on the top of or around them.
From the paths of the Boulder Garden to Lion’s Gate is a series of terraces formed by the brick walls on the sloped base of the Lion Rock, known as the Terraced Gardens.
Around five hundred meters north from Lion Rock is the Pidurangala Rock, a popular hiking spot that is much easier to climb than the main attraction.
It is very popular for hiking during the sunset when it offers a stunning view of Sigiriya and surrounding forests bathed by the fiery orange light of the setting sun.
Minneriya National Park is located near the historic artificial lake Minneriya Wewa, which was dammed in the 3rd century AD. During the dry season animals from surrounding areas migrate in the park in search of food and water.
The main attraction of this park is the largest gathering of wild elephants, which numbers between 150 and 200 individual animals.
Just a short drive from Sigiriya, around 30 minutes, is the location of Golden Temple of Dambulla, in the city of Dambulla.
This Buddhist temple complex dates from the 1st century BC, and is considered to be the largest and best-preserved of its kind, and also one of the oldest still-functioning places of worship in Sri Lanka.
It consists of five caves which were over centuries adorned by more than 150 statues of Buddha and more than 2,100 square meters of religious wall paintings depicting the life and teachings of Buddha, and various divine beings of Buddhist mythology.
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