Sri-Lanka is bursting at the seams with incredible things to do. Each one of our carefully curated adventures is ideally suited to visitors from Ireland and the UK. One of Sri Lanka’s most breathtaking landmarks – the Sigiriya Rock Fortress – was built by King Kasyapa as the place of his new capital around the 5th century BC. The rock sits almost 200 metres above the surrounding rain-forest and is the remnant of a once active volcano made almost entirely from hardened magma.
Included in the complex of Sigiriya is a ruined palace, a vast network of fortifications, gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains. When it rains many of these channels fill up with water revealing a vast network of underground tunnels with drainage systems rarely preserved from ancient times. Boulder gardens, water gardens, cave gardens and terraced gardens cover the western side of the plateau and are among the oldest landscape gardens in the world. One the rocks most loved pieces is the Mirror Wall which it is said when polished to its pristine finish the King could see his own reflection in the wall. Now the wall is covered with pictures and poems from travellers who visited the site over hundreds of years (however writing on the wall is now strictly forbidden in order to preserve the remaining works).
The name (Sigiriya translates as Lion Rock) comes from a small plateau halfway up on the rock where the King had an enormous gateway built in the shape of a Lion. As you walk through the Lion’s paws on your way up this magnificent structure you will see wonderfully colourful ancient frescos which the King used to decorate his new capital. It is thought these frescos were once one large picture gallery (one of the largest of its kind in the world), yet it is not known who these pictures represent. Some believe them to be women going about their religious duties while others suggest that they are the wives or concubines of the king. Whoever they were these images represent a celebration of femininity, and it seems that these depictions were common around this region as very similar drawings have been found in the Ajanta caves in India making these images important social and cultural landmarks.
The city was abandoned after Kasyapa’s death in 495 CE, but continued to be used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Both the palace and fortress as a whole are recognised as being some of the finest examples of ancient urban planning in the world, and as such have been recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, though some of the locals go a bit further referring to the rock as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Although it is a four and a half hour car journey from Olcote to Sigiriya it’s well worth the journey – it is one of the most exciting things to do in Sri Lanka. The journey through Sri Lanka reveals the countries exquisite landscape (such as driving through the Badagamawa Conservation Forest), and the chance to see this truly remarkable landmark is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that you simply must do while visiting Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is one of the most popular and most visited tourist sites in Sri Lanka, and the surrounding area is full of interesting sites such as the Cave Temple of Dambulla (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) situated about 18km south west of the site and many of the surrounding rainforests are host to trees and plants native only to Sri Lanka.