The Lion Rock - The Pinnacle of my Trip

Trip Start Jun 16, 2010
Trip End Jun 30, 2010

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, June 25, 2009


The Sigiriya rock is actually a hardened magma plug, once surrounded by an extinct volcano. The volcano's cone was nowhere near as tough as the hardened magma and so eroded a long time ago, revealing this amazing geological feature. The 1,214 foot rock plateau can be seen for many miles in each direction.

Sigiriya’s history can be traced back to human settlements that appeared as early as the Mesolithic period. The legend claims that the site has been continuously inhabited for over five thousand years, with people living at the base of the formation, in naturally formed caves. Later on, monks also moved into the caves in order to meditate in seclusion. These caves became monastic cells during the fifth century B.C. when a Buddhist settlement was established on the western and northern slopes of the hills surrounding the plateau. Sigiriya blossomed into a urban center in the 5th century A.D. This transformation was commissioned during the reign of King Kasyapa, who saw the plateau transformed into a truly amazing kingdom.

Our guide provided three distinct theories about Kasyapa's life, his aspirations, and his role in the development of the Sigiriya complex.

Kasyapa, the evil son:

The most-often told story paints Kasyapa as a parricidal monster. Kasyapa, the son of the king, killed his father, Dhatusena I (459-477), in order to gain the throne. Moggallana, the crown prince and half-brother of Kasyapa, is said to have been exiled to India, where he assembled an army to avenge his father’s murder. In anticipation of his brother’s return, Kasyapa transformed the Sigiriya rock into an impenetrable fortress. However, it is believed that Moggallana managed to lure Kasyapa out of the fortress and that in the end he was defeated in battle and took his own life.

Kasyapa – Realizing the dreams of Dhatusena I:

Recently, other theories have been advanced. One disputes Kasyapa's patricide, arguing that he inadvertently killed his father in battle, due to a deception on the part of an evil Moggallana. This version paints Kasyapa as the good guy; a devoted son and brilliant designer. He was said to have abandoned Anuradhapura in order to complete his father’s dream of building a heavenly tribute to Buddhism.

Sigiriya – The Buddhist creation

A third theory casts doubt on both of the previous ones. In relation to Sigiriya being a fortress, archeologists feel that a siege would have starved the inhabitants in less than six months. And they challenge the palace theory due to the brevity of Kasyapa’s tenure at Sigiriya. Instead, they believe that the complex was constructed by the monks that inhabited the caves and monasteries since the 5th century.

The Visit

The Plateau

On the way up we see the first awesome portal to the rich history of this kingdom. About three hundred feet above the ground there was a metal walkway leading to a small corridor in the side of the rock. Along the way, we passed guys that were performing restorations. George spoke with one, who then proceeded to take us to a place normally off limits to visitors. Here were witnessed some beautiful mosaic paintings on the walls. These paintings are said to represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism, already fully evolved by the 5th century, when they are believed to have been painted. The ladies depicted in the paintings have been variously identified as Apsaras (heavenly maidens), as ladies of Kasyapa’s court and as Lightening Princess and Cloud Damsels. Further along, we reached a part of the trail that had walls on both sides. One of the walls was highly polished and we were told it originally reflected some of the frescos opposite it. Also of interest was some ancient graffiti that our guide said was Vedic Sanskrit – an ancient Indo/Aryan language. There were also some frescos in the caves at the bottom of the rock. Many of these paintings we defaced by the monks, who felt the women and nakedness interrupted their mediation.

The most amazing man-made feature of the Rock is the Lion staircase, guarding the staircase that leads to the palace garden at the summit. The lion is missing a head, which the guide said, fell victim to the elements. He also said that the northern facing lion was originally brightly colored, and that its mouth led to a covered staircase of bricks and timber and tiled roof. All that remains now are the two colossal paws and a mass of brick masonry that surround the ancient limestone steps.

Gardens in the Western Precinct

The path to the western precinct can be found across the inner moat. Originally, it had an elaborate timber and brick gate-house with a tiled roof. The moat appears to be designed in a way that aligned it with a mountain peak in distance. Only the southern side of the garden has been excavated so far.

The water gardens of the western precinct are symmetrically planned, while the boulder garden at a higher level is asymmetrically planned. For its period, the water garden was one of the world’s most sophisticated hydraulic technologies. In addition to powering some of the fountains below in the water garden, the hydraulic system functions to serve horticultural and agricultural needs, as surface drainage and erosion control, and as cooling system. The water control system consists of horizontal and vertical drains cut into the rock and underground terracotta conduit.

Water Gardens

There are two gardens, on large and one small. The smaller garden consists of pools, cisterns, courtyards, water pavilions, conduits and water courses. The pebbled waterways would have been covered with a shallow slowly moving river of water, which would have served the purpose of cooling while also being a pleasant encounter for the senses.

The larger garden consists of a central island surrounded by water, and linked to the main precinct by causeways. It is believed that a pavilion occupied the center island. Underground conduit is used to provide water to the four L-shaped pools that surround the island. The fountain garden offers some impressive examples of the hydraulic capabilities of the builders, with fountains and baths which are fed via underground conduits and operate by gravity. The gravity is achieved by storing water on top of the rock during the rainy season, and releasing it to the ground in a controlled manner. Apparently, at certain times of the year the fountains work.

Where the boulder and water gardens meet, there is an octagonal pool that is believed to have served as a bathing pavilion.

Boulder Garden

Not surprisingly, large boulders and winding pathways are the makeup of the boulder garden. Interestingly, some of the boulders have foot-holds or staging wells carved in them; likely leftovers from the process of constructing the brick walls above them.

The prize of the boulder garden is the fifteen foot marble throne that has been carved out of the polished boulder it sits upon. From there we could see a large archway, formed by two boulders, provides access to the terraced gardens.

From here you can see a massive brick and stone wall, which forms the gatehouse leading into the inner citadel.

Terrace Garden  

A natural hill at the base of the Sigiriya rock forms the base of the terraced garden. Bricks have been used to create the terraces, which run in a concentric plan around the rock. There is a limestone staircase path running through the terraced garden. The lion staircase is situated on the uppermost terrace.
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