Sigiriya was created by King Kasyapa who reigned between 477-495 AD. The summit of this almost inaccessible rock is 180 m (600 ft) above the surrounding jungle, and was the setting for a courtly paradise of elegant pavilions amid gardens and pools. The rock was transformed into a recumbent lion by the addition of a brick-built head and foreparts of which only the paws remain. The rock’s natural defences were augmented by broad moats and stone perimeter walls. In the event of an enemy approach, the outer moat was built so as to flood the entire area between the two moats.
The Water Gardens
The terraced gardens slope down to the boulder gardens and then to the geometrically laid out water gardens, with running water and fountains, pools and ponds, aquatic flowers and birds, and tropical trees. The entire water garden is in a walled enclosure.
The miniature water garden was discovered not long ago. It has winding waterways, shallow reflecting pools, cobbled watercourses, marbled floors and an intricate layer of tiled roof buildings.
Adjacent to this is a central island surrounded by four L-shaped water pools. These pools appear to have been used as bathing pools. These had polished walls, flights of steps and surrounding terraces – similar to a modern-day swimming pool.
There are fountains fed by water under gravitational pressure from the artificial Sigiriya Lake. Symmetrically perforated limestone plates fashion their spouts. These fountains operate in rainy weather even today.
An octagonal pool is set at the transition point from the water gardens to the boulder gardens. It is surrounded by a wide terrace, which follows its shape. A gigantic boulder almost the height of a six-storey building shelters the pool.
The Boulder Gardens
Picturesque boulders of various sizes can be found here. These are linked together by winding pathways and paved passages, with boulder arches and limestone stairways. The honeycombed holes on these boulders are merely footings for brick and timber edifices. These boulders also have fascinating rock carvings.
This is an enormous split boulder. The fallen half of the boulder is known as the Audience Hall Rock, a 5 m (16 ft) long carved throne facing a levelled square. The standing half is a water reservoir, dug into the rock – hence its name, Cistern Rock.
Cobra Hood Cave
This is thus named because of its shape. Its painted ceiling is dated back to the period of King Kasyapa (5th Century AD). It is however believed, that Buddhist monks from as early as the 3rd Century BC used this cave.
Its tiered platforms are believed to have been used by monks to deliver orations.
The Terraced Gardens
Merging with the boulder gardens are the terraced gardens, with each terrace rising above the other. Impressive brick-built staircases with limestone steps traverse the terraces, providing access to the uppermost terrace and onwards to the Sigiriya Rock itself.
The Lions Platform
Sigiriya Rock has a halfway stage at its northern end with a large plateau. The two enormous lion’s paws are all that remains of the giant beast that gave the rock its name.
Above the Lion’s Platform and beneath the fresco pockets is a highly polished Mirror Wall. Coated with polished lime, this wall reflects like glass. Scribbled on the surface of the Mirror Wall are nearly 1,500 pieces of prose and poetry composed by the ancient visitors who flocked to Sigiriya from all over the island. These poems were written between the 7th and 13th centuries. They are said to be Sri Lanka‘s oldest graffiti.
These are one of the highlights of Sigiriya. These figures of women are depicted as rising from clouds and are known as “the cloud damsels”. They are depicted in three quarter profile. Shown in three quarter profile, the paintings have striking diversity in mood and personality, face and body, clothes and make-up. Flowers are used in profusion in their hair, in baskets and in various forms. Originally, there were over 500 paintings drawn across the face of Sigiriya Rock forming a gigantic gallery of paintings. This covered an area almost twice as large as a football field. These paintings may perhaps have been the largest murals ever attempted by man. However, only 23 of these remain today.
The Palace on the Summit
The inner palace occupies the higher western sections. The outer palace occupies the lower eastern sections and the palace gardens cover the south. They all converge on a large and lovely rock-cut pool, probably used for water storage. This 3 acre site is stupendous and the view is breathtaking with its thousands of marbled steps and walkways.