The Sigiriya rock fortress, a spectacular and once-impregnable edifice built atop a massive 660ft (200m) granite column, dominates the surrounding plain.
The topmost fortress, accessible after a lengthy climb that ends in a vertiginous metal spiral staircase, is literally the highpoint of any trip to Sigiriya, with magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.
Guarded by an enormous lion’s-head gateway, hence the name Lion Mountain, this magical and mysterious complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing a fantastic collection of painted frescos on a ‘mirror wall’ of polished granite.
As well as being an ancient royal residence and refuge, the site, with its temples and monastic settlements, the Sigiriya rock is intimately linked to the development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the most visited historic site on the island.
Sigiriya is also famed for having some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, including the water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens.
Sir Arthur C. Clark, the renowned science fiction writer who lived in Sri Lanka for many years until his death in 2008, thought that “Sigiriya qualifies to be the eighth wonder of the world, ranked closely with the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal”.
And according to UNESCO, “Sigiriya is a unique witness to the civilization of Ceylon during the years of the reign of Kassapa I. The site of the ‘Lion Mountain’ was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers.
“The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the ‘Sigiri graffiti,’ are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, and thus show the considerable influence exerted by the abandoned city of Kassapa I on both literature and thought.”