Sigiriya Rock fortress
Part hedonistic pleasure palace, part fortress and part sacred complex, Sigiriya is one of the island’s most awe-inspiring archaeological sites and a leading tourist attraction. In fact some consider it to be one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world with early visitors recording their impressions as graffiti on a wall described as the world’s first interactive book. Located north of Dambulla, 169 Km from Colombo, the site consists of a sheer rock that rises over 200 m with the ruins of a palace on the top and a vast pleasure garden complex at the foot.
For just two decades in the 5th c. AD, Sigiriya rose to prominence following a power struggle between two brothers, and an act of patricide that saw the then king walled-up alive by his son, Kasyapa. Fearful that his defeated brother would return from exile to extract vengeance, Kasyapa shifted the capital to Sigiriya.
The megalomanic yet spiritual Kasyapa clearly had an eye of beauty. The pleasure gardens include a series of symmetric pools, channels and fountains that still spurt water after 1,500 years. Partway up the rock are the famous Sigiriya frescoes, featuring 21 bare-breasted damsels that may represent celestial nymphs, but were surely modelled on Kasyapa’s own consorts. Halfway you’ll encounter a pair of giant lion’s paws, part of the original entrance, which required visitors to pass through the open mouth of a lion. The summit yields a dramatic vista of the surrounding jungle and contains the foundations of the palace complex, replete with bathing pool. But all this was to be in vain.
Kasyapa descended from his palace in the clouds to face his brother astride an elephant, eventually taking his own life when facing certain defeat.