Sigiriya literally means ‘Lion Rock’ after the shape of entrance to the rock fortress which was in the form of a recumbent lion whose remnants could still be seen in the gigantic paws at the entrance to the palace. A palace indeed, for it served for a short period of about a decade and a half as the political hub of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya  is  probably  the  best  preserved  and  glorious  of  the  surviving, planned  cities  of  South  and  Southeast  Asia  of  the  first  millennium of the Christian era. For a number of reasons including its fascinating surroundings, its plan and conception and its degree of preservation, Sigiriya occupies a foremost position in the history of urbanism in Asia. Sigiriya’s urban form consists of a series of central environs, the outer moat of which not yet completely explored – seems to form a correctly geometrical rectangle.  These successive environs are centered on the grand Sigiriya rock. The city plan has been identified as a rectangular form almost 3km from east to west and 1km from north to south.


Many  who  visit  Sigiriya  believe  that  this  urban  centre  reveals  only Kashyapan  period  (C.5th  century  AD)  architectural  characteristics, but  the  archaeological  evidence  prove  that  Sigiriya  has  pre-and  post- Kashyapan phases.  Indeed it has as many as ten phases.


The Most Attractive Places in Sigiriya


Mirror-wall--1Mirror wall

The Mirror Wall reached passing the series of flights of steps is located at the top most point of the Terrace Garden. The Mirror Wall with its polished surface is not only an architectural marvel but also could be valued as an excellent literary classic. The facts about the history, the society and the economy that emerge from the emotions generated from the beauty of Sigiriya damsels and from the esthetics of serenity of the environment put in to poetry and written as graffiti on the Mirror Wall of Sigiriya is voluminous. Professor Senarath Paranavitana had read 685 of the graffiti poems and has published them.


The western face of the rock was once covered with a painted surface. Paintings of heavenly damsels (Apsara’s) or ladies that graced the king’s court are viewable within a cave on the side of the rock. The Apsaras are floating among the clouds holding flowers and trays and retiring to the temple shrine at Pidurangala which is neighbouring the Sigiriya rock. The broad brush strokes on the figures displays unique classical qualities of painting techniques of that time. These classical works of art are similar to the famous mural paintings of Ajanta in India.

Paintings--1Lion Staircase

From the Lion’s Paws Terrace the only gateway to the palace is through Lion King’s Entrance. The Lion Staircase facing the north has in front of it, the lion’s paws built of brick and plastered with mortar. Only the two front paws of the colossal lion head are presently visible. The pair of lion’s paws which are on a slender ornately moulded platform is a scaled up model resembling that of a real lion. From the available past information and remnants found in the site, there had existed here a lion’s jaws in the ancient times. As the entrance had been sculptured in the form of a lion’s jaw, it is believed that the Rock had been named Sihagira in the past, which in time had evolved to the present Sigiriya.

Paintings--1Royal Palace

The royal palace is located at the summit of the rock with an extent of around 1.5 hectares. It was the central hub of the city centre. This palace complex can be divided into three major sectors, namely, lower palace, upper palace and the palace gardenProf. SenakaBandaranayake points out that the palace on the summit and the great lion presided over the surrounding countryside, a powerful expression of both actual andsymbolic royal authority and control over a landscape of power radiating across the territory of Sigiriya.

Water-Garden--2Water Garden

Entering the Sigiriya premises through the western entrance, one steps in to the section known as the Water Garden. This area, which is approximately 12 acres in extent is exemplified by the stark display of its attributes being in a geometrically symmetrical spatial arrangement. Here a broad barrier separates the Miniature Water Garden from the Water Garden. Stepping in to the premises through the Western Entrance, one’s eyes catches the spectacular site of the four L shaped ponds. One also observes, not far from these ponds, the deep reservoirs like structures, which collect water probably to be used in these ponds. The pavilions located among these ponds are most likely the Pleasure Pavilions from where the King may have viewed the water sports performed in the ponds.


Sigiriya’s urban form has been planned in a strategic manner using ramparts, demarcated accordingly to the north and south and east and west of the rock. These ramparts have been identified as outer, middle and inner ramparts.


Like the ramparts, the moats had been constructed to be centered round the Sigirya rock. A dichotomous nature of the moat system is exemplified by the existence of two moats in Sigiriya, the outer moat and the inner moat. The lake Sigiri Mahawewa, the main source of irrigation to the Sigiriya city augments the water supply to this moat system as well. The moats in the North, South and the West had been discovered in Sigiriya adding confirmation to the design strategy of the Sigiriya City. The aggregate length of the moat system in Sigiriya is 8km with the width of the outer moat being thrice in size to that of the inner moat.

Buddhist Monastery

A  striking  feature  of  the  boulder  garden  is  that  two  distinct  Buddhist monastic  traditions  had  been  operating  during  the  pre-  and  post-Kashyapan periods. The Buddhist monastic complex involving rock shelters operated prior to Sigiriya becoming an urban center. Here monks had settled in the rock shelters. Early Brahmi inscriptions and archaeological evidence suggests that  there  were  25  len  vihara  or  rock  shelter  sites  within  the  boulder garden.  However, this cultural landscape turned into an advanced 18 / 19 monastic complex when Moggallana, half-brother of Kashyapa and his successor, captured Sigiriya. He built a new stupa, bodhighara, image house and chapter house in association with a rock and a boulder.

Boulder Garden

The sagacious that King Kashyapa had of nature’s endowments and the art of landscaping is amply displayed by the skills he showed in the design of the Boulder Garden. He had directly utilized this knowledge in establishing his urban cynosure. The main aspect of the Boulder Garden complex is the utilization of existing rock formation and the caves in designing landscape, which in all aspects looked a nature’s creation.

Boulder Arch

A remarkable item of aesthetics is the fusion of the natural rock formation with the foot path to form an archway. The addition of a sandstone flight of steps to the foot path has enhanced the beauty of the archway. The skills King Kashyapa had in utilizing the natural attributes in his town planning strategy are thereby substantiated.

Cobra Hood Cave

As this cave has a structure suggestive of a fully opened cobra head, it is well known as the Cobra Head Cave. The overhead portion of the inner surface of the cave has paintings, which are similar to ceiling plantings of contemporary monasteries. These vividly colored paintings are somewhat similar to the pre-Christian paintings found on the ceiling of the Maha Lena Cave in Situlpawwa and believed to have belong to the 5th or early 6th century.

Terrace Garden

The gap between the Boulder Garden and the Sigiriya Rock comprising of terraces with long rock mounds is known as the Terrace Garden. Mildly inclining limestone flights of steps leading to the terraces enhance the beauty to the terraces depicting a landscape of mildly inclining series of slopes. From the remains of the foundations visible of the terraces of the Terrace Garden built by King Kashyapa, it is easy to imagine the picturesque landscapes that were designed then. The special feature of this garden is the design of series of flight of steps in the form of sloping terraces to ease the ascent of the mountainous region. The area from the Boulder Garden up to the entrance to the Lion’s Head entrance terrace is designated as the Terrace Garden.