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Sigiriya Is Considered by Many to Be the Eighth Wonder of the World

Photo Credit: Azharkhanam / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 and TravelingOtter / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit: Azharkhanam / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 and TravelingOtter / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sigiriya Rock Fortress, also known as the ‘Palace in the Sky,’ is a masterpiece of ancient Sri Lankan ingenuity. The structure was the result of a betrayal between father and son and a pair of brothers. The monolithic rock of Sigiriya is one of the most valuable historical monuments of Sri Lanka and the locals refer to it as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Sigiriya towers over the Sri Lankan jungle

This ancient rock fortress is located in the central Matale District between the towns of Dambulla and Habarane in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya holds many names, including the “Lion Rock”, and the structure stands some 600 feet higher than the surrounding jungles. It serves as a popular tourist attraction, an example of the spectacular beauty in Sri Lanka.

People walking near Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. (Photo Credit: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)
The gardens of Sigiriya, as seen from the summit of the Sigiriya rock. Photo Credit
The gardens of Sigiriya, as seen from the summit of the Sigiriya rock. (Photo Credit: Chamal N / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)

UNESCO has declared the site as a World Heritage Site, making it one of eight in Sri Lanka. This ancient rock fortress and palace ruin is surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens and reservoirs. The gardens of Sigiriya are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

The story behind “The Lion Rock”

The name “Lion Rock” comes from the enormous lion claws which greets visitors halfway up the rock on a small plateau. In 476 CE, King Dhatusena ruled over Sri Lanka, having bared three children; two sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Kashyapa, was born from a non-royal concubine, while his second son, Moggallana, was born from the royal consort. As such, Moggallana was the rightful heir to the throne. However, while this was considered his birthright, Kashyapa had other plans.

People walking the stairs up Sigiriya.
The Lion Gate and Climbing Stretch. (Photo Credit: Cherubino / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)
Close-up of the stone Lion's Paw.
Close-up of the Lion’s Paw. (Photo Credit: Venkasub / Wikimedia Commons BY 3.0)

Kashyapa schemed with the commander of the army to overthrow King Dhatusena. He usurped the throne from his father by force and imprisoned him to die slowly and painfully. Following this, Kashyapa drove Moggallana into exile in Southern India and crowned himself king in 477 CE.

King Kashyapa was afraid of losing the throne so he relocated the royal seat to Sigiriya from the capital of Anuradhapura. He chose Sigiriya due to its strategic position, one that offered fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding area. King Kashyapa built his palace on the top of the rock and decorated its sides with colorful frescoes.

Who is depicted in the frescoes?

The entire complex featured five gates and spanned an area of nearly two miles wide and over a half-mile long. Numerous frescoes covered the western wall of Sigiriya, but only eighteen frescoes have survived to this day. These frescoes depict anonymous nude females as their identities remains unknown. One theory says that the females are Kashyapa’s many wives, while another suggests that they are women who participated in religious observances.

The Mirror Wall and spiral stairs fixed to Sigiriya.
The Mirror Wall and spiral stairs leading to the frescoes. (Photo Credit: Parakrama / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)
Sigiriya, trees in front.
The “Lion Rock” from afar. (Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

The mirror wall borders and protects the site’s world famous gallery. It is said that in the past, it was so thoroughly polished that the king could see his own reflection in it. The mirror wall is also painted with inscriptions and poems written by the visitors of Sigiriya, some of which date from the 8th century CE.

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Moggallana, the rightful heir to King Dhatusena’s throne, later defeated Kashyapa in 495 CE. After the battle, King Moggallana moved the capital back to its historic place in Anuradhapura. After Kashyapa died, Sigiriya was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News