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The Ancient Palace of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

The Ancient Palace of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

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In Sri Lanka, ruins of an ancient city can be seen lying on the steep slopes and summit of a 200-meter high peak. This awe-inspiring city is called Sigiriya and is located at the Matale district near Dambulla in the Central Province of Sri Lanka.

The first thing that guarantees to catch your attention is the rock fortress known as “Sigiriya” or “Lion’s Rock”. The rock surrounded by green plains has a shape that can’t be found elsewhere in the island. Even though you’re miles away from Sigiriya, it’s easy to spot this unique complex created at the end of the 5th century.

The ruins of the former Sinhalese capital was built by King Kassapa I. He’s the son of the King of Anuradhapura, Dhatusena,  from a companion queen. Dhatusena also had a son from the head queen named Mugalan. Kassapa, during the period he served as prince, killed Dhatusena with the help of the army general Migara. He later became the king and his brother, Mugalan escaped the country and went to India fearing he could be his brother’s next target even though he was chosen by the Buddhist Bikhus and people to be the next king. Kassapa also felt scared about the thought of his brother coming back for revenge so he decided to seek refuge at the high rock of Sigiriya.

During the 11 years of staying in Sigiriya, Kassapa transformed the rock into a magnificent complex.  The rock-turned-city possessed areas designed for its defenses but it didn’t forget to be a place of beauty and splendor. Ramparts and moats were built around it. Royal Pleasure Gardens Water Gardens, Fountain Gardens, and Boulder Gardens can be found within its inner city. Sigiriya Rock Paintings or Frescoes of Sigiri Damsels called “Sigiri Asparas” locally remained to be that part of Sigiriya that keeps visitors stunned. One more interesting construction is the Mirror Wall which is a graffiti written by all the people who visited Sigiriya from the 7th to the 10th centuries AD.

The high rock of Sigiriya can only be accessed by foot. As you walk to your destination, you’ll pass by a path bordered by trees for about a kilometer. You’ll pass by an outer moat, a rampart, and the Archaeological Museum on the right. See a bridge over another moat which will lead you to the rock while passing by water gardens and fountains. There are about ninety-five pools or ponds found at Sigriya.

You’re almost at the rock’s entrance when you see a stone staircase that takes you to the fortress, but be better prepared for it has 1200 steps. Climb the stairs and you’ll pass by the caves and hollows inhabited and used as a place of worship by the early Buddhist monks. After the caves, you’ll walk past the Audience Hall Rock and the Cobra Hood Cave which was also used as a shelter by Buddhist monks during the third to the first centuries BC.

Halfway about 100 meters from the base of the rock, you’ll witness the amazing “Sigiriya damsels” frescoes with around 21 paintings of sensuous yet delicate images of beautiful apsaras referred to as ‘heavenly maidens’. These are believed to be painted using the Fresco-Lustro method and there were originally over five hundred paintings on the walls of the gallery before this number withered down to 21 due to age, weather, and vandalism.

14 meters under the “Sigiriya damsels” is the Mirror Wall gallery that can be easily accessed via a spiral staircase from the frescoes. See the written verses in Sinhala scripts on the plaster-finished brick wall dating back to the 7th and  11th centuries AD. The old writings discuss experiences like love, hate remembrances, and even irony.

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After the frescoes and the Mirror Wall, continue walking until you reach the terrace where you can find the remains of earlier buildings plus great views around Sigiriya. Based from the massive lion paws left on the rock’s entrance, it was believed that Sigiriya has a gigantic lion statue constructed at its summit. Before the erosion due to monsoon rains and wind, the huge paws supported the stout legs and head of a crouching lion with jaws wide open. Visitors pass through the lion’s mouth and through its throat to reach the heart of Kassapa’s domain.

Moving on from the terrace, you need to take the metal staircase leading to the summit. Stepping on the plateau after all those steps will surprise you on how this spacious land was a kingdom that almost reached the clouds. But just like the kingdom of Sigiriya, Kassapa’s story ended when his brother Prince Mugalan came back after 18 years with an army of combined Chola and Sinhalese troops. During the battle of the brothers, Kassapa’s elephant balked at a hidden swamp before him and momentarily turned aside. This was mistakenly thought as a retreat for Kassapa’s party which made the army leave the king defenseless. Knowing that his time is almost over, he drew his dagger, slashed his own throat, raised the blade high in the air and sheathed it again before falling down dead.

After Kassapa’s death, Mugalan went back to Anuradhapura and gave back Sigiriya to the Buddhist priests. In 1150 AD, it was abandoned but during the 16th and 17th century it served as a temporary outpost for the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1831, it was discovered by Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of the British Army that led to the beginning of its archaeological work in the 1890s. And now, Sigiriya continues to be Sri Lanka’s favorite attraction.

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