Sigiriya – Sigiriya, Sri Lanka - Atlas Obscura

Sigiriya

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

An ancient stone fortress considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world. 

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An ancient stone fortress used by a king of Sri Lanka as a place to build his palace and hide from his brother’s attacks, Sigiriya (The Lion Rock) is often considered the eighth wonder of the world. Situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, the fortress is surrounded on all sides by the remains of an extensive network of reservoirs and gardens. These gardens are believed to be some of the oldest landscaped gardens anywhere in the world.

The Lion staircase leading to the palace garden at the top of the rock is the most significant feature of this geological masterpiece. An intricate construction, the Lion staircase is a tile-covered walkway that emerges from the open mouth of the beast from which it takes its name and is built of brick and timber. The bricks surround ancient limestone steps.

Named a world heritage site by UNESCO, this rock is full of archeological importance. The other primary feature that draws thousands of tourists every year is the surviving frescoes and other paintings. The few paintings that survive are the earliest examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism, which was fully formed by the 5th century when the paintings at Sigiriya were produced. There are also remains of paintings in some of the caves that are nestled at the foot of the giant rock.

According to ancient texts, the entire rock fortress was built by King Kashyapa and, after his death, was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Today it is a popular tourist destination and one of the first places added to Sri Lanka itineraries. The climb is accessible to people of all ages and levels of fitness.

Know Before You Go

Sigiriya is situated 17km from the popular town of Dambulla. It is a relatively easy climb, but it can take up to an hour to complete due to the crowds. The main difficulty is the heat, so it is recommended to arrive early in the morning. The best time to visit Sigiriya is between January and April due to the favourable weather and to avoid monsoon season. Tickets are around US$ 30. No special dress code is required, but sensible shoes are recommended.