Visiting Sigiraya: The Formidable Lion’s Rock

Our one day trip in Sigiraya continued with a climb to another rock; the rock we watched from our climb in the other mountain rock – Pidurangala (no seriously, they are both just rocks). This time, we made our way to Sigiraya’s Lion Rock, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The entire fortress are ruins of an ancient capital built in 477 AD and the summit is a granite peak called the Lion’s Rock. We originally did not intend to enter the site because the fee was much more expensive than in Pidurangala, but how could we not enter one of Sri Lanka’s most famous monuments.


Heritage Site of Sigiraya
World Heritage Site of Sigiraya

The entrance to the ancient city is beyond a wall surrounded by moat or water. After which, there is a long walk passing through The Water Gardens, which are several pools of water connected by pathways to the other surrounding gardens. Lion’s Rock looms in the distance and looks very majestic from this view point. This place has always been in my bucket list so I was super excited to be at that spot (which is a great area to take photos, too). A little note: we visited the monument midday and it was quite a long walk under the sun before arriving at any place with shade.

Ready for the heat
Le hubby: ready for the hot walk ahead
Outer wall
A road before entering the citadel
Water Gardens
The water gardens
Ancient Ruins
The ruins inside the citadel


Majestic views
Another dream destination off my bucket list
Water Gardens_1
The pools reflect Lion’s Rock

At the end of the Water Gardens, we started to climb some stairs to start the ascent to the Lion’s Rock platform. Some of the other areas we passed by on our way were the Boulder Gardens (constructed around the huge boulders which lie tumbled around the foot of Lion’s Rock), The Royal Gardens, and The Audience Hall. Look out round back for the Cobra Hood Cave (usually saved on the way down to the exit), named for its strange decoration and a faint Brahmi inscription dating from the 2nd century BC, plus the fact that it looks like a cobra hood from afar.

Boulder Gardens
The boulder gardens
Walking past the Royal Gardens
Look for interesting sites scattered around the gardens
Cobra Hood
Under the cobra’s hood
Audience hall
The ancient royal audience hall
Ascent to the top
Start of our climb

At the base of the fortress are 19th century metal staircases that lead to the frescoes of Sigiraya’s Damsels, depicting the celestial nymphs called Apsaras. The whole fresco is thought to have been one of the largest picture galleries in the world but, currently, only 21 of the believed 500 female illustrations can be seen. You cannot take photos of the fresco so the photos I have posted are from the wall recreated in the site’s museum. The frescoes are covered in protective netting to preserve the paintings, but if you manage to find some holes in the covering, you will see a view of the gardens and their perfect symmetry below. The guard was kind enough to allow us to take photos of the view even if this was not really allowed.

Old and new stairs
Thankfully we will take the stairs on the left
Fresco copy
The Apsaras
Also called ‘Sigiraya’s Damsels’
Perfect symmetry
View from the top

We walked past the frescoes of Sigiraya’s Damsels to the Mirror Wall, a highly polished wall of plaster made of lime, bee’s wax, and wild honey. While it is not as reflective as it once perhaps was, the most notable thing about this place are the graffiti on its walls, some of which date back to the 7th century. Not aesthetically pleasing but this shows that the monument was already an important site (and not to mention, a tourist attraction) hundreds of years ago.

Wall of Mirrors
The mirror wall
Look out for ancient graffiti

After crossing the Mirror Wall, we climbed up the stairs that lead to the base of the rock or the Lion Platform. There is a last flight of steps flanked by two enormous paws carved out of the rock that lead to the palace on top of the monolith. We did not go up anymore because it was getting too hot and there were actually so many people crowding the narrow iron staircase attached to the rock face. The top of Lion’s Rock lies the ruins of the palace of King Kassapa.

Views of Sigiraya from the platform
Final flight of stairs before the platform
Climbing Lion's Rock
Climbing to see the palace ruins (which we skipped)
Lion's Paw
Lion’s claws
Base of the monolith-01.jpeg
Base of the monolith

Something interesting we found on the platform is that there are wire mesh cages built as a refuge in the unlikely event of bee attacks. There are bee (hornets) hives on the underside of the rock overhang and people are advised not to disturb their nests to avoid being attacked and releasing the droves unto the hundreds of tourists that visit the site. From the platform, we could view the rock face of Pidurangala, which we climbed earlier in the day.

Bee careful
Beware and be silent
Pidurangala Rock from the platform
Pidurangala from across the Lion’s platform
Views from the Top
Views of the forest and the citadel’s gardens

After resting from the long climb, enjoying the lush greenery of Sigiraya, and the cool breeze, we then went down and stopped by the museum which showcased some artifacts from the site and the history of Sigiraya and Lion’s Rock. The museum was informative though not really a must, in my opinion, but it was a nice place to cool down from the day’s walking under the sun (the museum is air conditioned). We then drove to Polonnaruwa for a couple of days of seeing more ancient ruins and to look for elephants.

Shy monkeys
Monkeys cooling off in the shade
From the gardens
One last look at this majestic monument

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