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Sunday, 10 October 2004  
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Sigiriya - The fortress in the sky

Sigiriya, termed "the eighth wonder of the world", is a city built on a rock. It is unique for its amazing architecture and construction, the beautiful frescoes and the mirror wall.

It is a place which brings together the marvels of the country's ancient technological and engineering know-how, architectural splendour, urban planning, hydraulic technology, talents of painting and poetry and aesthetic capabilities.

Sigiriya is about 13 miles away from Dambulla and 30 miles from Anuradhapura and was Sri Lanka's capital for about 18 years during the Anuradhapura period.

The Sigiriya rock is about 200 metres in height and about 377 metres above sea level. Its name means Lion Rock (Sinha Giri); at one time, a gigantic brick lion had sat at one end of the rock while the climb to the top started with a stairway that led between the lion's paws and into its mouth. Although the lion is no longer there, the paws and the first steps are still visible.

The royal palace was built atop the rock while other buildings and gardens were built around the rock. Only the foundations of these structures remain now. The fortress city was built by King Kasyapa I and became a monastic refuge after his death. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it served as an outpost of the Kandyan kingdom but later went into ruin and was rediscovered in 1894/1895 by a British archaeologist, H.C.P. Bell.

Sigiriya was the first fortress city in our country. It comes under the Cultural Triangle.There is a museum too.The Vidurangala and Ramakele monasteries are located close by.

King Kasyapa I was the 70th King of Anuradhapura. The son of King Dhatusena and half-brother of Prince Moggallana, he ruled from 477-495AD. The story goes that Prince Kasyapa suspected his father would appoint Moggallana as the next king.

So he killed King Dhatusena and ascended the throne and set up his kingdom at Sigiriya. Moggallana, fearing for his life, fled to India, gathered an army and came back to fight Kasyapa. At the battle site, Kasyapa's forces abandoned him; the king, not wishing to die at the enemy's hand, committed suicide. The rock fortress was built by Kasyapa fearing the inevitable invasion by Moggallana. Sigiriya provided an ideal place for a fortress as it was in a difficult-to-approach remote area.

The well-planned city has a wall surrounding the Sigiriya rock with a moat outside the wall for added protection. The city is about three kilometres in length and one kilometre in width.

The remnants of the swimming-pool, pools providing drinking water and pipes leading off from them are still visible. Meeting places, stone seats, courts and sentry posts are nearby. The stairway built around the rock defies imagination.

The well-organised and landscaped gardens around Sigiriya consist of water gardens, boulder (stone) gardens and terraced gardens. The symmetry of the water gardens have astounded visitors local and foreign alike. Some of the fountains in the water gardens are still thought to be operable during rainy seasons.

The king's summer palace was also located close to the water gardens, which are amazing constructions for these early ages. The gardens of Sigiriya are the oldest such constructions in Asia and some of the first in the world. They had been maintained well even after King Kasyapa.

The city of Sigiriya is located outside the wall. Four entrance roadways to the city have been discovered. It is the most famous aesthetic work in the country. It is also among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

As a result of excavations, it has been discovered that there were over 150 villages and 200 water tanks in the vicinity.

Ruins of Buddhist monasteries and a large-scale iron manufacturer had been discovered. The area is thought to have been quite advanced both during and after the Sigiriya era.

The Sigiri frescoes

From over 500 paintings done on the Sigiri wall, only about 22 still remain, many destroyed by vandals over the years. That these paintings are still mostly intact and the colours remain bright, speak volumes about the talents of our artists of a bygone era and the techniques they used.

The frescoes, which remind one of the Ajanta cave paintings in India, are believed to have been painted in the fifth century AD. Some believe the women depicted in these paintings to be apsaras (heavenly beings) while others think they are noble women and their servants heading off to the temples nearby.

The paint used was made of various types of clay combined with different colours.

The paintings were later restored by a reputed Italian artist named Luciano Maransi. It is believed that there were paintings all over the rock which were later destroyed. The frescoes are the only non-religious old paintings in Sri Lanka.

Mirror Wall

The three-metre high mirror wall is located beside the main stairway to the rock. It is coated with a mirror-smooth glaze and continues to shine despite being exposed to rain, sun and winds for centuries.

The graffiti on the wall is believed to have been written between the 6th and 14th centuries by the many visitors who were bewitched by the splendour of the rock. Over 685 of these verses had been deciphered (interpreted) and published by the renowned archaeologist Dr Senarath Paranavithana in a book tiled 'Sigiri Graffiti'.

They hold great interest for scholars due to their evidence of the development of the Sinhala language and script, and because they demonstrate an appreciation of art and beauty.


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