Following our stay in Colombo, we headed to the breathtaking ancient palace perched atop a spectacular citadel rock, located in the heart of Sri Lanka – Sigiriya – known to all tourists as “Lion Rock”.
Billed by the locals as the “Eight Wonder of the World”, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is truly a special place. The ancient fortress was built in the fifth century by King Kashyapa on top of a magma rock rising 200 meters above the surrounding landscape.
The complex includes the remnants of a palace flanked by divine ponds and fountains, extensive gardens and charming alleys, where manmade architecture and nature coexist in a blissful harmony.
The aerial views are breathtaking and I would highly recommend taking the Sri Lanka Air taxi (Cinnamon Air) to fully enjoy the experience. Yes, it is more expensive than ground transportation, at about $200 per ticket for the flight, but it’s a significant time saver and the experience is absolutely worth it.
I can understand the discomfort some people experience flying in small planes, but for us it was a beautiful sunny day and the 20 minute flight was an incredible sightseeing opportunity. Our pilots were fluent in English, very skilled and professional, and it was really fun.
We had arranged for a local driver to pick us up at the runway and he remained with us for the rest of the trip through the island. He helped us with everything we needed, including tickets, great suggestions for photo spots, and (most importantly!) he kept bringing us delicious mid-journey snacks like local mangos and coconuts.
Sigiriya is considered one of the most well preserved and important examples of urban planning in the first millenium. In addition to the architectural significance of the complex, the entire “face” of the rock was covered with unique colourful frescos making for one of the world’s largest picture “galleries” – a surface area of 140×40 meters. It included an area known as the “Mirror wall”, which legend has it was so highly polished that the king could see his own reflection.
Some of the frescos remain to this day and I can’t help but note that they are a very detailed depiction of scantily clad big-breasted ladies 🙂 – unfortunately, no photos were allowed. There is lack of consensus as to who these women actually are with the two most common theories being either the “king’s women” or participants in a religious ritual.
Arguably the most famous element of the complex, and its namesake, is the gateway half-way up the steep stairway climb in the form of lion paws. There used to be a sculpted lion’s head above the paws, however, our guide said that it had collapsed a long time ago.
One of things which you will not really read about anywhere is that there are A TON of bees nesting in trees throughout the whole complex and there are signs around the entire area to be quiet as to not upset them. We did see a giant swarm of bees right around the lion paws, so all people were advised to wait for them to disperse.
A good thing to mention is that there are many many stairs to get up to the top, so it’s not for the faint of heart. The railing on some of the top-most steps is quite flimsy, so caution is always the best approach. While preparing for the day trip I was advised to wear trainers which I clearly did not do, and I was fine, but the one thing I will do differently next time is maybe not wear a dress when going up hundreds of stairs 😀
Not to pile on unnecessarily, but it was also very hot, and we were super lucky that there were moments when the clouds covered the sun, otherwise it would have been an extra sweaty climb.
After walking back down the stairs we took a leisurely walk around the gardens which are actually among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. There is plenty of wildlife around to keep you entertained for a while.
In case I didn’t already make it crystal clear how I feel about this place – Sigiriya was amazingly beautiful. It also provided a fabulous backdrop to our vacation photos 😀 Now, off to Kandy and the glorious train ride through the Sri Lanka highlands.