The ruins of a palace built atop a vast rock, Sigiriya is not best suited for Father-Son bonding excursions. Built by King Kashyapa, who walled his father up alive before usurping the throne, it offers stunning views across countryside, murals, and a 200 metre ascent / decent on man-made routes that might trouble an enterprising squirrel.
Given such flawed beginnings, it is surprising that Kashyapa’s reign lasted the long eighteen years that it did. The patricide left him reviled by subjects and priests alike, and it is telling that he was the king who constructed the great, almost-unimpregnable rock fortress of Sigiriya.
Fear must have cemented in every stone in his citadel, with its unhindered 360-degree view across the countryside, the perfect eyrie from which to spot an attack from his avenging brother Moggallana.
Like Tiberius who abandoned Rome for Capri, so too did Kashyapa move his government. His rocky bastion of moats and ramparts boasted all the essentials of deluxe royal living: gardens, fountains, pools, palaces, an extraordinary underground irrigation system that is still working, and frescos – amongst the finest of any medieval monarch.
But quite what he did there – apart from surviving - remains a mystery and it was in the shadow of his mountain palace that he met his maker, having no doubt earlier seen the gathering dust on the horizon as the Pandian army organised by his bother Moggallana arrived onto the plains of Sigiriya. Battle commenced. The Machiavellian general Migara defected to Moggallana taking much of the army with him. Kashyapa’s remaining army was defeated, and the king drove a sword through his own body rather than be captured alive.
His great fortress palace was left abandoned and today its principal features are:
COBRA HOOD CAVE
Only a few flakes of paint remain of the plaster and frescos that once adorned the cave.
DIRAANIYAGALA CAVE TEMPLE
A small ancient complex close to the site.
Quite how these frescos have survived this long is a miracle, but half way up the rock on the rock face are the remains of paintings of some especially well endowered women - aspects of Tara, celestial nymphs, or concubines: it remains a bit of a guess over which academics like to argue.
Only the paws remain of a once gigantic lion statue that marked the final ascent to the top commenced with a stairway between a lion’s paws and its mouth.
A wall once coated with glaze upon which much ancient graffiti was found including the ageless comment (on the frescos presumably): “The ladies who wear golden chains on their breasts beckon me”.
A nearby rocky outcrop from which to view Sigiriya itself.
Although at the base of the Sigiriya rock these wonderfully landscaped gardens of terraces and water, pools and islands, steps, and boulders, are best kept for the end as you will need all your energy to climb up: dissipating it before that challenge may have life-shortening consequences.
ROYAL PLACE & SUMMIT
Almost two hectares large, little remains of King Kasyapa fortified palace but some low foundations, a smooth slab of stone claimed to be part of a throne or meditation spot, the remains of an Audience Hall, and a large tank, cut from the rock. But, if on the lookout for trouble, there is no better place to be. Any approaching enemy army can be spotted with ease.
SIGIRIYA MUSEUM - A well-presented permanent exhibition that is a good place to start.