Sigiriya or Sinhagiri is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. It consists of the ruins of an ancient stronghold that was built in the late 5th-century CE on a remarkable monolithic rock pillar. Sigiriya today is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning. As one of the finest examples of ancient architecture in the world, Sigiriya presents timeless Sri Lankan innovation in the form of fortified moats and lush water gardens with advanced irrigation systems characteristic of our early kingdoms.
Sigiriya was built by the fifth-century king Kashyapa I, who ruled the native Sinhalese dynasty, the Moriya. The imposing fortress was the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom until Kashyapa was defeated in A.D. 495. The capital and the royal palace were abandoned after the king’s death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.
The rock fortress is a masterpiece created by King Kashyapa. The igneous rock earned its name from the enormous lion which greeted visitors halfway up the rock on a small plateau. A gateway to the Sigiriya, a lion carved from rock served to both welcome visitors and warning enemies. The entire hydraulic system in Sigiriya was quite advanced for that time. Water was pumped up from the lake behind the rock. Water was minted by the pressure in the fountains that still work today during huge rainfall.
Sigiriya is famous for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200-meter high rock surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano.
Sigiriya was a large rock rising above the surrounding plain, offering an unhindered view in all directions. It was chosen as the capital because of the strategic advantage this would give the defenders during an attack. Large ramparts and moats were built around the city.
One of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is renowned for its 5th century pre-Christian frescoes. It has also been declared by UNESCO as the 8th Wonder of the World.
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. According to the records in the Palm Leaf Book Ravana Watha, Sigiriya was built under the directions that were given by King Visthavasa. He is the father of King Ravana. The frescoes are also mentioned in the book. Sigiriya is the best-preserved city center in Asia.