Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s ancient clifftop citadel

Wherever you go, you can be sure that someone else was there hundreds or thousands of years before you. There are incredible ancient places hiding all around us. Let’s go find them!

In the heart of Sri Lanka’s beautiful natural landscape lies a hidden wonder. The ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya stands proud, 200 metres above the surrounding jungle, and is considered a wonder by both locals and visitors alike: and it’s not hard to see why!

Nestled in a region that has been home to Buddhist monks as far back as the 3rd century BC, Sigiriya boasts exciting engineering, art and fortifications that have made it one of the most important urban prehistoric sites in the world.

The clifftop citadel was both a palace and a fortress. Built in the first millenium, during the reign of King Kashyapa (AD 477 – 495), it is home to a mighty palace, grand gardens and impressive defensive structures.

One of the most remarkable structures has to be the gatehouse: carved into the rock and shaped like a massive lion, this was the main feature of Sigiriya in its time and even inspired the name of the site – ‘Lion Rock’. Sadly, the head of this grand guardian collapsed many years ago.

The site was first investigated by archaeologists in the late 19th century after it was stumbled upon by soldiers of the British army. Even then, archaeologists were wowed by Sigiriya’s complex urban planning.

Designed to incorporate the natural form of the rock, its builders blended symmetry and asymmetry to create a site so beautiful and advanced, that thousands still flock to it today.

Frescoes from Sigiraya 📸 Wikimedia Commons

But that’s not all that this unique site has to offer. The western face of the rock – which measures a whopping 140m across and 40m high – is entirely covered in frescoes.

This historic art gallery depicts hundreds of women, whose identities we can only guess at, celebrating female beauty. These frescos don’t mark the end of Sigiriya’s graffiti, however, as a feature known as the ‘Mirror wall’ (due to how highly polished it was at the site’s prime) is filled with verses written by the visitors who sought out this site, dating back to the 8th century AD.

The blend of nature and human innovation really make this site special. Who could say no to joining all those who have explored this site over the ages? A place like this really connects us to our human past and is the perfect addition to any history lovers’ bucket list.

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Georgina Cole

Written by Georgina Cole

Ginny is a Community Archaeologist with DigVentures and recent Durham University graduate. She has a passion for speaking to the public and she especially loves British archaeology and forensics. In keeping with archaeological tradition, when she isn’t in the trenches you can often find her grabbing a pint at the local pub!

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