Sigiriya Sri Lanka History, Places, Attractions, Hotels, Tours, Things to Do
The story of Sigiriya is one of vision, grandeur, beauty and tragedy unparalleled in Sri Lankan history. Built 1,600 years ago, it burst briefly into pre-eminence with breathtaking architecture and art and then quickly faded away into oblivion and was soon forgotten. Few historic sites in the world have such an interesting tale to tell as that of Sigiriya.
The story of Sigiriya is the tale of King Kasyapa who ruled between 477 and 495AD. A troubled but visionary king; Kasyapa murdered his father by plastering him up in a wall. Rejected by his people for his crime and tormented by guilt and fear he abandoned his magnificent capital of Anuradhapura and fled deep in the forests of central Sri Lanka. There in an area dominated by a menacing black column of rock 600 feet high he built himself a new capital resplendent with lush gardens, palaces and pavilions.
He transformed the sinister-looking black rock to appear like a huge dazzling white cloud and painted it with beautiful frescoes
of semi-naked nymphs. He also build a massive gatehouse in the form of a lion to guard the entrance to the inmost sanctum of his
city; the Sky Palace on top of the rock.
Hidden from view and surrounded by his courtiers and harem, Kasyapa lived in splendid isolation. He was, however, deeply troubled by
his responsibility for the death of his father. He carried out many good works and observed his religious duties diligently hoping, no doubt, to find some salvation for his
Finally, betrayed, by those he trusted, he committed suicide.
$30 - Foreigners (Rs50 - locals)
7:00 AM – 5:30 PM
(Last entry 5:00 PM)
3-4 hours for site tour
60-90 Minutes to the top
Main Entrance (Bottled Water)
Exit (Juice Bar is Excellent)
Toilets at Main Entrance & Exit only
Built 1600 years ago, Sigiriya is an exquisite example of ancient Sri Lankan art and architecture. Wander around its ruins. Climb to the Sky Palace, stopping on the way to admire the Frescoes of the ladies of the king's harem, then continue to the on summit and be astounded by the panoramic view that awaits you.
Painted 100 meters above ground 1600 years ago, the Sigiriya Frescoes still appear to float effortlessly among the clouds. These ladies of king Kasyapa's harem are richly adorned and dressed in fine garments which barely conceal their graceful bodies.
Climbing to the top of Sigiriya Rock is an experience you will never forget. The ruins and the view for the top are stunning. The climb is strenuous but not hard. There are about 1200 steps. That's roughly equivalent to climbing 60 flights of stairs in a 60 story building.
But don't panic. It's a lot easier than climbing sixty flights of steps in a building. The best times to climb are early morning and late afternoon.
Sigiriya has a hot and humid tropical climate. The weather in general is unpredictable. Torrential downpours occur frequently. These are usually short-lived and tend to be in
The best time of the year to visit Sigiriya is January to March (February is the best month). The best time to climb Sigiriya is early in the morning, before the day warms up,
or in the late afternoon when it cools down.
The maximum daytime temperature ranges is 28 - 32 degrees Celsius (82 -90°F). The maximum UV index through the year is 11.
The Sky Palace, gleamed magnificently atop Sigiriya Rock, 200 meters above the surrounding plain. Standing at ground-level it is hard to comprehend the sheer size of the place or the human effort needed to create nearly 1600 years ago. It was described by ancient chronicles as being a palace fit for the Gods.
The Mirror Wall, built over fifty meters up the vertical side of Sigiriya Rock, once gleamed lustrous white, its surface polished to such a fine shine that you could see your reflection in it. Even today, in some places, you can see your reflection.
Ride a lumbering giant bareback or in the safety of a sedan chair. A detour through the lake is fun, especially when the elephant spouts water out of its trunk.
Shop for curios, woodwork, textiles, jewelery, quirky knick-knacks and your supply of genuine Ceylon tea.
The Lion Staircase, situated half-way up Sigiriya Rock, was an impressive gatehouse which protected the entry to the Sky Palace on the summit. Built in the shape of a crouching lion it had hidden entrance through its chest. Brightly colored, eyes ablaze and its mouth agape it appeared ready to swallow anyone who dared approach it. For added effect large fires may have been lite within to illuminate its eyes in the night making it a majestic spectacle visible from miles around.
Scribbled by ancient tourists over a period of 1500 years, it is a living records of the evolution of language. Some verses demonstrate a very high level of literacy amongst the people who visited at that time.
Ramparts & Moats
The Sigiriya Citadel built by King Kasyapa 1600 years ago was surrounded by three massive ramparts and three moats. The citadel had four entrances of which western entrance had an ornate multi-storied gatehouse.
Gardens & Ponds
Because Sigiriya was meant to represent an earthly paradise, it was constructed with lavish ponds, fountains, flower beds, and flowering and fruit-bearing trees. The whole grounds was festooned with brightly decorated pavilions. Every rock had a pavilion on it. You will still see grooves craved into many rocks to provide the footings for these buildings.
The Dambulla Cave Temple is located 24 km (30 min) from Sigiriya. Built in about 80BC It is the largest and best preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka.
Inside are 153 Buddha statues in various reposes, three statues of ancient kings, and four other statues including those of Vishnu and Ganesh. The ceiling and walls have been repainted over the centuries contain a juxtapose of imagery including those of royal life.
The climb to the temple is rather strenuous. Photography is allowed but don't offend local sensibility by posing with the statues.
Get on board an open-topped jeep and head off on safari to find wild elephants at the "The Gathering". This spectacular congregation of up to three hundred wild elephants occurs at Minneriya National Park a 45 minute drive (41km) from Sigiriya. The best time to see this phenomenon is during the dry season (July – Sept) when these animals congregate around the Minneriya Tank (lake) to socialize, bathe, drink and feed.
Pidurangala, just 2 kms away from Sigiriya is is often overlooked. It has been inhabited by monks who lived in the caves for over 2000 years.
The Sigiriya Museum is near the main entrance. The audio-visual show gives a good background of Sigiriya. The model of the site as it is today provides a good orientation of the area and its vastness. The displays are mediocre being predominately from after the reign of King Kasyapa who built Sigiriya.
A number of reputable local operators offer all-inclusive tours of Sri Lanka including a visit to Sigiriya.
Viator, a TripAdvisor company, offers 100s of packaged tours in Sri Lanka including visits to Sigiriya. They also offer very reasonable airport pick-up and drop-off services.
The citadel is well sign-posted but tour guides can still be useful. They know the place well. This can save you a lot of time and frustration getting about. Negotiate the duration of the tour and its price (between $15-25) before you start. A good tour should take approximately 3-4 hours. Anything less than that will probably be a direct trip to the
summit and back. It is common courtesy to tip the guide.
Note: These guides can be persistent. If you are not interested, say "NO THANK YOU" courteously but firmly. They will probably try a few more times and
then give up.
The highly rated book The Story of Sigiriya provides an excellent account o f the site and its fascinating history. Paperback editions are available at the kiosks on the site. Both paperback and hardcover editions are available
from Amazon and other booksellers.
Getting to Sri Lanka
Many international airlines fly to Sri Lanka. Read the "Getting There" section of our Sri Lanka webpage for detailed travel information.
Sigiriya is located in north-central Sri Lanka. It is 181 kilometers from Colombo; a drive of 3.5 hours. The tourist resort of Negambo is153 kilometers (3 hours) away. It is 98 kilometers (2 hours) from the hill capital of Kandy.
Most hotels will arrange airport pick-up and drop-off. There are also local hire car operators who will provide transfer services. We recommend Viator, a TripAdvisor company.
Car: Sigiriya is 181 kms from Colombo,153 kms from Negambo and 98 kms from Kandy. A number of hire car operators can provide you with a vehicle and driver.
Bus:Intercity bus services run from major cities to Dambulla and Habarana both of which are 24 kms from Sigiriya. There are local bus services from there to the site. The ride is interesting,
friendly, safe but rough.
Train: There is a train service to Habarana 24 kms away. You will need to take road transport from there.
Plane: Cinnamon Air offers a flight from Colombo International Airport to Sigiriya. The flight takes approximately 30 minutes.
What to Wear
Dress in loose cotton, linen or breathable fabrics. Sunglasses are a good idea to protect your eyes. Any footwear suitable for the tropics is fine. Don't forget a broad brimmed hat and sunscreen. Also if you intend to visit the Pidurangala temple (actual temple only) you will need to wear "proper" clothing. This means your clothes must cover your shoulders and be below your knees. A sarong can come in very handy for this purpose.
Sigiriya, more than other historic sites in Sri Lanka, has a number of minor thrills and spills that a visitor should be aware of. These include the climb to the top, dehydration, hornets,
elephants and crocodiles. Use common-sense and you will be assured an incident-free visit. Visit our Sigiriya Safety and
Comfort page for more information.
Hotels/Restaurants: A tip of 10% or more is customary.
Sigiriya Site: Other than your tour guide, if you use one, there is no one else you need to tip while visiting the Sigiriya site.
Vil Uyana Hotel
This Eco-resort (5-star) is probably the most memorable hotel in Sigiriya. Set amidst a serene lake and paddy fields, the cabanas are huge, furnished tastefully and stand on stilts with their individual deck and outdoor dining area. Some cabanas have their own private plunge pool. The ambiance is superb and relaxed. The five course dinner is excellent and served with impeccable finesse.
An iconic hotel (5-star) built into a massive cave overlooking a large lake, this hotel is intended to blend into its surroundings. This gives it a somewhat surreal look. In keeping with its theme you will encounter bats fluttering about randomly and monkeys observing you with world-wary indifference. The buffet meals are sumptuous. The decor and ambiance is unique. The infinity swimming pool is lovely.
Aliya Resort & Spa
This resort hotel (5-star) is entered via an impressive staircase. As you walk up these stairs Sigiriya Rock begins to loam majestically in the distance. The facilities and food are excellent. The infinity pool offer s view of with Sigiriya and Pidurangala rocks in the distance. It has some very unusual "tent" rooms, with all the mod-cons one would expect in a regular hotel room, which is a unique experience.
Hotel Sigiriya (4-star) hotel offers a breathtaking close-up vista of the Sigiriya Rock from the hotel. What better way to enjoy breakfast or dinner while gazing up at the magnificent rock almost at your doorstep. The hotel cabanas are large and comfortable, the staff helpful and the food excellent.
The hotel (4-star) is located i n Habarana 12km from Sigiriya in lush tropical gardens with a lake and native flora and fauna. The staff are friendly and food and service excellent. The rooms are clean.
Back of B - Dehigaha
Back of Beyond Dehigaha is an Eco-resort (3.5-star) set amongst lush forest with a babbling stream close by. Sleep in a tree-house. Venture into your bathroom in an enclosed open courtyard downstairs. Looks at the trees, watch the birds and thrill at the frequent frogs that will visit you in your bathroom. At night elephants and other wild animals roam through the compound.. The staff are very friendly and helpful. The food is Sri Lankan and tasty.
Back of B - P'gala
Back of Beyond Pidurangala is an Eco-resort (3.5-star) located just 2 km north of Sigiriya in a semi-forested property. It is hide-away with some interesting architecture.. There are six rooms in semi-detached cabanas. The rooms are large and sparsely furnished. The private outdoor courtyard bathrooms are fun. You can be one with nature as you shower. Yes there is hot water. The staff are friendly and obliging. The cuisine is Sri Lankan.
There are no restrictions in taking photographs. Most people don't mind you photographing them. If you are visiting any temples, remember it is very rude to take photographs posing next to religious statues and objects. It is especially rude to do so with your back towards them or leaning on them. This is the only time you are likely to get a comment from a local. Some museums charge extra fees to take photographs of their exhibits.
History of Sigiriya Sri Lanka (continued)
At the time the story of Sigiriya was unfolding in 477 AD, Sri Lanka had one of the most advanced and prosperous civilizations in Asia. It sat at the crossroads between Asia and West. Ships of
many nations called into it ports and trade with far off lands such as Egypt, Roman and China prospered.
A number of key events took place in other parts of the world which put historic context to our story.
At about this time the Vandals sacked Rome and Europe began its slow inexorable decline into the Dark Ages. The
Gupta Empire controlled most of northern India and the magnificent art works at the Ajanta Caves commenced. These in turn had a
significant influence on paintings in at Sigiriya. It was also the time that an erotic compendium known as the Kama Sutra was first complied. In China, Buddhism
was taking root; and in Mexico, the city of Chichén Itzá was being founded. Most of the rest of the world lay in cultural slumber.
Inspiration for Sigiriya
Having decided to move his capital, King Kasyapa had a grand vision. He would build his city to emulate Alakamanda. In Buddhist mythology Alakamanda was the beautiful and prosperous city of the gods. It was said to exist in a faraway place at a great elevation. Its ruler was Kuvera, the god of wealth and plenty.
It is from this legend that Kasyapa gained his inspiration. He would harness the vast wealth and resources of his kingdom to recreate Alakamanda on earth. It is for this reason that Kasyapa choose
a location deep in the inhospitable forests of Sri Lanka. The only significant feature of the area was a menacing black rock which rose majestically 200 meters into the air. He, Kasyapa, would transform the rock to appear
as though it were a cloud. On its summit he would build a magnificent palace and rule like a god-king.
How Sigiriya was Built
The site chosen for the capital was a foreboding place indeed; teeming with wild elephants, poisonous snakes, leopards, bears, mosquitoes, hornets and other vermin. Kasyapa was fortunate. He was
the king of a extremely prosperous kingdom. He also had a huge workforce of highly skilled laborers and artisans to do his bidding. An army of over a hundred thousand men, thousands of bullocks and
many hundreds of elephants toiled for years to build a magnificent new city in the forest.
The pièce de résistance of the new city was the rock itself. It was the centerpiece of the entire city. Kasyapa and his architects built a royal citadel with ramparts and moats and lavish gardens, ponds and fountains around this looming black rock.
They constructed beautiful multicolored pavilions, palaces and halls. They erected grand staircases leading up to the base of the rock and then an unusual parapet wall which precariously hugged
the side of the near vertical rock face as it wound its way around the western side of the rock. This wall had such a high reflective luster that it came to be known as the Mirror Wall. They then painted the entire surface of the sinister-looking black rock in a coat of white paint so that it appeared like a
massive cloud floating above the treetops. Then on the western surface of the rock, was painted the largest portrait gallery in the world. This spectacular gallery consisted of over 500 stunning
multi-colored frescoes depicting lightly clad semi-naked females the —Sigiriya Frescoes.
On a small plateau halfway up the rock, on the northern side, Kasyapa constructed a giant gatehouse and staircase in the form of a brightly colored sphinx-like lion thirty-five meters tall.
Through its chest, via an almost perpendicular staircase, was the final ascent to the summit of the rock. It is this feature, the Lion Staircase, which in later time bestowed the place its name Sīhāgiri — Lion Mountain (Lion Rock). We know it today as Sigiriya.
Abandonment of Sigiriya
Upon Kasyapa's death the royal capital was moved back to Anuradhapura. The magnificent Sigiriya Citadel was stripped of its treasures and converted in to a Buddhist monastery. Over the ensuring
centuries it was progressively abandoned and then finally completely deserted. Slowly it was consumed by the forests and disappeared into the mists of time; forgotten, a mere footnote in history.
In time Sigiriya became a grim and foreboding place. At dusk, clouds of bats sallied forth from their lairs into the night sky and wild animals roamed its crumbling pavilions, ponds, and gardens.
The beautiful Sigiriya Frescoes faded and fell away. The palace in the sky had long ago crumbled and been carried away by the wind. For centuries, no human set foot on its summit.
Rediscovery of Sigiriya
By 1815 the island was annexed into the British Empire. In 1827, a young British army officer named
Jonathan Forbes arrived for duty in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and was "immediately attracted to the jungle by the novelty of elephant shooting." Forbes had befriended George Turnour, a British Civil Servant, who had been deciphering ancient Sri Lankan chronicles. As a consequence he was
well aware of the fact that a lost city lay buried in the forests. While on an elephant hunt in 1831 Forbes stumbled upon the ruins of Sigiriya.
Forbes describes how he and his companions ventured through the thick undergrowth and clambered up the dislodged steps of a series of winding stairs that zigzagged up the side of the rock and onto
a walled gallery (the Mirror Wall). They proceeded along this gallery for about a hundred meters before, giddy from heat and
exhaustion, they were forced to withdraw. Forbes returned in 1833 to continue his exploration of the site, noting that the projecting rock above the galley "had been painted in bright
colors."The of course were what was left of the Sigiriya Frescoes. Serious excavation of the site commenced in 1895.
How Sigiriya got its Name
This area of Sri Lanka has been inhabited by humans since at least 20,000 BC. However we do not know what the place was
called before the time of Kasyapa. We don't even know its name during Kasyapa's lifetime.
An inscription from the tenth year of Kasyapa's rule, found at Timbirivava, makes the reference Maharaja Kasabala Alakapaya (Kasyapa King of Alakamanda). Two inscriptions attributed to
King Mahinda who ruled between 956 and 972 AD found at Vessagiriya in Anuradhapura uses the name Kasubgiri. A literal translation of this word would be Kasyapa of the Mountain. The
first authenticated use of the name Sīhāgiri (meaning Lion Mountain) occurs in the Culavamsa written in the 12th century nearly 800 hundred years after Sigiriya was abandoned as the royal
capital. The Culavamsa also refers to Kasyapa's palace as looking like Alakamanda. Therefore we can only say with certainty that the area was known as Sigiriya from about the 12th century AD.
The proper pronunciation of this name is see-gee-ree-yah.
Ruins of the Sigiriya Today
Sigiriya was the largest and most sophisticated single construction project ever undertaken by the ancient Sri Lankans. The ruins of the
Sigiriya Rock Fortress seen today are less than twenty percent of the structures that once graced the area. Most buildings were made of wood. Consequently, there is very little evidence of these
structures. Those built with stone and brick have survived the ravages of time and provide us a rare glimpse of the opulence and grandeur of an ancient era. Many ruins still lay hidden in the forest
and are yet to be discovered.
It is difficult for a modern tourist to comprehend the absolute splendor of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress 1600 years ago. Few ancient cities surpassed it for its ecologically-sensitive, grand vision
and aesthetic elegance. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning in the world.
Imagine this was a magical place; an earthly paradise of lush gardens, ponds, fountains, and brightly colored pavilions. Its centerpiece was a huge rock which appears as though it were a large
cloud tethered to earth festooned with a spectacular work of art, the Sigiriya Frescoes, which harked up to a Sky Palace on top of a 200 meter tall rock.
No holiday to Sri Lanka would be complete without a visit to Sigiriya - Kasyapa's masterpiece.
Historic References to Sigiriya
History records the magnificence of Sigiriya, only once, in these few terse words.
"He betook himself through fear to Sīhāgiri
which is difficult to ascent for human beings.
He cleared roundabout, surrounded it with a wall
and built a staircase in the form of a lion…
Then he built there a fine palace, worthy to behold,
like another Alakamanda,
and dwelt there like the god Kuvera."
Culavamsa CH 39 v2-4 (circa 1200AD)
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