Sigiriya: a kingdom on a rock

In Sigiriya, right in the centre of Sri Lanka, you’ll find one of the most impressive landscapes of the island: a giant and steep granite rock that rises from the surrounding jungle. Climb to the summit and let history and nature do the talking…  

Sri Lanka means ‘brilliant island’ in Sanskrit. It’s easy to understand why when you travel to Sigiriya. It’s a bit like the Uluru of Sri Lanka: people from all over the world travel large distances to see this giant rock in the middle of the savannah plains. Some say the rock resembles an elephant, others say it looks like a lion. Personally, I thought it had the shape of a hippo… Either way, it’s massive, it’s climbable and it’s there for you to explore for 30USD. The climb to the summit is long but well worth it thanks to the phenomenal view: 360 degrees of vast jungle, extensive gardens and if it’s not too foggy you can spot a river flow and a big white buddha statue in the distance. But it’s not just the natural phenomenon that draws people to Sigiriya. There’s the history, too.

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There once was a king named Kasyapa

A long, long time ago (at the end of the 5th century) King Kasyapa ruled the country of Sri Lanka. But to become king, Kasyapa first had to kill his father (who was buried alive) and ban his brother, who was in fact the rightful successor, to India. Once crowned king, Kasyapa was so frightened that his brother would one day return vowing revenge, that he built himself a fortress right on top of a 200 meter high rock, with 9 meter thick brick walls. His brother returned with an army and the king and his soldiers prepared for battle. Kasyapa went to battle on the back of an elephant but the animal was afraid to cross a swamp – Kasyapa had no choice but to turn back and when his troops saw this, they thought their king had given up and tried to flee. So, the soldiers from their part stopped fighting. King Kasyapa felt let down and killed himself with a knife. His brother Mogallan then became king and moved the countries kingdom to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya’s rock was bacically left to languish and today, all that’s left of it is the ruins of the once spectacular palace complex. The fortress was ‘redicovered’ later on and remains one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions today.

Sigiriya’s highlights

  • The pathway that leads to the rock. This is where you can enjoy the first view of the rock from a distance. Along the pathway you come across massive gardens that once were a part of the royal domain. You also pass one of the water gardens: an elaborate network of water pavilions, pools with pebbled or polished marble floors, courtyards and water courses.
  • The climb. It will take you 430 steps to get to the summit, with different plateaus along the way to get some rest. Make sure you have plenty to drink because it can get excruciatingly hot out here.
  • The frescos. About halfway up the rock, you’ll find 5th century frescos painted on the walls. Apparently these paintings used to be all over this side of the rock, covering an area of about 140 metres long and 40 metres high. Of those, only 22 remain.
  • The lion’s paw terrace. This is a plateau about halfway up the rock, facing north at the base of the ‘Lion staircase’: the gateway to the main palace on the summit. This entrance was built in the shape of a huge lion’s head: front paws, head and shoulders projecting from the rock with the open mouth serving as the entrance. Today though, all that’s left are the lion’s paws, but it gives you an idea of the immense scale of the whole construction.
  • The view on the summit. The pictures speak for themselves…


First view of the rock



It looks like a hippo, right?! The white dots in the middle of the rock are people…
A closer look
Even closer: the iron spiral staircase (built around 1938) that takes you to the lion’s paw terrace.
Walking to the fresco gallery
Even the people accustomed to the heat carry umbrellas and water bottles.


The frescos



The lion staircase with the lion’s paws still intact
The final climb to the summit



The pathway that we walked on earlier
I’m not the only one enjoying the view!




A giant buddha statue emerging from the jungle in the distance


Watching the sunset on the summit must be amazing – but going down the 430 steps in the dark isn’t… So, time to descend.

More info:  Official Sri Lanka Tourism website

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  • Tine, what absolutely stunning photos! You really captured the essence of the place. We truly loved Sri Lanka, and it certainly looks like you did too. All the best, Terri

  • Lovely shots, especially the landscape with the water – it looks like an oil painting. I haven’t made it to Sigiriya yet, despite several trips to Lanka. I’ve just got to get there.

    • Thanks Sarah, Sigiriya is a beautiful place, the landscape makes it easy to make good photos. Love your blog btw!

  • Lovely! I hopped onto this via The Hedonista’s tweet… I’ve been to Sigirya and this post just dug up a whole lot of good memory. The photographs capture the place beautifully:)

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  • Reblogged this on Walexmarceva's Blog.

  • breathtaking! Thank you for sharing these pictures 🙂

  • gorgeous place. have added it to my must-do on my srilanka list. you’ve bought history to the fore by enticing people like us with such stunning photo shots. congratulations on being freshly pressed and thank you for sharing this wonderful place.

  • What awesome pictures! So colorful!

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  • Very good shots. Thanx for sharing 🙂

  • Fabulous! What a great place for a fairy tale!

  • I got to go to Sigiriya in 2006 with family friends and it was one of the best experiences in Sri Lanka. The view from the top is breathtaking and the wind was just so powerful. It was amazing. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m so glad you enjoyed going there. It’s always nice to hear when people go to Sri Lanka they enjoy themselves :).

  • I really enjoyed reading your post. The photos are stunning.

  • R.

    This is such a wonderful post about Sigiriya—you captured the place very well! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed too.

  • After reading this, I’m sure to put Sri Lanka in my travel list… Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Sri Lanka now in my bucket list. Thanks for posting this!

  • writes: Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I enjoyed reading your post and will spend some additional time on your blog in the hopes of experiencing some more of your talented and “authentic” voice. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. It was fabulous!

  • Wow, great stuff! Helps me think of places to travel 🙂

  • Interesting country and good cricket opponents!

  • great great great place and photography!

  • Sounds awesome, gonna’ have to check it out one day!

  • The photos were stunning. I am glad I got to see them because of you. Thanks.

  • Beautiful photos! I’ve not yet been to Sri Lanka, but this place would be on my list. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed (& Viewed!)

  • Very beautiful photos!!! Just stunning.

  • What a beautiful post.

  • Beautiful! Great stuff!

  • Wonderful pictures – you’ve managed to really capture a place that is almost surreal. Congrats on being freshly pressed too!

  • It’s a beautiful place…I remember coming down with my kids and being aware of a ‘slithering’ just ahead…fantastically long and bright green snake was going sightseeing! Made the journey back down slightly more intense!

  • I am from Sri Lanka and feel so proud to see these. Thanks for posting them.

  • Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing.

  • What everyone else said! LOVE this post and hope to go to the caves in my near future. Thank you!

  • absolutely stunning pictures! takes me back to my studies in South Asian and Buddhist art when I was an undergrad student. I’m fascinated by those cave paintings. thank you for sharing!

  • That’s amazing…I was only looking at Sri Lanka the other day on the internet to travel there hopefully at the end of this year. Where did you stay at Sigiriya? Thanks for a great post 🙂

    • I didn’t spend the night at Sigiriya since it is situated right in between Dambullah and Trincomalee. Two great places to spend the night… Good luck with your travel planning!

  • awesome…

  • Reblogged this on Vtaylor and commented:
    Sri Lanka was amazing and Sigiriya was beautiful, this place will stay in our hearts forever.

  • hoping to land in Sri Langka soon… fingers crossed maybe at around 2015

  • theburningheart

    Great place, nice pictures!

  • Breathtaking! Would love to visit one day!

  • Brilliant post. You have wonderfully interwoven the past with present by recounting legend behind Sigiriya and the beautiful images. Images of painted frescoes are especially beautiful. Would love to visit here someday.

  • Wow, amazing photos – will have to stop through there next time I go to Sri Lanka. Thanks for sharing.

  • You tell a story with each photo,the more you look at each photo a novel is revealed in your mind.your work is exquisit. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  • Wow, nice photos! Sri Lanka is in my bucket list, I hope I can visit this year or at least early next year.

  • Amazing photos. And I must say I love the title of your blog. SO true.

  • wow beautiful country and beautiful photos!!!!

  • Reblogged this on legionMerc.

  • Thanks so much for this beautiful sliver of the world! I know relatively little about Sri Lanka, but already it’s high on my list of ideal travel destinations! Truly beautiful shots. I will definitely following your blog from now on!

  • It does look like a hippo. Thank you for the vicarious adventure.

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