Come with us, as we travel to an undiscovered land of timeless charm, where history is etched into the very fabric of culture, and the rolling surf beckons across stretches of dazzling white sand. Smiling people and magnificent tusked-elephants roam the forested peaks of hills, while the scent of tea leaves are carried on the wind from plantations in the distance. Sri Lanka is a land of many splendors, some apparent, others hidden away like a sweet secret. Join us, as we uncover the little-known Eighth Wonder of the World, Sri Lanka’s Lion Fortress of Sigiriya.
One of the lesser-known archeological curiosities of the world, Sigiriya Rock Fortress has a name that translates literally to The Lion Rock, owing to its unique design complete with two gigantic lion paws that guard the main gateway to the structure. Located in the center of the country, Sigiriya Rock Fortress is elevated to a height of approximately 660 feet, resting upon a gigantic column of rock that rises up into the sky, dwarfing the forested plains below.
A Leonine Dynasty
Built over 1,000 years ago by 5th Century King Kasyapa, ruler of the native Sinhalese dynasty, the Moriya, the fortress once housed the capital of the ancient Sinhalese kingdom. While this may be the historically accurate retelling of events, Sigiriya fortress has been a prominent feature of ancient Sri Lankan and Indian myth, with a number of unlikely theories as to its true origins.
According to the Mahavamsa, a 5th century Sri Lankan epic, the Indian prince Vijaya was born as the grandson of a lion. The Lion Prince traveled to the island of Sri Lanka, where he married Princess Kuveni of royal lineage. This union is said to have birthed the Sinhalese race, a title that means “those who are of lions”. In the practice of ancient Sinhalese tradition, the lion is a symbol of royalty, leadership, and authority, being the mythical ancestor of kings. Other myths propose that the fortress was built at the hands of a demon over 5,000 years ago, after receiving express orders from none other than the Hindu Brahmin Asura (Demon) King, Ravana’s father.
After the fall of King Kasyapa’s dynasty in 495 AD, the fortress is said to have been converted into a Buddhist monastery and place of worship. Though the surrounding areas once housed the lively capital of the Sinhalese Dynasty, they were eventually consumed by a dense thicket of forested land, with the Lion Rock looming high above, an imposing sight to say the very least.
An Architectural Wonder
Often lauded as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Sigiriya Rock Fortress is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. A total of 1,200 intricately carved steps, many of which are bolted into the rock-face itself, are all that stands between travelers to the region, and an exploration of the beautifully preserved architectural masterpiece.
A network of elaborate water and boulder gardens stand sentinel at the foot of the structure. Constructed from massive rock boulders that stand in haphazard piles at the foot of the rock, the boulder gardens exist in a state of perfect natural contrast to the mathematically precise symmetry of the water gardens. Carved and notched with lines, the boulders once served as footings to support the baked brick walls and timber frames of the numerous buildings which once existed there.
Another prominent feature of the fortress is the galleries carved into the rock face, decorated with intricate, vibrant examples of ancient wall-paintings that harken back to the early years of the Sri Lankan artistic heritage. The wear and tear of a time gone by has left the fortress with a total of 21 surviving frescoes. These ancient artistic wonders often depict angelic apsaras (angels), celestial musicians and singers and court-entertainers and dancers.
Also etched into the face of the rock are a collection of over 1,000 individual items of ancient graffiti, scratched into the surface of the structure by pilgrims and monks who visited the historical site in the 8th to 13th centuries. For those who are drawn to the historical wonder of Sri Lanka’s Lion upon the Rock, a visit to the nearby Sigiriya Museum offers an enlightening window into the location’s past.
Have you ever visited the Lion on the Rock? Let us know!
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