A holiday in Sri Lanka is incomplete without a visit to the islands most popular attraction - the major archaeological site of Sigiriya situated approximately 170km north east of Colombo. Centered on the summit and slopes of a massive granite rock 200 metres above the surrounding plain, the ancient city of Sigiriya was used as a palace and fortress in the 5th century. This attraction was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, and is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world for its sheer creativity, ingenuity and beauty with regard to urban planning, architecture, engineering, hydraulic technology and art.
Sigiriya was established as a capital of Sri Lanka for just two decades in the 5th century, following a power struggle between King Kasyapa who assassinated his father for the throne and the rightful heir Moggallana. Fearing vengeance, Kasyapa ordered the construction of the fortified palace on the rock in addition to all the other elaborate features, many of which are still visible today. Eventually, Moggallana defeated Kasyapa, and the site of Sigiriya was reverted into a Buddhist monastery.
The structure of Sigiriya is breathtaking and exquisite - a series of moats, ramparts and gardens are spread out on two sides adjacent to the rock with remnants of the lower palace clinging to the slopes at the bottom. The mid level consists of the Lion Gate - remains of a giant stone lion's paws that guard the staircase leading to the summit, a mirror wall and remarkable frescoes featuring bare-breasted maidens whilst the remains of a fortified palace is on the flattened summit. The view from the summit is worth the climb - visitors are rewarded with a dramatic vista of the surrounding plains, jungle and palace gardens, complete with fountains that still function today.
Apart from the rock fortress, other attractions here include Thalkotuwa Wewa, the rainwater reservoir located south of the rock and Sigiriya Handicraft Village, where various traditional handicrafts such as pottery, leather products, silverware, coconut shell products and more are on sale.