The sight is stupendous even today: a massive monolith of red stone rises 600 feet from the green scrub jungle to accentuate the lucid blue of the sky. How overpowering, then, this rock fortress of Sigiriya must have been when it was crowned by a palace 15 centuries ago.
Sigiriya was no gloomy and forbidding fortification. At the brief height of its glory – a flowering of only 18 years – it was one of the loveliest royal cities that ever graced the earth. And today, it is perhaps the single most remarkable memory for visitors to Sri Lanka.Ruins of the fabled palace spread across the very peak of the “Lion Rock”, so-named, perhaps, because visitors formerly began the final harrowing ascent through the open jaws and throat (giriya) of a lion (sinha) whose likeness was once sculpted halfway up the monolith. Only gigantic paws remain today. Within a grotto on Sigiriya’s sheer west face, beautiful bare-breasted maidens still smile from incredible fresco paintings. Surrounding the foot of the rock, extending for several hundred meters, are Asia’s oldest surviving landscape gardens, incorporating lovely ponds around the Sigiriya’s plinth of fallen boulders.