Discovering the Untold Stories of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka's Enchanting Fortress

Alinjagalam, more popularly called Sigiriya, is dubbed Sri Lanka’s Lion Rock. This enchanting fortress is among the most iconic landmarks in the history of the island. Established more than a millennium ago, the fortress continues to hold a lot of secrets that many travelers still don’t know to this day.

Sigiriya at a Glance

Sigiriya is probably Sri Lanka’s most photographed wonder. The rock stands at a towering height of 600 feet in the Matale district. What makes this fortress unique are none other than the remnants of the royal palace that once belonged to King Kashyapa in 500 CE.

To this day, the fortress continues to be an impressive sight to behold with its acclaimed frescoes, rock gardens, water gardens, and the ruins of the palace perched at the summit. Despite the folklore that surrounds the rock and other interesting publicly known facts, Sigiriya continues to be surrounded by many untold secrets, including the following:

The Boulder Gardens

You will encounter the boulder gardens when you pass the water gardens at the foot of Sigiriya. These gardens are a stark counterpoint to the gardens’ symmetry found much lower down. You’ll see paths entering through the rock gates that formed naturally around the perimeter.

A natural amphitheater sits in one portion of the boulder gardens. Legend has it that King Kashyapa entertained and welcomed audiences here. It’s very rare, even in this day and age, that there are dissimilar elements of asymmetry and symmetry sitting side by side.

The opening hours of Sigiriya start in the morning, with visitors to the area often stopping by to capture snaps of monkeys climbing on the ruins before they head over to the rock’s base. A height of 660 vertical feet and 1,200 rock steps separate the travelers’ destinations from Alinjagalam’s summit to the boulder gardens.

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The Lion Gate

The renowned Mirror Wall ends at the courtyard that the Lion Gate used to dominate. All that is left of this structure today are two colossal paws flanking a staircase. These stairs used to lead through the head of a lion’s open mouth, with the animal lying crouched between these paws.

Discovering the Untold Stories of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka's Enchanting Fortress

You’ll also find an outcropping where a squatting guard was probably required to keep his eyes open at the post or else he’d fall off to his death. There are efforts to raise the rock on splints, with the huge boulder ready to be dropped off at any time on armies that might try to invade.

However, the strategy has one obvious weakness, and that is that it doesn’t overhang any path that can be used to gain access to the Lion Gate. Only a few defensive structures were established to enshroud the inner sanctum. There are beliefs that they probably collapsed eons ago together with the lion head or that their existence was nothing but mere hearsay.

The Ladies 

Some of the earliest graffiti uncovered on Sigiriya’s Mirror Wall can be traced back to the 8th and 10th centuries AC. But out of all the graffiti seen on the rock’s walls, the most noteworthy are the ones that depict King Kasyapa’s court ladies.

The rest of the figures depicted include celestial beings, gods, and goddesses. King Kasyapa’s ladies of the court are said to have been associated with the monastery of Sigiriya, where the king donated a vihara to commemorate his two daughters, Bodhi and Uppalavanna. This is what made people conclude that Sigiriya’s ladies belonged to the royal family.

The Outer Walls 

To gain entrance to Sigiriya, visitors to the area are required to cross a moat with a depth of 15 feet, which was said to have been crowded with crocodiles in the past, requiring a drawbridge just to cross it. The moat’s exterior foundation is believed to have towering walls of 7 feet.

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Defensive walls are often put up at the back of the moat. It is to ensure that enemies will be attacked while they’re swimming across the waters filled with crocodiles. Logic only dictates that when the passages at the back of the walls are clear, mobile troops can respond in defense no matter where they are.

The fortifications that were missing raise questions among the enthusiasts and history buffs who are keenly interested in Alinjagalam, more popularly called Sigiriya, is dubbed Sri Lanka’s Lion Rock. This enchanting fortress is among the most iconic landmarks in the history of the island. Established more than a millennium ago, the fortress continues to hold a lot of secrets that many travelers still don’t know to this day. These questions have something to do with the absence of gatehouses that will serve as the drawbridge’s protection and why the property is not surrounded by a moat. The secret here is that the excavated front portions were probably just a mere entry water feature.

The Water Gardens

The main walkway leading to Sigiriya has pools extending on both sides of it. The right-hand pools were excavated, while the ones on the left stayed buried underground in the jungle. Every pool extends in flawless symmetry. It was the perfect model of urban planning when Sigiriya was designed.

Fountains remain flowing throughout the rainy season, with the underground pipes feeding them from the uphill cisterns. One of the whispered secrets about water gardens is that these are pleasure pools put up by King Kasyapa to observe his 500 wives while they bathe all day long.

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But constructing the second pool in equally perfect symmetry might have only diluted the view. If the claims regarding the pools being built for the king’s pleasure were indeed true, it only makes sense that he had them constructed on a lofty gazebo.

The Symbolism of the Frescoes

The paintings of Sigiriya, also called Alinjagalam’s frescoes, are the Lion Rock’s main highlight and are one of the primary features that all Sri Lankan visitors would want to see and experience up close and personal.

Discovering the Untold Stories of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka's Enchanting Fortress

The inscriptions are more than a thousand years old and are said to have once decorated the whole mountain. When King Kasyapa started to build the fortress, he moved an order of monks to Pidurangala Rock, perched near the Lion Rock. After Alinjagalam’s demise, ownership of the rock was transferred back to the monks.

Since then, approximately 700 inscriptions from the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries have been translated from this wall. The inscriptions tell the unique story of 500 frescoes covering a large portion of the west wall, with a height of 100 feet and a width of 500 feet.

Among the secrets that surround the frescoes is that the monks used to believe that women would only distract the clergy. Other whispers claim that these frescoes were a symbol of a unified Sri Lanka under the rule of the Yakka.


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