One of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning, historic Sigiriya (see-gi-ri-ya), also called Lion Rock, is well deserving of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s located just outside of Dambulla, where we’ve been building for the last week. The site is fairly well-preserved and includes what was once a 3 acre walled city, surrounded by several moats filled with quicksand and crocodiles. The grounds were laid out in an amazingly organized way and include extensive gardens, pools, caves adorned with frescoes, and an incredible palace high atop the rock, from which Sigiriya derives its name.
All of this was built in the 5th century AD by then King Kasyapa, who selected the site for his new capital in the 5th century and built his palace on the top of the rock. The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king’s death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Today it’s the most visited historic site in Sri Lanka.
If you are able to visit keep a few things in mind.
- Consider visiting first thing in the morning before it gets too hot and too crowded. There isn’t a lot of shade. Take a backpack with a hat and some water.
- There are 2,400 steps to get to the top of the rock to see the palace. It’s a bit of a strenuous hike. There are restrooms at the bottom, but not along the way or at the top.
- Even if you are fit enough to make the hike, if you have a fear of heights you might want to reconsider. It’s safe enough but there are several metal walkways constructed along the rock face.
- When you buy you ticket ($30 USD) consider paying for an official tour guide. Our group was able to bypass some of the longer lines on the hike because we had a guide. Of course, there were lots of other tourists who glowered at us because it looked as if we were line jumping, but, in this case we didn’t mind the special treatment.
- Don’t confuse an official guide with the many unofficial guides who will take your arm and help you at every staircase in the hopes that you will pay them. If you don’t want their help, do not engage in conversation and keep walking, saying, “No thanks I am not interested.” Be to the point and eventually they will leave you alone. If you do welcome their services, they can be very helpful and it will cost you $20 USD, which is what they expect to be paid.
- Don’t miss the museum. I recommend visiting it after you do the hike. It’s informative and will give you a clearer picture of what the city looked like 1500 years ago.