Ancient City of Sigiriya – UNESCO World Heritage Centre


Ancient City of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

  • Category: World Heritage Sites
  • Distance From Colombo‎: 175 km
  • Established: 14th century BCE
  • District: Matale
  • Drive Time: 3 h 40 m
  • Location: North Central Province
  • Availability: All Year
  • Txp: Van, Car, Jeep, Bus
  • Area: 5,100 ha
  • Best Time To Visit: May to August
  • Elevation: 180 m above sea level
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site

About Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

Dotted with natural caves and rocky ledges; which over time have been modified and integrated with other peculiarities created by man; Sigiriya in Sri Lanka was perhaps inhabited already in prehistoric times.
According to the most accepted theory, this rock formation had royal and military functions during the reign of Kasyapa (477-495), who had a palace and a garden built on the top of the site.

Moreover, According to this thesis, the king had wanted to make an impregnable residence after having deposed and murdered his father, Dhatusena of Anuradhapura. After reigning for 16 years, Kasyapa took his own life on the battlefield, following the return of his half-brother, who wanted revenge. After the 14th century, the complex was abandoned.

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The English archaeologist H.C.P. Bell discovered its ruins in 1898; in 1907 the explorer John Still, also an Englishman, continued the excavations. In 1982 Sigiriya was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Good to know
"Be Silent" in the presence of wasps. Noise may provoke hornet attacks.

Respect for the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka

Temple Etiquette

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of the majority of Sri Lanka practised by 70% of Sri Lanka’s population. Theravada Buddhism and religion have long influenced culture is particularly strong in the southern and central regions of the country. Before Visit, find out about these practical label tips.

Never touch or pat the top of a Buddhist monk’s head, including small children in temples. This seen as disrespectful.

Don’t take selfies with a statue of a Buddha.

Also, don’t turn your back on any figure of the Buddha.

Don’t share appropriate clothes when you are going to religious sites or temples.

Keep in mind that on full moon days, Poya (monthly) is not possible to serve or sell alcohol. Even in these days, no meat is sold in the markets.

If you have Buddha tattoos on your body, you must take care to hide them because it is considered disrespectful to have a Buddha image on your body.

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Sigiriya Highlights
The Ancient Rock Fortress of Sigiriya


Historical Site

Halfway up, an outdoor spiral staircase leads up to an extended covered gallery dug into the steep rock face. According to common opinion, the murals of shapely women with a narrow life would represent the apsaras (celestial nymphs) or the concubines of King Kasyapa. Sheltered by the sun in the covered gallery, the paintings are in excellent condition and have maintained the brilliance of the colours.

According to some more modern theories, these female figures represent different aspects of Tara, a bodhisattva who is one of the most important characters of Tantric Buddhism. By style, they are similar to the cave paintings of Ajanta, in India, but are distinguished by the peculiar interpretation of classical realism. No one knows for sure when these remarkable paintings were made, although it is unlikely that they date back to the fifth century, the era of King Kasyapa. The best light to admire the walls in all their beauty is that of late afternoon. Taking photographs is prohibited.



The spectacular hilltop summit has a surface of 1.6 hectares. It is believed that this was the site chosen by King Kasyapa to erect his fortified capital after murdering his father. Today only the deep foundations of the structure remain, and the remains do not appear particularly significant.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to be fascinated by the spectacular view that can be enjoyed from the summit and that spans for kilometres on the emerald green expanse of the surrounding jungle. At 30 m from the ruins of a dagoba, there is a polished slab of rock (the so-called “king’s throne”, which was probably instead of a place of meditation). The 27 m x 21 m basin carved into the rock looks like a modern swimming pool, although it was probably used as a cistern.

Mirror Wall

Historic Site

Beyond the paintings of Sigiriya, the path skirts the steep rock face, protected on the outside by a 3 m high wall. Once a smooth surface covered this wall (which is not the natural wall of the relief) like a mirror on which the ancient visitors felt the urgency to write their impressions on the women painted in the gallery above, or so the legend wants local. The engravings date back to the period between the sixth and fourteenth centuries.
The ancient messages are covered by more recent writings and, to be able to identify them, you will have to look with particular attention.

Here is a typical example of graffiti: “The ladies who wear gold chains on their chest enchant me. Since I saw these beautiful ladies, the sky seems less appealing to me. ” Another reads: “A deer-eyed mountain maiden unleashes anger in me. He held a string of pearls in his hand, and in his eyes, the rivalry towards us was read. ” Graffiti is of great interest to scholars, both because they testify to the development of Sinhalese language and writing and because they show how much art and beauty were appreciated at the time. Some signs discourage visitors from writing on the rock.

Royal Gardens


The lower part of the complex of Sigiriya houses some splendid and well-kept gardens, lavish in traditional water games, terraced green areas and natural rock formations that once housed numerous Buddhist temples. When crowds of tourists do not invade it, it is a beautiful place. Entering the site from the main entrance, you cross the water gardens, which extend symmetrically from the base of the relief and include ponds, islets with pavilions once used as residences during the dry season and ornate borders. 

A series of steps crosses some terraced gardens and leads to the western slope, to then climb steeply. The depressions on the sides of the boulders, similar to steps, supported the brick walls and the wooden columns. Particularly impressive are the rocks on which the cistern and the audience hall rested, but the whole area is entertaining to explore.

Cobra Hood Cave


This ledge located in the rock garden is so named because it resembles the hood of a fully opened cobra. The stuccoed interior of the cave was once decorated with paintings of flowers and animals, of which some faint traces remain. Generally, we pass near the cave going down from the height and going towards the south gate and the parking lot. Under the ledge, there is an inscription from the 2nd century BC, which indicates that this place belonged to the chief Naguli, who would have given it to a monk.

Lion's Paws

Historic Site

At the northern end of the hill, the narrow path leads to this great platform from which the name Sigiriya (from Sinha-Giri) derives, which means ‘Rocca del leone’. In 1898, during some excavations in this area, the English archaeologist H.C.P. Bell, who owes an extraordinary amount of discoveries to Sri Lanka, found two huge lion’s legs carved in the rock. In the past, at this point of the rise, a gigantic brick statue depicting a seated lion stood, and the final stretch of the climb began with a stairway that passed between its legs and crossed its mouth.

The symbolism of the lion serves to remind the faithful headed to the top that the Buddha was a Sakya-Simha (“lion of the Sakya clan”) and that the truths he enunciated were as powerful as the roar of a lion. The lion, of the fifth century, has long since disappeared except for the legs and the first steps. To climb to the top of the rock, you climb along with a series of metal stairs, but you can still see the original grooves and steps carved into the stone.
The lion, of the fifth century, has long since disappeared except for the legs and the first steps. You can go up to the top of the rock.

Sigiriya Museum


The museum includes a beautiful model of Sigiriya, which provides an excellent overview of the site and illustrates its cultural importance beyond the natural beauty of the place. Here is the theory that he has always hosted a Buddhist monastery, although the idea that Sigiriya was a palace or a fortress still prevails. The trade routes also illustrated.

What to See and Do in Sigiriya
Closest landmarks

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Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A Short History:

  • There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lankawith approximately 15,000 monks.
  • Sri Lanka was ruled by 181 monarchs from the Anuradhapura to Kandy periods.
  • Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 236 b.e. (cir. 250 BCE)
  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest tree in the world, and it planted in 249 (2268 years ago) BC
  • Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle includes three major sites that form a triangle. Anuradhapura to the north, Polonnaruwa to the east and Kandy to the south-west. Inside the triangle, there are other places of interest; Mihintale, Ritigala and Dambulla.

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Spiritual Journeys To Sri Lanka

Wonderful 15-day spiritual tour in Sri Lanka, bursting with cultural richness, many stunning historical landscapes and fabulous sacred sites with intriguing history. Commencing from Negombo, you will explore the former capital cities and discover more than 9 amazing ancient monuments and temples, such as: The Sacred City of Anuradhapura (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sigiriya rock fortress (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the incredible stone cave temple in Dambulla, the Ancient Kingdom of Yapahuwa, Arankele Ancient Monastery and the Mysterious Forest Monastery of Ritigala.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka?

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka? Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Sri Lanka, with about 70% of the country’s population as followers.

How many Buddhist temples and monks are there in Sri Lanka?

There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lanka with approximately 15,000 monks.

Did Buddha visit Sri Lanka?

The Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha) first visit was in the ninth month after Buddhahood on Duruthu (January) Full Moon Day.(1 B.E. or 528 B.C.)

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?
Buddhism came to Sri Lanka in the third century BCE. After the Third Buddhist council by Arhanthà Mahinda Thero, son of Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura.

How old is the Buddhist religion?

The religion is 2,500 years old and is followed by 350 million Buddhists worldwide.

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