Less than an hour by bus from Dambulla is this impressive WHS, so I went on a day trip. There was a lot of road resurfacing taking place on the route and all the workers were wearing hi-vis vests, hard hats and … flip flops. Including the ones with pickaxes. At least they were protected from falling coconuts.
Sigiriya (meaning “Lions’ Rock” in Sinhalese) is a huge flat-topped granite outcrop nearly 200m high. Caves here were occupied by Buddhist monks from the 5th century BC and it continued as a site of monastic activity until the 14th century AD. But the name, and the reason it is a world heritage site, are because of a short royal occupation in the late fifth century.
King Kassapa I acquired the throne by murdering his father and temporarily usurping his half-brother, the rightful heir, who fled to India to escape assassination The king, realising his brother would be back, moved the capital from Anuradhapura (subject of my next post but one) to Sigiriya, building a defensible palace on top of the rock.
The site is much more than a fortress though. It is approached at the base through extensive gardens, with ponds and fountains, surrounded by moats and walls. The site is most famous for a group of fresco depicting ladies with unfeasibly globular breasts carrying flowers. Quite who these “Maidens of the Clouds” are meant to be is not known; theories range from the king’s wives to celestial nymphs.
The paintings that remain are only a fraction of what was once here: 21 ladies out of around 500 originally. They can be viewed from an enclosed platform reached by a hilariously rusty spiral staircase. The first sign that this is not a visitor attraction for those nervous about heights, which I am not, much.
The site, and the frescos in particular, have been a draw for visitors for centuries, indeed since at least the eight century. Many of them left graffiti (much of it in the form of poetry; in the past people who mutilated things clearly had more class) on a structure called the “mirror wall”. This was a wall along the outside of part of the access path up to the summit, the surface of which was polished to such a degree that the king was reputed to be able to see his reflection.
Part way up to the top is a platform, from which the steps upwards were once entered through a huge lion’s mouth – only the accompanying stone paws remain. It was at this point in my visit that the heavy rain turned torrential and sideways, and a lot of very wet people came down from the summit. I sheltered for a while, but with no sign of it letting up, I decided to go up anyway, not wanting to be thwarted at this stage. So I went up the entirely unsheltered and not massively reassuring looking metal steps that are bolted to the rock face.
Despite my waterproof, most of me still got wet and shortly after arriving I was the only person on the top. Unfortunately I was also in cloud so only got very brief glimpses of the no doubt wonderful view over the surrounding jungle. But at least I got to enjoy the palace and garden remains on the summit in soggy peace.
This was a difficult site to render in Lego. I initially tried to build a segment of the gardens, but it didn’t work. So I ended up building a model of the rock itself, using aerial shots found through Google image search. There is a tiny blue piece there to indicate the water gardens.
It’s not great, but it was the best I could do.