Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
GPS: 7.9572516020273, 80.760036644959
Located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya (or Sinhagiri) is one of the most admirable natural and historical sites of Sinhalese civilization. Since the end of the 5th century, this ancient fortress has been based on a red stone monolith of almost 200 meters in height resulting from an ancient volcano. This big flat top rock overlooks a thick surrounding jungle dotted with caves and lakes. Meaning the “Lion Rock” the royal city of Sigiriya contains a complex of palaces, gardens and defensive systems of great archaeological value.
Built in just a few years under the reign of the self-proclaimed king Kashyapa I (or Kasyapa I from the Mauryan dynasty), the fortified city of Sigiriya is one of the best preserved ancient sites in Asia. In addition to the fortress complex, it houses the former private residence of the monarch of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and its court. It is one of the first monarchies in the history of Sri Lanka founded in the 4th century BC by King Pandukabhaya in the Rajarata historic region (north-east province of the country). At its completion, the new citadel of Sigiriya includes gardens, ramparts, ditches, ponds, fountains, swimming pools, white palaces, multicoloured pavilions and an underground irrigation system. Its dominant position at the top of the Lion Rock gives a clear view to go ahead with any external attack. Fitted out on several wall blank levels, a system of stairs, suspended walkways and a series of dizzying steps allow access to the site. They lead to a giant lion statue from which the impressive legs of the feline remain, protector of the royal city of Sigiriya.
The archaeological site of Sigiriya is also renowned for its remarkably well-preserved wall frescoes. Many of them represent women who are slightly dressed or half naked. They could be courtesans of the monarch (1,000 according to legend) or, more likely, celestial nymphs (apsaras). Following the murder of King Kashyapa I by his brother Moggallana, the city of Sigiriya was stripped of its richness before being converted into a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It is then completely abandoned and quickly finds itself overwhelmed by vegetation. Rediscovered centuries later, the ruins of Sigiriya were the subject of initial archaeological excavations by the British in the 1800s and were restored by the State of Sri Lanka in the mid-twentieth century. Only 20% of the ancient royal city of Sigiriya would not be visible today according to archaeologists.