12 Fascinating Facts About Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka’s Iconic Fortress

Sri Lanka is home to many breathtaking attractions, but few are as impressive as Sigiriya Rock. Here are 12 facts about Sigiriya Rock to bring you up to speed on it.

Sigiriya Rock is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. It’s one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, and it’s easy to see why…

This 200-meter-tall, flat-topped granite monolith cuts an imposing silhouette in an already breathtaking landscape. The highest point for miles, it towers above verdant terrain, rising like a striped skyscraper from the lush forests below.

Yet Sigiriya Rock is more than just a geological marvel. At its summit lie the ruins of an ancient palace that’s over 1,500 years old. And you can climb to the top to explore them.

Want to learn more about this remarkable site? These 12 fascinating facts about Sigiriya Rock should help.

Sigiriya rock rises from lush forest, glowing in the setting sun.
Sigiriya Rock in all its glory. Photo Credit:Binuka poojan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Sigiriya means “Lion Rock.”

As you ascend Sigiriya, you come to a point where you pass between two huge paws carved into the rock. They remain impressive today, but once upon a time, they were part of a giant gateway shaped like a lion. It led up to the summit and the palace itself.

2. Its citadel was built by King Kasyapa.

King Kasyapa ruled between 477 and 495 A.D., and he didn’t just decide to build his Sigiriya citadel for fun. Having seized the throne from King Dhatusena (his father), he fled the previous capital and chose this location to serve as the new one. He picked the unique vantage point for his palace because he was worried about attacks from his brother – the rightful heir.

3. 1,200 steps lead to the top.

Climbing to the top of Sigiriya Rock is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. But it takes some doing. A series of staircases leads you to the summit, some of which feel quite exposed. A reasonable degree of fitness and a head for heights both come in handy.

4. 1 million people visit every year.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982, Sigiriya Rock is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous landmarks. Its history, architecture, aesthetic appeal, and novelty factor attract people to it from around the globe.

5. It was once covered in colorful frescoes.

One of the main sights midway up Sigiriya Rock is an array of ancient frescoes adorning a sheltered “gallery” on the rockface. They’re beautiful, colorful depictions of semi-clad women – potentially King Kasyapa’s own concubines.

While only a few of the paintings remain today, they’re thought to have covered this entire face of Sigiriya Rock in the past.

Two of the frescoes located midway up Sigiriya Rock. Photo Credit: Prof Ranga Sai, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. One of the walls acted like a mirror

Below the frescoes (and the rickety spiral staircase leading to them), you pass another special feature: the Mirror Wall. Built from brick, it clings to the side of Sigiriya Rock, flanking the staircase. In the past, it would have been covered in highly polished white plaster. Apparently, the king wanted to see his own reflection.

None of that reflective surface remains, but you can see scribbles on its surface that date back hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years.

7. It’s been inhabited since prehistoric times.

King Kasyapa wasn’t the first person to set his sights on Sigiriya Rock. There’s evidence in nearby caves that people have lived here far longer. Inscriptions on local caves suggest Buddhist monks and ascetics could have been there as early as the 3rd century B.C. The earliest evidence of habitation in the area dates to 5,000 years ago.

8. The top was (and still is) incredible

While it was definitely an effective fortress against attack, the palace on top may also have functioned as the king’s “pleasure palace.” Regardless, it’s hailed as an incredible example of ancient urban planning, with opulent buildings, terraces, pools, and gardens.

9. The engineering was ahead of its time

Pleasure palace or not, Sigiriya Rock and the gardens at its base display evidence of advanced engineering. For example, an intricate water system funneled rainwater that collected in pools at the top to the gardens below.

10. Sigiriya Rock became a monastery

King Kasyapa died in 495 A.D. after being defeated in battle by his brother, Moggallana. From that point on, the capital and palace were abandoned, and the site served as a Buddhist monastery. It remained that way until the circa 14th century.

11. People almost forgot about it

Sigiriya Rock was supposedly swallowed by the jungle after it stopped serving as a Buddhist monastery. It remained that way for hundreds of years – known to locals and remembered in Buddhist texts but largely forgotten about.

12. It was rediscovered by a British Army major

Fast forward to 1831, and Jonathan Forbes, a Major in the British Army, is riding his horse through the area on his way back from Polonnaruwa, a city in central Sri Lanka. On the way, he stumbled upon the jungle-covered summit of Sigiriya. It’s been known to the wider world ever since.

Remember These Facts About Sigiriya Rock

There’s so much more I could write about this incredible Sri Lankan tourist attraction. However, hopefully, these facts about Sigiriya Rock have provided a solid overview of the site and whetted your appetite to see it for yourself.

As you can tell, it’s a sublime travel destination and a prime example of what Sri Lanka has to offer! From its historical intrigue to its sheer beauty, Lion Rock isn’t one to miss.

Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.