Suitcase and World: Lion Rock. Sigiriya.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lion Rock. Sigiriya.

When I first saw pictures of Sigiriya and read the description, "a fortified palace built atop a rock", I couldn't connect the dots.  I got the rock part but what palace?? That was because the first image I saw of Sigiriya was the one that most tourists would see.....from ground level.

It wasn't until I saw the aerial image that it finally made sense. There were ruins on the summit of a very large free standing rock.  Flashbacks to Machu Picchu.  Amazing!

Geologically speaking, the rock that Sigiriya was built on is a hardened magma plug from an extinct and long-eroded volcano.  The rock stands approximately 370 meters (1,214 ft)  above the surrounding plain, visible for miles in all directions. The rock is sheer on all sides and in many places, overhangs the base.

It's thought that the name Sirigiya comes from Sie or See means *lion* in Sinhalese  and giriya  means *rock* in Singhalese.

Model of Sigiriya
Archeologists believe that the area around Sigiriya was inhabited as early as the 3rd century BC.  In  the 5th century AD, King Kassapa I (477 - 495 AD) constructed a fortified palace along with gardens, canals and fountains.

Legend goes that Kassapa I came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.  Fearing the revenge of his brother,  Kassapa I built his fortified palace atop Sigiriya.  Unfortunately, his retreat did not offer him the protection he thought it would and he was eventually defeated in battle after which he killed himself.  After his death, the palace was used as a Buddhist monastery until 14th century.

The bush covered summit of Sigiriya was discovered in 1831 by Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of the British Army, while returning on horseback from a trip to Polonnaruwa.  Although archaeological work at Sigiriya began on a small scale in the 1890s, it wasn't until 1982 that a real effort was made to recover the entire complex.

The Lion Gate is the entrance to the stairs that lead up to the summit of the rock.  At one time, a gigantic brick lion sat at one end of the rock.  The path up to the palace was via  a stairway that led between the lion's paws and into its mouth. Although the head of the lion is no longer there, the paws and the first steps are still visible.

The Mirror Wall is located part way up the rock.  It's a 3 meter high wall that is reportedly made of some sort of porcelain that is coated with a mirror-smooth glaze that was so well polished that the king could actually see his image in it as he walked alongside it. The wall continues to shine despite being exposed to rain, sun and winds for centuries.

Well preserved, the mirror wall has graffiti on it that is believed to have been written between the 6th and 14th centuries by visitors to the site.

The Frescoes are accessed via a spiral staircase from.  Painted on a sheltered wall are frescoes that Sigiriya is famous for.  The 21 female figures are collectively known as the *The Maidens of the Clouds*.  Archaeologists believe the frescoes were painted in 5 AD but no one really knows who they represent.  Some believe the women depicted in these paintings to be apsaras (heavenly beings) while others think they are noble women and their servants heading off to the temples nearby.

The paint used was made of various types of clay combined with different colors.  The frescoes, which are the only non-religious old paintings in Sri Lanka, were  restored by a reputed Italian artist named Luciano Maransi.

At the summit of the rock lie the ruins of the former palace.  I think it will be hard to imagine what it looked like. The gardens, on the other hand, have held up over the centuries and need no imagination to see.

The Water Gardens are built symmetrically on an east-west axis. They are connected with the outer moat on the west and the large artificial lake to the south of the Sigiriya rock. All the pools are also interlinked using an underground conduit network fed by the lake, and connected to the moats. A miniature water garden is located to the west of the first water garden, consisting of several small pools and watercourses.

In one of the gardens, two long, deep pools are set on either side of a path. Two shallow, serpentine streams lead to these pools. Fountains made of circular limestone plates can be seen here and they are still functional, especially during rainy season!  Underground water conduits supply the water.

Situated one level above the water gardens is another garden that has a large, octagonal pool with a raised podium on its northeast corner.

The Boulder Gardens consist of several large boulders linked by winding pathways. The gardens extend from the northern slopes to the southern slopes of the hills at the foot of Sigiriya rock. Most of these boulders had a building or pavilion upon them; there are cuttings that were used as footings for brick walls and beams.

The audience hall of the king was situated in the boulder garden, the remains of which are seen on the flattened and polished summit of a large boulder. There is also a five-meter long granite throne in this hall. The throne is carved from the boulder itself, and is not separated from it. Another notable feature in the boulder garden is the Cistern rock, named after a large, carved cistern atop it. A large archway, created by two boulders, provides access to the terraced gardens.

I've seen plenty of water gardens and fountains in my day but never a boulder garden so I'm curious how the one at Sigiriya looks like

The Terraced Gardens are formed from the natural hill at the base of the Sigiriya rock. A series of terraces rises from the pathways of the boulder garden to the staircases on the rock. These have been created by the construction of brick walls, and are located in a roughly concentric plan around the rock. The path through the terraced gardens is formed by a limestone staircase. From this staircase, there is a covered path on the side of the rock, leading to the uppermost terrace where the lion staircase is situated.

In the vicinity around the rock, archeologists have uncovered the ruins of over 150 villages and several  Buddhist monasteries. I don't what we can see but I'll take in as much as I can.  Really looking forward to visiting this rock....which as I have come to learn, is much more than just a rock! :-)