Sigiriya Lion Rock frescoes - A view from our expert author

the sigiriya lion rock fortress sri lanka by erandamx shutterstockVisitors ascend the staircase to the top of the Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress © erandamx, Shutterstock

Fifth-century art frescoes adorn a side of this imposing 183m-high granite formation.

Just gazing at the Lion Rock will be enough for many people since to climb it is somewhat precarious. Only windswept foundations remain to reward the stout-hearted who climb to the top of the rock’s sheer face with the help of narrow, caged-in ladders that must be more than 50 years old.

Frescoes from the 5th century of bare-breasted women, acknowledged as art treasures, can be seen on the side of the rock. You reach the viewing edge by hauling yourself up an iron spiral staircase pegged to the rock’s face. The frescoes, shaded from the elements by a canvas awning and smeared with cement, look better on postcards than real life. A logo to attract tourists to Sri Lanka was based on the vibrant depiction of a nubile female found in one of the frescoes, holding a flower in a classical-dance gesture.

Sigiriya was a royal citadel for 18 years, from AD477 to 495. Its creator was King Kasyapa (473–91) who left Anuradhapura and built his palace on the rock, believing it to be impregnable. And so it was, but when his half-brother Moggallan (491–508) challenged him with an army, Kasyapa came down to the plains and, when he believed the battle was lost, slew himself with his own dagger.

The summit of the rock is nearly a hectare in area. The outer wall of the palace was constructed on the brink of the rock. Gardens and ponds softened the harshness of this eyrie. The pleasure garden on the western side was studded with ponds, islets, promenades and pavilions. Underground and surface drainage systems have been discovered, adding to the remarkable achievement of this management by man of a natural phenomenon. Since that happened more than 1,500 years ago, Sigiriya deserves its listing by enthusiasts as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

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