In the 5th century AD, following a struggle for power between two brothers, an astonishing feat of engineering and construction rose to prominence in central Sri Lanka. Two brothers competed to inherit their father’s kingdom and, in the process, the then king was walled up alive by his usurping son, Kasyapa.
Fearful that his brother would return from India to exact vengeance, Kasyapa (who ruled from 477 – 495 CE) shifted the capital to Sigiriya – the “Lion Rock” – and in 477 AD began the construction of a capital city. In the centre, atop the pinnacle of rock, he commanded the construction of a fortress – and a palace – that would keep him safe from retribution. His “palace in the sky” was completed in 7 years at the centre of a terraced city served by a complex system of irrigation. A series of moats ramparts and water gardens — remnants of the ancient city — is still under restoration.
Kasyapa clearly had an eye for beauty. Partway up the rock are the famous Sigiriya frescoes, featuring classically beautiful women which may represent celestial nymphs, but were likely modelled on Kasyapa’s own consorts. The staircase to the Palace summit is guarded by a pair of giant stone lion’s paws – which are the remains of an entrance which originally required visitors to pass through the open mouth of a lion. On the summit are the complex remains of the ancient palace – complete with bathing pools – and a dramatic panorama of the surrounding city and jungle.
After King Kasyapa’s death in 495 AD, Sigiriya became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century, then it was abandoned. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Sigiriya is Asia’s best-preserved city of the first millennium. It is considered to be one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world with visitors recording their impressions in some of the earliest-known graffiti.