A rocky mountain plateau rising some 660 feet above the relatively flat landscape in central Sri Lanka supports one of the country’s most significant cultural and historical sites: an ancient sky palace.
Atop this massive rock column, King Kassapa I built a palace complex in the late fifth century. Experts say less than 20 percent of the original structures survive today.
While for some it’s enough just to visit the onsite museum and glimpse the monolith from below, most visitors attempt to climb the approximately 1,200 steps to the summit of Sigiriya. Through an entrance guarded by lion’s feet, visitors ascend to Mirror Wall, a narrow passageway which now appears as an orange ring near the base of the rock. There, a smooth, lacquered wall reflects original frescoes of deities painted on the rock face opposite. Afterward, a not-for-the-faint-of-heart series of spiral staircases lead to more frescoes and to the final Lion Staircase, where visitors make their final ascent to the summit Sky Palace. All vantages afford much-needed breaks and breathtaking views of the jungle below. The summit’s terraced gardens and water gardens, along with the remaining foundations of early structures, leave everyone marveling at this remarkable feat of sky-high engineering.
Sigiriya is approximately 3.5 hours from Colombo by car and 2.5 hours from the city of Kandy. Many country-wide tours include visits to this UNESCO World Heritage site. Hot and humid weather can make the three-to-four-hour climb to Sigiriya’s summit arduous, so come prepared with lots of water and appropriate clothing.