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Built on a sheer-sided volcanic plug rising 200 metres above the surrounding jungle, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress is possibly Sri Lanka’s most impressive attraction. Known also as the “Lion’s Rock”, it is one of the island’s seven UNESCO Heritage sites, featuring extensive gardens, stairways, galleries, caves and other structures.

According to the Sri Lankan Chronicles, Sigiriya was the fortress-palace built by King Kassapa I in the late 5th century. Kassapa put his father to death in a rebellion and fearing the revenge of his brother, abandoned Anuradhapura as his capital and built this fortress to protect himself. Nonetheless, he ultimately committed suicide during a battle with theinvading forces of his brother.

However, a more recent school of thought suggests that Sigiriya was not a fortress or a palace, but a great Mahayana monastic complex. Inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE found in the caves surrounding the area indicate the presence of ascetic monks, and it is possible that Sigiriya became a branch of the Abhayagiri Vihara and continued to function as a monastery for hundreds of years.


Island of Light by T Y Lee