Thursday, 2 February 2017

Sigiriya, Polonnaruva: Day 2/5

Jetwing Lake Hotel Dambulla

Worthy of mention here is this hotel which we stayed at for two nights. Unfortunately because we were out each day, we did not get any opportunities to sample its facilities but there is no doubt they are very good.

Jetwing Dambulla

This was the view from our room of the hotel grounds (the swimming pool is a constant 4ft deep)

View from bath

and this was the view from the bath(room) at dawn.


Sigiriya Map

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) is probably the most visited of all of the tourist sites in Sri Lanka. It is

  • a 200 metre high piece of rock on the top of which was built a fortress,
  • its sides were decorated with frescos,
  • on a plateau halfway up a large lion shaped gateway was built and
  • a town with extensive water features was built around the base.

The city has a rather blood thirsty origin and history which can be read here. Quite a good web-site about the rock can be found here.

Whilst most of the original features are now in ruins or simply do not exist anymore, it is possible to see the general outline of the town at the base of the rock, climb the rock to the top and see some of the frescos on the way.

Sigiriya A Side

Sigiriya B Side

The tickets to get in are quite expensive to buy (around £24) and they are a work of art in themselves. They have to be represented at various points in order to gain admission to the next part - hence the three numbered tags on the ticket.

Ticket Office 001

At the entrance is the largest set of “do nots” and warnings I have ever seen 

Instructions for the tourist

at any place we have been to. I am not sure anyone could remember them all and would in fact, be puzzled by some of them. The reason for the pair of handcuffs image will become apparent in due course. 

No Drones

Eventually, this “no drones” sign will no doubt appear as a formal symbol in the larger set of warnings.

Inner Moat

As a part of the defences of the city, there are two moats - this is the inner moat which was said to have been inhabited by crocodiles back in the days when the city was thriving. 

Miniature Water Garden

Most of the cooling water gardens are now only showing their excavated foundations

Water Garden

but a few ponds still exist. It is said that the fountains within the gardens were fed from a large reservoir on the top of the rock and when the city was built, the rainy season lasted 9 months thus ensuring there was an adequate water supply. 

Sigiriya from the ancient city

As we walked into the city, the enormity of the rock up which we intended to climb at least half way became apparent. It is around 1400 steps to the very top and about 700 to the Lion Plateau which was our goal.

Sigiriyia Close Up

Steps and more steps

Stairs Stairs 001

became all that we could see and we soon stopped counting.  

Bridge to Frescos

To get to the frescos and the top of the rock you have to walk across a walkway


which was built to replace the original steps and path cut into the rock face. 

Spiral Staircase

To get to the remaining frescoes which are in a cave in the rock face, you have to go up (and down) a spiral staircase. There is now a “no photographing the frescos” rule which is very fiercely enforced by staff within the cave. Whilst we were there, a tourist ignored the rule and was being interrogated and having her details written down as we left the cave. Our guide said that at best she would have her camera confiscated and receive a heavy fine. Apparently Sri Lankan law includes the death penalty for defacing ancient relics.

These pictures of some of the very beautiful frescos are borrowed from the Wikipedia website and hence I have not broken any rules in including them here as an aide memoire for our visit.

Sigiriya Wolkenmädchen 3

Sigiri Frescos 2


They are very beautiful and well worth the climb.

The Mirror Wall is another of the attractions on the cliff face.

Mirror Wall

Originally this was a polished wall (see here for details) and far more of it existed than remains today. Examples of the notches originally carved into the rock to support the wall (referred to in the hyperlink above) can be seen throughout the site

Notches in Rock

such as in this rock in the gardens down below which had some form of structure built on to it.

Mirror Wall Writing

The mirror wall has a lot of ancient graffiti written on it and more can be found out about it here.

The old city from Sigiriya

Eventually we reached the Lion Plateau where the view of the countryside below was quite superb. 

Two travellers

There were two travellers standing by one of the lions claws

Stairs from Lion Walkway on face of Sigiriya

and they told us that they were not going to climb the next 700 steps to the very top of the rock but were going to make their way down along narrow paths such as the above right, carved into the rock face.

Defensive Rock

On the way down, we saw an very good example of how the original inhabitants intended to defend themselves when they were attacked.

Closeup Sliding Rock

This rock is stopped from sliding / falling over the edge of the cliff by the rock piles holding it up. In a time of attack some rather unlucky slaves would be sent under the rock to hack away at the piles. When they collapsed, the larger rock would fall down over the edge crushing anyone below.

Sigiryia is a superb place to visit. We were lucky in that on the day we went there, the sun was hidden behinds the clouds. We would not have wanted to climb to the top on a hot sunny day.


Around 60 kms southeast is the ancient city of Polonnaruva which became the second capital of Sri Lanka about 1000 years ago. Information can be found here (scroll down a bit when the link opens). It is spread over a very large site and hence we only saw a few choice items.

Possibly King Parakramabahu

This is possibly King Parakramabahu although others think it is a Sage of the period.

Possibly King Parakramabahu 001

No matter who is correct, it is a very nice statue, beautifully carved and exudes a feeling of power. 

Royal Hall

Some distance away is the Royal Hall which apart from its obviously absent roof, remains standing in good condition. It reminded us of a much larger version we had seen at Persepolis in Iran many, many years ago. 

Royal Council Chamber Details

 These lions are carved into the second level freeze around the base

Walking Elephants

and these elephants form the first level freeze - everyone is different and they have been carved to look as if they are walking in a long line, one after the other. 

Stairs into Council Chamber

It is quite easy to imagine making a grand entrance into the Royal Hall by going up these stairs,

Stairs Detail

the sides of which have been carved to represent Dragons. 

Royal Pond

This pond is the Royal Pond and would have been a grand affair its day.

Royal Palace

This may look a bit like a pile of bricks but actually it is a lot more. It is part of the remains of the Royal Palace

Royal Palace 001

but significantly it is built out of sun baked bricks with mortar holding the bricks together. From an archeological and structural point of view, back when this was constructed, building something at least three stories tall out of bricks and mortar would just not work because it would collapse under its own weight. Hence the equivalent of a girder structure was embedded within the building with tree trunks. The vertical places for the trunks are quite obvious here and the large holes were where the horizontal trunks were embedded. Thank-you Andante for teaching me this on one of our archaeological expeditions with you.

Gal Vihara Statues

Nearby at Gal Vihara, are four Buddhas carved out of the rock landscape. Because they were entirely buried under soil until 1820, their condition is almost as new, albeit that they have lost their original painted colours.

Standing Statue

Above is either a Standing Buddha or possibly the monk Ananda (archaeologist argue about this),

Sitting Buddha

and this is the Sitting Buddha,

Sitting Buddha Head

close up it is possible to see how superb the craftsmanship is. 

Serene Buddha

This is known as the Serene Buddha and is one of the most beautiful pieces of carving

Recumbent Buddha

we have seen in Sri Lanka. 

Vidyhadhara Guha

Finally within a temple, is the statue of Vidyhadhara Guha. 

Apart from the site museum which we thought was quite poor in explaining the site and also for no good reason, had a ’no photographs” rule, there was far more to see here than we had either the time or the energy to invest.

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