#983 Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

If I had to pick my favorite ancient site in the world for sheer spectacularity (probably not a word), and for richness of journey in visiting it, I think the Sigiriya Rock Fortress in the plains of central Sri Lanka would have to be it. A volcanic plug with the surrounds completed eroded away, it is a sheer rock face to climb up. The easiest, most logical way is not the way to go of course -- you must climb a series of stairs up the sheer side and view the superb 6th century rock paintings of the "Sigiriya Damsels" (believed to be celestial nymphs called apsaras) and their accompanying commentary graffiti (from as early as the 6th century) before you're allowed to emerge onto a level platform half way up. There, giant paws of a now crumbled rock lion form the gateway for more stairs up to the top. On top, several palace ruins, sacred pools and reservoirs vie for your curiosity with traditional monks standing contemplatively with picturesque umbrellas. Perhaps a stop for lunch or a snack to view the vast landscape below to the temples and other sacred sites nearby.

If the rock itself is not enough, it is surrounded by vasts lanes of water and boulder gardens, terraces and ruins, showing the advanced architecture, engineering and planning of the time.
It originated during the golden age of Sinhalese civilisation, when the area was called Rajarata and it's in the centre of the "Cultural Triangle" which includes the two great cities Anuradhapura and Polonnoruwa, and many Buddhist relics, monuments, caves and other fascinations. Sigiriya was built around 477 by Kasyapa, who feared an invasion from his half brother Moggallana after he overthrew his father King Dhatusena. Later it became a monastic refuge, only to be retaken by the tropical jungle.  

Source: Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (9th Edition)

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