The striking ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya looms high over its leafy surroundings. Smudged with vibrant streaks of orange and black, and jaggedly rising up 200 metres from the ground, it is easy to see why it was named for the mighty lion.
The history of Sigiriya is shrouded in legend and mystique, making it an especially fascinating site to visit. According to an ancient Sri Lankan chronicle, the area was chosen by King Kashyapa (477-495 CE) as the location for the capital of his kingdom. He built his palace on the top of the rock - ensuring it was imposing yet quite difficult to reach.
After the King's death, the capital and the palace were abandoned. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.
Sigiriya Rock is surrounded by beautiful gardens. As you walk the path leading up to the ancient citadel, you will pass gargantuan trees and peaceful rivers, with the striking shape of Sigiriya Rock looming ahead. The atmosphere is tranquil; while other visitors will be around, the area is so big that it's unlikely to be crowded.
The climb is relatively strenuous. While it only takes around an hour, it involves near-constant climbing of stairs with the sun beating down. With this in mind, it's essential to ensure you wear a hat, plenty of sunscreen, and take enough water to stay hydrated. Take it slow and steady, take breaks when you need them, and you'll be able to enjoy the breathtaking vista at the summit.
The best time to visit is undoubtedly early in the morning. It's a beautiful time of day at Sigiriya, with mist rising off the nearby lilyponds. While the site doesn't open until 7am, so you won't be able to make it to the top for sunrise, turning up early on means you'll avoid the crowds and will enjoy a much cooler climb than you would at midday.
On the way up, visitors pass the ancient Mirror Wall, built by the King, and decorated with graffiti from years gone by. Now an orange hue, when the parapet wall was originally constructed it was said to be so polished that it reflected the frescoes on the opposite wall - hence its name.
In a cave near the wall there are a number of ancient frescoes - mainly featuring nude women. Travellers can peruse these unique artworks even today. It is said that much of the scribbling on the mirror wall expresses admiration of the women depicted in the frescoes.
Around halfway up the rock, on a plateau, the King built a gateway shaped like a giant lion. Visitors will see the remnants of this eye-catching structure on their climb, with the huge paws still very much intact.
On your way up Sigiriya Rock, you'll need to take a number of breaks due to the heat and the difficulty of the climb. The higher you reach, the better these breaks will be, with the views becoming more scenic with every step you climb.
Look out for monkeys on your trip to Sigiriya - there will be plenty sat in the trees, and you might even spot some climbing the rock alongside the visitors!
At the top of the rock you will find the remains of the Kingdom of Kashyapa, with the remnants of ancient rooms and old pools filled with lilypads.
From the peak you can look out over the mystical landscape of Matale, on all sides of the rock. A blanket of luscious trees stretch out as far as you can see, fairytale lilyponds dot the ground, and jagged mountains cut into the skyline. The top of Sigiriya Rock is undoubtedly one of the best panoramas I've ever seen. From here, it's clear why the ancient King Kashyapa chose to build his kingdom on top of the lion rock.