“Don’t push!”, a young Chinese woman complains to the Singhalese family behind her. The atmosphere on the stairs winding up to Sigiriya Rock is aggressive by any standards, even for Chinese, who are used to a lot of pushing. It seems that on the Sri Lankan Independence Day, locals and tourists alike want to visit the Sigirya UNESCO site, one of the top sightseeing spots in Sri Lanka.
On top of the huge Sigiriya monolith, 200 m above the plain and in a stunning location, a palace-cum-citadel is perched. Only one set of small steep metal stairs leads up to the top, a bottleneck on a busy day. Until not so long ago, getting to the actual palace on top involved scrambling the rock surface on precarious ropes. Today, the rock is in theory accessible to everyone, but every single person has to climb these stairs.
King Kasyapa built the palace on top during the 5th centery AD, after he had sized the throne of his father. He walled up his father alive and unseccesfully tried to murder his brother (the rightful successor to the throne) to secure his new power. Afraid of revenge, Kasyapa then decided that he needed a new, safer palace, and he chose the Sigirya rock site as a new domicile.
The Harem’s Gallery in Sigiriya
Around 100 m up, after one hour of pushing and shoving, we reach the so-called Harem’s Gallery. There some frescoes of large-breasted apsaras (heavenly maidens) have survived the centuries. We wonder from where this ideal of female beauty came, as most Singhalese women today look quite different. Finally we can climb up to the palace itself, where King Kasyapa barricaded himself after killing his father. It took his older brother, the rightful successor, 22 years to defeat him, destroy the citadel and move the capital back to Anuradhapura (read about our visit to Anuradhapura).
Apart from some ruined walls and a basin, there is not much to see on the mountain top. Just when we arrive some hornets are swarming around, making it not advisable to linger too long. The way down was a bit more relaxed than climbing up and we also visited the quite informative museum. They do have copies of the heavenly maidens, but again, no pictures, (understandable for the originals, but for the museum copies?).
Is Sigiriya worth the 30$ entrance fee for foreigners?
In our opinion: No. But then, we visisted on an extremly busy day. Sigirya is certainly the most picturesque and the least intellectually demanding of the UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka. Most guide books recommend climbing the rock in the morning, when it is not so hot, but this (of course) is also the time when most tour groups visit. We would recommend a visit in late afternoon or, if you do not mind the heat, during midday.
Have you visited Sigirya? We are curious to hear about your experiences!
+++The trip was organized by ourselves and we did not receive any funding or sponsoring for it.+++