Built in the fifth century, the Sri Lankan fortress of Sigiriya or “The Great Wall” attracted the attention of British archaeologists in the 1800s.
Perched on a stone slab that juts out dramatically in the forests of central Sri Lanka, Sigiriya still appears as majestic as it was when it was first built by a notorious tyrant king in the fifth century AD. Also known as the lion fortress, Sigiriya (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982) is accessed by a walkway cut into the rock face between a pair of giant lion’s feet.
Over time, the fortress was later swallowed up by the forest, the entrance only familiar to the local villagers. However, outsiders still know the name of the fort thanks to ancient Buddhist texts. British historians traced Sigiriya from historical texts, and rediscovered the 19th-century architecture, frescoes and entire fortress.
The Sri Lankan epic Mahavamsa tells the story of Prince Vijaya, the grandson of a lion – an animal that is considered by Sri Lankan culture to be the ancestor of the royal line. The prince traveled all over Sri Lanka and married Princess Kuveni. From them, the Sinhalese (meaning “belonging to the lion”) were born. The photo above shows the remains of the Lion’s Claw Gate at Sigiriya – Photo SUPERSTOCK/AGE FOTOSTOCK.
Sigiriya was built by the fifth-century king Kashyapa I, the ruler of the native Sinhalese dynasty – Moriya. The majestic fortress served as the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom until Kashyapa was defeated in AD 495.
After Kashyapa, other dynasties have changed continuously, ups and downs over time and their destinies shaped by internal power struggles and conflicts between the native Sinhalese and the invaders from India. Degree.
There have been many other cities that have held the position of capital after Sigiriya, such as Polonnaruwa. However, by the 12th century, Sri Lanka’s overall control gradually waned. Sinhalese power gradually receded to the southwest of the island, leaving behind the region of Rajarata, and the old administrative centers, including Sigiriya, under which it also ceased to be used.
Sri Lanka’s position in the Indian Ocean makes it vulnerable to Europeans seeking to expand their control in the region. In the mid-1500s, the Portuguese thoroughly exploited dynastic tensions within Sri Lanka’s ruling elite and controlled much of the island.
Architect Su Thanh harmoniously combines beauty and utility, evident in the royal gardens of the fortress – Photo Dea/Age Fotostock.
A century later, the Dutch replaced the Portuguese as colonial masters, and they were in turn replaced by the British in the late 1700s. By 1815, the Kingdom of Kandy, the last independent indigenous nation together on the island, becoming part of the British Empire.
British imperial rule brought George Turnour – a passionate aristocrat, scholar and historian – to a land rich in history. Turnour worked with a Buddhist monk to translate an ancient chronicle from the fifth century, the Mahavamsa, from Sri Lanka’s Pali into English. Based on this and other texts, he identified two ancient capitals: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
Turnour also studied a later chronicle of Sri Lankan history – the Culavamsa, which tells the story of King Kashyapa. At the end of the fifth century, this Sinhalese prince killed his father King Dhatusena and usurped the throne. Fearing revenge from his brother, he built the fortress of Sigiriya – but it seemed to be in vain: His brother, after fleeing to India, returned, defeating Kashyapa, and Sigiriya lost its status as the capital in a short time.
The royal garden located in the western square holds the contrast, between the straight lines of design and the curves of nature – Photo Rober Harding/Age Fotostock.
In 1827, a Scottish officer, Jonathan Forbes, became friends with Turnour, and after hearing the story of Kashyapa and the palace, he decided to go look for it. In 1831, he set off to where the locals told him he would find the ruins of an ancient city.
His memoirs describe “the ruins are located in a far-reaching forest of the surrounding plain. When up close, the pedestals and galleries can be seen carved into the rock. Two of our party were Tried to open some roads, but the rock bounced off and fell among the trees at great depth below.” And because he was unsure whether he would find Sigiriya mentioned in Buddhist texts, Forbes abandoned the expedition.
British climbers finally discovered this place in 1851 by the survey mission of Harry CP Bell. His survey of the late 19th century formed the basis of all research since then.
Bell meticulously defined the layout of the city of Kashyapa as well as the beautiful carving detail on the lion’s paw at the entrance, which Forbes couldn’t see.
In addition to the elaborate water gardens at the foot of the rock, Bell’s survey also draws attention to galleries on the rock face. They are adorned with delicate wall paintings that have become one of the most prized objects in Sri Lanka’s artistic heritage.