Frescoes in Sigiriya

This post is about the Frescoes in Sigiriya. Sigiriya is a historical place in Sri Lanka that was once a royal pleasure resort. It is famous for several things, including its frescoes and mirrored walls. The frescoes depict female members of the royal court dressed as nymphs from heaven. Some say these figures represent Kasyapa’s wife and concubine, while others say they are priestesses performing rituals. Inscriptions and poems of those who came to Sigiriya as far back as the ninth century are displayed today. Visitors can see their names and other numbers scratched on the mirrored wall before the Sigiri murals.

Sigiriya frescoes
Sigiriya frescoes

The Sigiriya Frescoes

In central Sri Lanka, the western side of Sigiriya Rock is home to the famous Sigiriya Frescoes. The rock is a part of the UNESCO-recognized Ancient City of Sigiriya. A 140-meter-long and 40-meter-high gallery houses the frescoes. There used to be approximately 500 rock paintings on display, but now just 19 remain in a much smaller space. Next to the Mirror Wall, you can locate the frescoes. A highly polished wall allowed the king to see his reflection. Visitors to Sigiriya have left their names and comments on the wall since at least the seventh century. The Sigiriya Frescoes gallery is a no-photography zone.

The history of the frescoes, including when they were painted and by whom.

King Kasyapa I, who reigned from 477 to 495 AD, started the frescoes in Sigiriya. The paintings depict women from the royal palace as nymphs showering humanity with flowers from heaven. Some scholars argue that the women were priestesses performing religious ceremonies, while others say they were Kasyapa’s wife and concubine. The murals resemble those found in the Ajanta Caves in India and are painted in the Gupta style.

But they are the most lively, energetic, and uniquely Sri Lankan. The Sigiriya murals are the only surviving examples of ancient Sri Lankan secular art. The creators of the Sigiriya paintings employed a technique similar to pure fresco painting but with a slight addition of a binding agent or adhesive. Due to this, the paintings are more resistant to the effects of time and weather as they last for almost 1500 years.

The style of the frescoes

The frescoes in Sigiriya are reminiscent of those at India’s Ajanta Caves, painted in the Gupta style. The sensual and exotic beauty of the king’s harem, with over 500 concubines, is believed to have inspired the women depicted in the paintings. In contrast, the Sigiriya Frescoes are full of life and color and have a distinct Sri Lankan flavor. These paintings are all left of the ancient secular art in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya’s paintings were created using a method called “fresco luster,” which differs significantly from pure fresco since it also includes a little binding agent or glue. Their survival shows the paintings’ resilience after exposure to the elements for almost 1,500 years.

The Sigiriya Rock Fortress

The various structures of the fortress

Sigiri Rock Fort is a historic royal complex built by King Kasyapa I from 477 to 495 AD. The central region of Sri Lanka is home to the fort, namely the northern Matale area near the city of Dambulla. The centerpiece of the defense is a giant granite monolith 600 feet high. The shield includes several buildings:

Lion Gate:

The lion-shaped gateway to the upper palace of Sigiriya is one of the most impressive features of the fort. The entrance has the form of a lion cut out of the rock.


The king’s residence was at the fort’s highest point in the bastion.

Upper Palace:

The king’s audience and throne in the Upper Palace were located on a plateau behind the palace.

Lower Palace:

The king’s rooms were in the lower palace on the eastern face of the rock.


Fountains, manicured gardens, swimming pools, and even caves can be found in Sigiriya’s carefully crafted grounds. The gardens exemplify ancient urban planning, landscape architecture, building techniques, hydraulic engineering, and management.

Mirror wall:

The king could see his reflection in the highly polished mirror wall. Visitors to Sigiriya left inscriptions and poems on the wall, some dating back to the ninth century. Names and descriptions, as old as the 8th century, can still be seen by visitors today.

Sigiri Murals:

A gallery 140 meters long and 40 meters high has Sigiri frescoes. The frescoes depict the royal court ladies in the guise of celestial nymphs. King Kasyapa I, who reigned from 477 to 495 AD, is credited with commissioning and painting the paintings.

The similarities between the frescoes in Sigiriya and the Anuradhapura style of paintings.

Although the Sigiri murals have been dated to the Anuradhapura dynasty, they differ due to their unique painting technique. Here are some ways in which the painting style of Anuradhapura can be compared to the Sigiri murals.

Both these artworks may date back to the Anuradhapura period of ancient Sri Lanka.

Both styles emphasize the human form and use vivid colors in depicting stylized characters.

Mural painting techniques common to both genres are used.

The Sigiriya frescoes represent heavenly nymphs, while the Anuradhapura paintings depict Buddhist themes. Both styles reflect religious and mythological subjects.

The Lion Gate and Mirror Wall

The Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka is home to several impressive buildings, including the Lion Gate and the Mirror Wall. Some information on each is provided below.

The Lion Gate:

The Lion Gate is one of Sigiriya’s most impressive features, serving as the entryway to the palace on the mountain’s summit.
The lion-like form of the gate was chiseled from the rock.
Two enormous paws now stand at each end of a stairwell, and that’s all left of the building.
The steps used to go through the gaping maw of a crouching lion’s head.
The Lion Gate was undoubtedly a magnificent sight in any era.

The Mirror Wall:

The King himself could see his reflection in the highly polished Mirror Wall.
Visitors to Sigiriya left inscriptions and poetry on the wall, some dating back to the ninth century.
You can access the Sigiriya Frescoes, the Lion Staircase, and the Sky Palace through the Mirror Wall.
Ceylon’s Archaeological Commissioner, Senarath Paranavithana, deciphered 685 poems written on the mirror wall, which date back to the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries C.E.

The Gardens at Sigiriya

The gardens of Sigiriya rank among the world’s oldest designed gardens, thus constituting an essential component of the site. Water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens are the three main types of gardens, all interconnected. Some information on each is provided below.

Water Gardens:

The water features are constructed in an east-west symmetrical layout.
The outer moat on the western side links the giant man-made lake south of the Sigiriya rock.
A system of underground conduits supplied by the lake and linked to the moats connects all the pools.
West of the more extensive water garden is a smaller one with ponds and streams.

Cave and Boulder Gardens:

You’ll find the boulder gardens and a shelter north of the Sigiriya rock.
The gardens are planted and sculpted to seem made from natural grottoes and stones.
The gardens contain medicinal plants, likely used for prayer and reflection.

Terraced Gardens:

The natural slope at Sigiriya’s base created the garden’s terraces.
Several terraces emerge from the rock’s base, each with a unique garden setting.

Visiting Sigiriya and the Frescoes

Detailed instructions and suggested timings for visiting Sigiriya are given below.

How to get there:

Sigiriya is located in the Matale district north of Dambulla in central Sri Lanka.
Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport is the nearest airport, about 150 km from Sigiriya.
Visitors from Colombo can go to Sigiriya by cab or bus.
You can visit Sigiriya on day trips from Colombo and Kandy.

When to visit:

Sigiri Rock can be accessed daily from 7:00 AM to 5:30 PM.
During the dry months (December-March), Sigiriya is best for tourists.
When the dry season arrives, the weather is bright and dry, perfect for exploring the parks and climbing the mountain peaks.
The rainy season from April to November makes climbing the granite more challenging.
Sigiriya can get quite hot and unpleasant during the afternoon, so it’s best to avoid going there in the afternoon.

The rules and regulations for visiting the Sigiriya frescoes.

For anyone interested in seeing the frescoes in Sigiriya, here are the do’s and don’ts, including the no-photography rule:

Since 2015, it has been illegal to take photographs of the Sigiriya Frescoes.
Because camera flashes might cause permanent harm to the paintings, a temporary ban on photography has been put in place.
Photography is prohibited in the gallery where the paintings are placed, and visitors are not permitted to snap images of the frescoes.
It is also against the rules for visitors to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress to touch the frescoes or any other structural element.
Travelers must dress appropriately, covering their shoulders and knees when seeing the Sigiriya Rock Fortress.
Visitors must take off their shoes before entering the gallery housing the frescoes.

Visitors to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress should be aware of the limitations of the frescoes, the most important of which is the ban on photography. The prohibition is in place to prevent damage to the paintings from camera flashes, so tourists should comply with the guidelines to maintain this historic landmark.

Tips for visiting Sigiriya and the frescoes

Here are some suggestions for visiting Sigiriya and its murals:

Best time to visit:

During the dry months (December-March), Sigiriya is best for tourists. Bright and dry weather is ideal for exploring parks and climbing mountains.

What to wear:

Visitors should dress appropriately to cover their shoulders and knees while visiting Sigiri Rock Fort.

Visiting the Murals:

The gallery houses the paintings, prohibits photography, and visitors cannot take pictures of the murals. Additionally, before entering the fresco gallery, visitors must remove their shoes.

Rock Climbing:

Climbing the rock can be problematic in the midday sun. It should rise in the morning or evening when the temperature drops. It is also essential to stop and drink water frequently on the way up.

Seeing the Sigiriya murals and the entire site is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Following these suggestions, tourists can fully experience the history and culture here.


Ancient frescoes and mirrored walls are only a few attractions of Sigiriya, a royal pleasure retreat in Sri Lanka. The paintings known as the Sigiriya Frescoes depict women of the royal court as heavenly nymphs, and they are visible on the western side of Sigiriya Rock. Two of the most impressive features of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress are the Lion Gate and the Mirror Wall.

Sigiriya’s gardens are significant because they are among the world’s first examples of landscape gardening. You must inform visitors to Sigiriya about the limitations of seeing the Sigiriya frescoes, especially the ban on photographing. If you plan on visiting the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, do it during the dry season (December–March) and dress appropriately. By adhering to these suggestions, tourists can fully experience and enjoy the region’s rich history and culture.

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