Perched on a slab of rock that juts dramatically over the forests of central Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is as imposing a sight now as it must have been when it was first built by a fierce king in the fifth century A.D. Meaning “lion’s rock,” Sigiriya (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982) is accessed by way of passageways cut into the rock face between a monumental pair of lion paws.
The fortress was later swallowed by the forest, and only familiar to local villagers. Outsiders used knowledge of its past, preserved in Buddhist texts, to search for the ancient site. British historians rediscovered its astonishing buildings and frescoes in the 19th century.
Sigiriya was built by the fifth-century king Kashyapa I, who ruled the native Sinhalese dynasty, the Moriya. The imposing fortress was the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom until Kashyapa was defeated in A.D. 495. (Watch: An ancient palatial fortress overlooks this barren desert in Israel.)