Sigiriya Sky Palace A Heavenly Abode

Ariel view of Sigiriya Sky Palace

The crowning glory of Sigiriya was the Sky Palace located on the summit of the massive 200 meter high Sigiriya Rock. It was the geometrical center of the city built by King Kasyapa (ruled 477 — 495 AD) in what was then virgin forest. In its heyday 1600 years ago, it was indeed a breathtaking sight. Visible for miles around, the Sky Palace appeared to float above the treetops as though on a gleaming white cloud. This was innermost sanctum of Kasyapa's fortress. It is where, according to the ancient chronicles, he lived like the god "Kuvera in Alakamanda", the mythical city of the gods.

The Sky Palace served two purposes. Firstly it was a grandiose statement of the power and wealth of Kasyapa its builder. Secondly, it was a royal residence. Only the king, queen, and a small retinue of staff lived there.

This palace was mainly used during the hot dry season. Given its high elevation of nearly 360 meters above sea-level, it would have been a cool and comforting place. During the wet monsoon season, with torrential rains and high winds, the lower palaces were most likely used.

Related Article: Kasyapa — the king who built Sigiriya

The Summit

The summit is shaped in the form of an elliptical stepped plateau of about one and a half hectares, with a gradual slope along the long axis of the ellipse. This sloping contour is part natural and part man-made. The entire summit was surrounded by a stout brick wall built to the very edge of the rock, the footings of which are still clearly visible today. This wall offered protection from high winds and monsoonal rain. Painted white like the rest of the rock, it looked to a person standing below as though it was an extension of the rock itself.

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Consistent with the architectural style of the times, the palace did not consist of a large monolithic building such as that found in colder climates in the west. Rather the palace was a collection of open and airy buildings and pavilions set amongst luscious tropical gardens and ponds.

Given the susceptibility to high winds, the buildings were relatively squat, solidly built, single-story structures with low-profile roofs. Since clay roofing tiles would have blown off in windy weather, the roofs were made predominately of wood.

Prudent water management was used throughout. Rainwater runoff was carefully harvested and stored in large reservoirs and ponds on the summit. Excess runoff was channeled into a tank below the rock. When required, an army of water-carriers were employed to transport water up to the summit. (It has been suggested that pumps and windmills were used. But this is fanciful, as no evidence of these exists, and the necessary technology was unknown at the time). The sheer scale and the complexity of these structures have made it extremely difficult to ascertain the purpose of most of the ruins on the summit. The complex divides into three distinct sections: the Upper Palace area, occupying the high northwestern section; the Lower Palace area, occupying the lower northeastern part of the summit; and the Gardens to the south. The three sectors converged on a large rock-cut pool. A walkway paved with marble runs down the center of the complex. Limestone and quartz blocks were used for paving the stairways and passages throughout. Their light color and luminosity complemented the vivid white walls. They were said to glow in the moonlight


A small stupa occupied the highest point of the summit next to the inner palace. The stupa was placed at the highest point for both religious and practical reasons; having already built some of the tallest buildings in the ancient world, Sri Lankan architects were well aware of the devastating impacts of lightning strikes. With its metal-tipped pinnacle, the stupa acted as an excellent lightning rod, deflecting lightning away from the royal mansion. This stupa has undergone many transformations over the centuries. The core foundation, however, is from the time of Kasyapa.

Royal Residence (Bedroom)

The The royal living quarters were located at the northern-western end at the highest elevation of the rock. It contained a number of courtyards and buildings. A large elevated building with a single central room measuring thirteen by seven meters is believed to have been the royal sleeping quarters.

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Royal Gardens

In the gardens on the southern side grew various fruit and flowering plants, some of them imported form faraway lands. There are indications of successive reconstructions, but the earliest of these is clearly from Kasyapa's time.

Large Pond

To the southeast was a large pond measuring twenty-seven by twenty-one meters. All sections of the compound converged on this pond. It was obviously central to the summit complex. The western side of this pond was hewn from the rock and the other three sides built up with stone slabs and bricks. The walls may have been plastered. In this pond grew aquatic plants which flowered in various hues throughout the year. A number of stairways lead to, from, and within this pond area. For example, one steep staircase merely leads to a landing up one side of the pond. Possibly a resting spot for a swimmer.

Stone Throne

To the north just above the pond is a throne carved out of the surrounding rock. The seat faces east and aligns with the central east-west axis of the complex. It provided an uncluttered vista to the horizon. The post holes on the floor clearly indicate that a four-posted canopy was erected to provide shade and protection. A grooved channel was carved behind the seat to prevent water from draining down into it. Seated or reclining on this, King Kasyapa spent the evening watching recitals of poetry and productions of Sinhala theatre. It is said that some of the very first Sinhala plays were performed here during Kasyapa's reign.

Service Quarters

The service quarters were located at the southern end. There is also a flight of steps chiseled into the rock leading from the top to a cave on the western side. On the southeast corner at the lowest point were the lavatories.