The rock fortress of Sigiriya dates back to 473 AD when Kasyapa, the illegitimate son of King Dhatusena of Anuradhapura, fearing invasion from his half brother, built the impregnable fortress and on its summit created the ancient equivalent of a pleasure dome where he housed his harem during the rainy months. Located in in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, approximately a 3 hour drive from Colombo, Sigiriya, or Lion Mountain as its name means in Sinhalese, rises to 377 metres above sea level and stands at a height of 200 metres. Guides escort visitors on the climb to help with some of the steeper steps and to regale them with the history of the rock and macabre tales from its past.

The tour begins with the path through the water gardens which must have been spectacular during Kasyapa’s residence. One of the main treasures to be seen as you make your way towards Lion’s Platform, are the Sigiriya Damsels. These are the only non-religious frescoes in Sri Lanka and depict beautiful women clad in ornate jewellery, striking bewitching poses; there were originally some 500 paintings but only 20 now remain. The Mirror Wall at the foot of the frescoes is covered in ancient graffiti expounding the delights of the maidens by those who travelled to see them 1000 years ago.

The final 150 metre climb is through the lion’s paws and along narrow steps hewn into the side of the sheer cliff face with just a metal handrail for the illusion of support. It’s not a difficult climb but it’s best undertaken outside of the hottest hours of the day and vertigo sufferers may struggle. On the summit are the remains of the 5th century palace carved into red rock. The royal hand-cut swimming pool, the bedrooms which had housed 500 women who over-wintered here, the ‘dance hall’ and the throne hewn from rock on which Kasyapa held court. The views from the summit are across the endless, shimmering green canvas of jungle to a mountainous horizon.

Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+

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