Lion Staircase @ Sigiriya

Greatly telescoping, by around the 4th Century BC or so, a significant civilization had sprung up around Anuradhapura, where he and his descendants are said to have settled. Sri Lanka has three major historical capitals of which everyone talks. Anuradhapura reigned for more than a thousand years; when the south-Indian Chola dynasty conquered Anuradhapura in the late 10th Century AD, they established their new capital at Polonnaruwa, to better watch for opposition from other Sinhalese kingdoms and bases of power further south. Though Sri Lanka’s earlier-arriving north-Indian inhabitants and the later arrivals from south India got along reasonably well for several hundred years, it seems that by the late 5th Century, when an ousted Anuradhapura royal prince returned with south Indian mercenaries to retake his throne, those with hindsight can see the beginnings of many centuries of conflict between the Sinhalese and various populations originating in south India. Polonnaruwa was retaken by the Sinhalese fairly soon, and ruled as the major Sinhalese kingdom on the Island (pretty much no one ever ruled the whole island until the British took Kandy in 1815) for more than 200 years. After that, Sinhalese power moved south and west, and before long Europeans powers started taking their turns trying to profit from the island’s riches (in order, the Portuguese, the Dutch then the British).

These huge lion’s paws are all that remains of a massive 5th-century stone lion through which one entered the highest precinct of Sigiriya. Only the bottom-most stairs, between the paws, remain; after that you continue now up through footholds hammered into the rock. Given how massive the paws are, it’s intriguing to picture how it would have looked and felt to have had the whole lion there, leading you right up to the summit itself.

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