According to inscriptions found in the caves which honeycomb the base of the rock fortress, Sigiriya served as a place of religious retreat as far back as the third century BC, when Buddhist monks established refuge in the locale. It wasn’t until the fifth century AD, however, that Sigiriya rose briefly to supremacy in Sri Lanka, following the power struggle which succeeded the reign of Dhatusena (455-473) of Anuradhapura. King Dhatusena had two sons, Mogallana, by one of the most desired and finest of his queens, and Kassapa, by a less significant consort. Upon hearing that Mogallana had been declared heir to the throne, Kassapa rebelled, driving Mogallana into exile in India and imprisoning his father, King Dhatusena. The legend of Dhatusena’s subsequent demise offers an enlightening illustration of the importance given to water in early Sinhalese civilization.
The Sigiriya rock itself is a hardened magma plug from an extinct and long-eroded volcano, similar to the Devils Tower in Wyoming. Archaeologists believe that this region has been inhabited since the third century B.C. King Kasyapa chose this site for his capital because, with the 360-degree view from the summit, it would give him an advantage if attacked. After several years, plans to create a palace complex on the top of the rock finally came to fruition, and the complex became a major palace as well as a fortress. The plans called for an upper palace on top of the rock and lower palaces at ground level.