Little can prepare you for the experience of Sigiriya, the great rock citadel and perhaps the most remarkable of all Sri Lanka’s former capitals. The towering rock outcrop of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) is one of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular natural landmarks: a majestic, sheer-sided outcrop of reddish gneiss rising 200 metres/yds above the surrounding plains and embellished with the extraordinary remains of one of medieval Sri Lanka’s most remarkable royal palaces. The rock has long attracted settlers. A community of reclusive monks lived in the caves around the base of the rock as far back as the 3rd century BC, though it was not until the 5th century AD that Sigiriya rose to sudden and spectacular prominence in Sri Lankan affairs. The patricidal King Kassapa chose the almost inaccessible summit as the unlikely setting for his new royal palace, a courtly paradise of elegant pavilions set amid gardens and pools. The rock was transformed into an immense recumbent lion by the addition of a brick-built head and foreparts, of which only the artfully sculpted paws remain. The impact of the Lion Rock, as it is called, must have been awesome since even its remnants beggar belief. Kassapa’s palace in the clouds lasted just 18 years, though its remains have drawn visitors ever since.