Stairway to a Stronghold. Yapahuva Sri Lanka

It is the steep and formidable stone stairway that makes this fortress unique. The stone steps are narrow (in width) and are at a 70-degree angle reaching up to a height of about 92m (300ft). Although I am not scared of heights, I am careful climbing up because a misstep would mean an unnecessary tumble.

This is Yapahuva, another of Sri Lanka’s ancient capital strongholds. Initially built to serve as a military outpost for  Senapathi General Subhapabbota during the reign of King Buvanekabhahu I (1271 – 1284) its height and vantage point was useful as a sentinel during south Indian King Kalinga Magha’s (1215-1236) invasion of Sri Lanka along with 24,000 of his soldiers.

This fortress is built on a 90-meter high rock boulder, very similar to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Although ruins remain, it would once have been opulent and ornate considering the craftsmanship and detail in what is left.

The entrance is a fortified wall which now leads to a beautiful, lush, partially forested archeological site.

In the middle of this site are the remains of what may have been the Assembly Hall. The foundation of the parapet wall still remains with three separate flights of steps leading up to it.

There are several caves at the base of the rock one of which is a shrine with Buddha images and another with Brahmi script inscriptions. At the southern base of the rock there is a fortification with two moats and ramparts. In this enclosure  are the remains of a number of buildings including a Buddhist shrine and the Yapahuva Rajamaha Vihara built during the Kandyan period.

In 1272, King Buvanekabhahu I moved his capital from Polonnaruwa to Yapahuva until his death in 1284. This fortress served as his palace as well as a safe place for the sacred Tooth Relic, guarded watchfully as it was believed that whoever possessed the tooth relic had the divine right to rule that land. Following the death of King Buvanekabhahu I, there was another invasion of the island by the Pandyans of South India, during which time they took possession of the sacred Tooth Relic. Yapahuva was thus abandoned until later years when it was inhabited by ascetics and monks. The Tooth Relic was subsequently recovered in 1288 by King Parakramabhahu III (1287-1293).

Th sight of the stairway is very impressive. The stairway, divided into three flights of narrow and steep steps, (124 in total I think) were intentionally built to deter invaders from climbing up to the fortress quickly.

Along the way, are some amazing statues carved into the stone balustrade.

One of which is the Yapahuva lion, the image of which was used in the former LKR10.00 note.

At the top of the stairs are the remains of what would have once been an impressive doorway.

The view from here of the plains below is amazing and the photo options are plenty! This leads to an area which was once a temple where the Tooth Relic was placed. Two ramparts form a rough semi-circle and a moat as part of the exterior fortifications. The inner fortifications included a high stone wall circled by a moat. It is believed that the homes of the King’s subjects were located between the inner and outer walls, while the King’s palace, the Temple of the Tooth and other administrative buildings were located within the inner wall. Evidence of these fortifications are still visible.

We opt to climb higher by following a narrow path. Because it has been used frequently, the path is easy to navigate although steep. We reach a cave used by monks.

At the summit of the rock are the remains of a stupa with a pond.

Here too, the views are amazing, but the sun is scorching and the rock is heating up. It is time to descend.

Interestingly, recent archaeological excavations in Yapahuva indicate that during King Buvanekabhahu’s reign there were close diplomatic ties with China. During early excavations, several Chinese ceramics,  known to be some of the finest discovered in the island, along with a large number of celadon pottery pieces and more than 1,000 Chinese coins were found here.

Back down, we take some time to catch our breath and talk with some of the people looking after this archeological site before returning to a nearby restaurant to have our lunch and our return journey home.

Yapahuva is easily be accessible from Colombo and done in a day, which is what I did. This little chap with the plastic bag is not me!

Good to know:

Take time to explore. There are so many interesting things to see here

I found this very informative blog post on this amazing citadel here

Do not disfigure the relics or litter within this archaeological site

Wear a sunhat. It can get very hot up at the top of the rock

2 Comments on “Stairway to a Stronghold. Yapahuva Sri Lanka

  1. These relics are magnificent! Thank you so much for the telling of the journey and the beautiful photographs.

    • Thank you Susan. These are some of the places I will show you soon 🙂

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