Yapahuwa rock fortress.

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Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Top choice in The Ancient Cities

The steep ornamental staircase of this dramatic rock fortress is perhaps its finest feature, and once led to the Temple of the Tooth. One of the lions near the top of the staircase appears on the Rs 10 note. The porches on the stairway had extraordinarily beautiful pierced-stone windows, one of which is in the National Museum in Colombo, while the other is in the on-site museum.

The small museum is off a parking area about 300m before the entrance to the steps. On display are stone sculptures of Vishnu and Kali, some illuminating displays in English, and coins showing trade connections as far away as China.

Past the museum you wander through the south gate and the inner and outer ramparts and moat protecting the ancient fortress. From here you climb past the ornamental staircase to the rock summit and its wonderfully breezy 360-degree views. There are faint traces of the stupa and bodhi tree shrine that once stood here.

Back on ground level, to the side of the main monastery buildings, a cave temple contains some lovely 13th-century frescoes and images of the Buddha made from wood and bronze. You may have to ask the monk to unlock the temple with its giant key.

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