Forts in Sri Lanka

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Forts and fortifications in Sri Lanka date back thousands of years with many being built by Sri Lankan Kings, these include several walled cities. With the out set of colonial rule in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka was occupied by several major colonial empires that from time-to-time became the dominant power in the Indian ocean. The colonists built several western styled forts, mostly in and round the cost of the island. The first to build colonial forts in Sri Lanka were the Portuguese, these forts were captured and later expanded by the Dutch. The British occupied these Dutch forts during the Napoleonic wars.

Most of colonial forts were garrisoned up until the early 20th century. The coastal forts had coastal artillery manned by the Ceylon Garrison Artillery during the two world wars. Most of these were abandoned by the military, but retained civil administrative officers, while others retained military garrisons, which were more administrative than operational. Some were reoccupied by military units with the escalation of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Jaffna fort for example came under siege several times.

Ancient forts[edit]

Image Name Founded Abandoned Location Condition Controlled by Type Notes
Vijithapura 5th Century BC
Anuradhapura Kingdom
Central Province Fortress City [N 1][1]
Sigiriya.jpg Sigiriya 5th Century
by Kashyapa I
495 CE Dambulla, Central Province Ruined Government of Sri Lanka Citadel [N 2]
Mapagala fortress Central Province [N 3]
Balana fort Balana, Central Province
Sitawaka fort Avissawella, Western Province

Colonial forts[edit]

Portuguese forts[edit]

Image Name Founded Abandoned Location Condition Controlled by Type Notes
Colombo fort 1518, 1554 1524, 1870 Colombo fort, Western Province Destroyed - Defence
Fort Fredrick05.jpg Fort Fredrick 1624 - Trincomalee, Eastern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 4]
Batticaloa Portuguese (dutch) fort.jpg Batticaloa fort 1628 Batticaloa, Eastern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 5]
Arandora fort Narangoda, North Western Province Destroyed - Defence [N 6]
Arippu fort Arippu, Northern Province Ruins Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 7]
Delft Island fort Neduntheevu, Northern Province Ruins Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 8]
Elephant Pass fort 1776 Elephant Pass, Northern Province Destroyed - Defence [N 9]
GalleAerialView.jpg Galle fort 1588 - Galle, Southern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence
Haldummulla fort Haldummulla, Uva Ruins Government of Sri Lanka Defence
Hammanheil Fort.JPG Fort Hammenheil 1618 Jaffna Peninsula, Northern Province Destroyed Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 10]
Ruins of Dutch Fort 1, Jaffna.jpg Jaffna fort 1618 Jaffna, Northern Province Destroyed Government of Sri Lanka Star fort
Kalutara fort
Main article: Kalutara fort

The Portuguese first built a fort in Kalutara and was surrendered to the Dutch in 1655 without a shot being fired; it was later enlarged by the conquering Dutch with the addition two bastions. Very little of it remains today.[2]

Kayts Island fort
Main article: Kayts Island fort

Kayts Island Fort, also known as Urundai Fort, was built by the Portuguese in 1629 and was abandoned in 1651. In the late 1600’s, the Dutch took control of the fort however they did not undertake any renovations, unlike many of the other former Portuguese forts. The fort is horseshoe shaped with four circular bastions, built to protect the Jaffna Peninsula.

Mannar fort
Main article: Mannar fort

Built on the island of Mannar by the Portuguese in 1560, it surrendered to the Dutch on 22 February 1658 and was rebuilt by the Dutch in 1696. On 5 October 1795 the Dutch surrendered to the British. The fort has four bastions and it’s still in good condition.

Matara fort
Main article: Matara fort

The fort was built by the Portuguese about 1550 but the actual fort was built by the Dutch when they took Matara, after the capture of Galle. The remains of the fort are in good preservation.

Menikkadawara fort
Main article: Menikkadawara fort

Menikkadawara fort was built by Portuguese in 1599 with the intention of operations against Kandyan forces. It was not major fort, but it had strategical important. Dutch map indicates it as "Tontotte fort".

Negombo fort
Main article: Negombo fort

A small but important fort in the town of Negombo, north of Colombo was built by the Portuguese to defend Colombo. In 1640 the Dutch destroyed it and rebuilt it not on the usual square pattern, but on a pentagonal one, though it had only four bulwarks. The fort was located on a narrow strip of land between a lagoon and an inlet of the sea. It was surrounded by moats, and the gate was accessed via a drawbridge. The English occupied it in 1796. Today only part of the walls and an arched gateway remains of the fort. It is used as a prison by the Department of Prisons.

Pooneryn fort
Main article: Pooneryn fort

Built in the Pooneryn area of north portion of the island first by the Portuguese to protect its possessions in Jaffna, it was expanded by the Dutch till in 1770 it was recorded that it was square shaped with two bastions at opposite corners; the rampart on each of the sides was about 30 metres and was garrisoned till the late 18th century. The British built a rest house in 1805. Since 1983 due to the civil war it was garrisoned by the Sri Lankan Army till it withdrew from the Pooneryn area in 1991; and recaptured in 2009. Ruins of the fort remains, however in bad condition.[3]

Ratnapura fort

The fort was built by the Portuguese, between 1618 and 1620, in Ratnapura. It was later captured and destroyed by the Kandyan king Kirti Sri Rajasinha.

Ruwanwella fort
Main article: Ruwanwella fort

It was originally built as stockade in the 1590s by the Portuguese; however, the Dutch, in 1665, built a wooden fort. The British, in 1817, built a new fort with two bastions and used as an outpost. Today it remains in good condition and houses a police station.

Hanwella fort
Main article: Hanwella fort

The original fort was built by the Portuguese in 1957, at Hanwella. The fort was subsequently captured by the Dutch, who constructed a larger fort. In 1786 it fell under the British rule and fell into disrepair. The site is currently occupied by the Hanwella Rest House and the ruins of the fort can still be identified.

Dutch forts[edit]

Image Name Founded Abandoned Location Condition Controlled by Type Notes
Hammanheil Fort.JPG Fort Hammenheil 1618 - Jaffna Peninsula, Northern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence
Koddiyar fort 1622 Muttur, Eastern Province Destroyed Defence
Katuwana Fort 1646 - Katuwana, Southern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence
Kalpitiya fort 1667-76 - Kalpitiya, North Western Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 11]
Mullaitivu fort 1715 Mullaitivu, Northern Province Destroyed Defence [N 12]
Star fort 1763-65 - Matara, Southern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence
Fort Ostenburg Trincomalee, Eastern Province Ruins Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 13]
Point Pedro fort Point Pedro, Northern Province Destroyed Defence [N 14]
Tangalle fort Tangalle, Southern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence [N 15]

British forts[edit]

Image Name Founded Abandoned Location Condition Controlled by Type Notes
Martello tower 1801-03 Hambantota, Southern Province Good Government of Sri Lanka Defence tower
Fort MacDowall 1803 Matale Central Province [N 16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ It was the site of a major battle between the forces of Elara and Dutthagamani
  2. ^ Royal Palace. Briefly used as an outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  3. ^ Located to the south of Sigiriya is the Mapagala Fortress (‘Rock of the Viceroy’), a fortress with massive stone walls, which was built prior to Sigiriya.
  4. ^ Later controlled by the Dutch and then the British
  5. ^ Captured by the Dutch in 1638
  6. ^ Captured by the Dutch in 1665
  7. ^ Handed over to the Dutch in 1658
  8. ^ Later controlled by the Dutch
  9. ^ Later controlled by the Dutch
  10. ^ Rebuilt by the Dutch in 1680
  11. ^ In 1795 the fort was surrendered to the British
  12. ^ Rebuilt by British during their occupation of the country in 1795
  13. ^ Later surrendered to the British 1795
  14. ^ Later surrendered to the British 1795
  15. ^ The fort is still being used as a prison by the Department of Prisons.
  16. ^ Outpost during the Kandyan Wars

References[edit]

External links[edit]