Maritime Forts & Fortifications
There are many interesting forts and fortifications built in Sri Lanka from colonial times. Most of these forts and fortifications were built around the coasts and form part of Sri Lanka’s Amazing Maritime heritage.
The Portuguese were the first colonists to build maritime forts around the coasts starting in the early 16th century. These were captured by the Dutch and later expanded along with construction of additional forts. In the late 19th century the British took over and occupied these Dutch forts through the Napoleonic wars. Most of the maritime forts were garrisoned until the early 20th century. Fort in Sinhala is Balakotuwa and in Tamil is Kottai.
These ancient maritime forts situated around Sri Lanka’s coastline are also part of world heritage and interest to tourists and scholars. They are all over 100 years old and are therefore protected under Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940 and Antiquities (Amendment) Act No. 24 of 1998.
Most of the remaining twenty forts are in fairly good condition because of the durable materials used in their construction such as coral stonework and motar made from limestones.
W.A. Nelson. 1984. The Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka. The Military Monuments of Ceylon. Published by Canongate, Edinburgh.
Dr. R.K. de Silva. 2004. Update 2004.
Forts, if properly maintained, adequately sign-posted and efficiently presented, are a great potential tourist attraction. Their future well-being is therefore that much more essential and generations to come will be that much more grateful to those who make it possible.
– W.A. Nelson
An UNESCO World Heritage site. Initially constructed in 1588 by the Portuguese. The Dutch built the present 90-acre fort extensively fortifing it from 1649 onwards. Ancient monuments within this historical complex included the lighthouse, clock tower, the first Dutch Reformed and Anglican churches, the Meera Mosque, Buddhist Temple, and the Commander’s Residence. A Maritime Museum was opened in 1999. Read more >>
Built by the Dutch between 1667 and 1676 as it commands the entrance to Puttalam Lagoon enabled them to control external trade. In 1795 the fort was surrendered to the British. The fort is nearly square in shape, with ramparts about 4m high, constructed out of coral and limestone from the surrounding area. It has a single arched entrance, two tunnels, four bastions on each corner of the fort and another two smaller bastions facing the lagoon. Inside, the walls of a chapel, barracks, dining hall, commander's residence and prison are all still evident. The Sri Lanka Navy currently occupies the fort. Open to public.
Fort Hammenhiel, Jaffna
Built by the Portuguese in the mid 17th century of quarried coral and named it Fortaleza do Cais dos Elefantes or Fortaleza Real (Fort Royal). The Dutch rebuilt it in 1680 and renamed it as Hammenhiel (Heel of the Ham). The island fort has only one entrance and was garrisoned by 30 men. Nine large dungeons were built to detain prisoners. The fort has now been transformed into a 4-bedroom tourist hotel run by the Sri Lanka Navy. Read more >>
Interestingly the Portuguese also built Fort Eyrie at Kayts (now in ruins) 1.3km across the water from Fort Hammenheil. Together they protected the Jaffna Peninsula from invading forces. Kayts Fort, aka as Urundai or Ooraathu'rai as it was located adjacent to the ancient Urundai port.
Situated next to the new bridge that connects the mainland with Mannar Island. Built in 1560 by the Portuguese who surrendered it to the Dutch in 1658 and was rebuilt by the Dutch in 1686 - 1696 who in turn surrendered to the British in 1795. The fort has four bastions and is in a state of decay. Several buildings including a church with gravestones are apparent from the remains. The fort is currently occupied by the Sri Lanka Police. Open to public.
Star Fort, Matara
Located on the eastern bank of the Nilwala Ganga, 350 metres from the gate to Matara Fort. Built by the Dutch in 1765 in order to protect the main fort from attacks coming from the river. It was built to a unique shape of a six-pointed star with space for 12 cannons to cover approaches from all directions. The outer wall is surrounded by a deep moat. In 1796 the fort was handed over to the British.The British used it as an administrative office and in 1965 it was used as a library until 1975 when it was acquired by the Department of Archeology. The fort has subsequently been restored and currently houses a museum, which showcases the history of Matara. Read more >>
Initially the Portuguese built a 4-sided fortress, Nossa Senhora dos Milagres in 1560. Built by the Portuguese in 1618, it It was captured by the Dutch in 1658 and rebuilt by 1680 giving it a Dutch architectural identity with its pentagon shaped inner fortifications with ramparts, corner bastions and star-shaped moat. was captured by the Dutch in 1658 that expanded it by 1680 giving it a Dutch architectural identity. In 1795, it fell into the hands of the British and so remained until independence. Several buildings in the fort included the once impressive Dutch Reformed Church, Governor’s residence, hospital, living quarters and warehouses. Ravaged by the Sri Lanka civil war the fort is being restored but its value in its original form, can never be restored. Open to public. Read more >>
Fort Fredrick, Trincomalee
Built by the Portuguese in 1623 and known as Fort Trincomalee. In 1639 the Dutch captured it, expanded it extensively to its present size and named it Pagoda Hill. It then went through a phase of dismantling and reconstruction and was attacked and captured by the French in 1672. The British who renamed it in 1803 after Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, second son of King George III.
The importance of Fort Fredrick was due to its proximity to Trincomalee's large natural harbour. The British believed that through Trincomalee a strong naval force could secure control of India's Coromandel Coast. It is one of the largest Dutch forts in Sri Lanka and is presently occupied by the Sri Lanka Army. Open to public. Read more>>
Forts & Fortifications
Colombo Fort, Kalutara Fort, Bentota Fort, Koddiyar Fort, Mullaitivu Fort, Elephant Pass Fort and Point Pedro Fort have not withstood the test of time.