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In loving memory of Dr. Roland Silva, a pillar of Sri Lankan Archaeology

By Chryshane Mendis and Prasad Fonseka

Deshamanya Vidya Jyothi Dr. Roland Silva was one of the foremost experts in the conservation of historical monuments and sites and one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent archaeologists. He was the former Commissioner of Archaeology (1983-1990) and the pioneer Founder Director General of the Central Cultural Fund that implemented the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle, former Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa, former President of the World Body of Conservators, the first president of the of ICOMOS International (International Council on Monuments and Sites) from Asia (1990-1999), which is one of the three formal advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee function under  UNESCO, the pioneer in the establishment of the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology and the pioneer founder President of The National Trust Sri Lanka. In addition he was a senior/honoured member of many other national and international professional institutions of Architecture and Archaeology.

Dr Roland Silva

Born in 1933 to a prominent entrepreneurial family in Giriulla, Roland Silva was the fifth in the family. His only brother was the eldest and there were three elder sisters and three younger sisters to Roland. He began school at St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10 in 1939 and was the youngest boarder at that time in the hostel, where he resided throughout his years at College. In 1942 when the Darley road premises were taken over by the military, the students were moved to three branches in Gampaha, Kelaniya, and Homagama. He continued his studies in Gampaha and then in Homagama, where he excelled in the second and third standards and received a double promotion to the fifth standard. Returning to Darley road in 1946, he took part in high jump and volley ball and finally captained the College Athletics and Volley ball teams. The late Dr. Carlo Fonseka who later entered SJC after having his early education in Mari Stella College was a classmate of his and were together in their years of schooling until they were separated in different streams. Due to his excellence in academic and the other activities, he was awarded the Head Prefectship by the Rector Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, in 1951.

Young Roland Silva

In Senior Prep (Year 9), he chose Double Maths, Physics and Chemistry (for HSC) and after passing all the examinations, he was called for an interview for selection to University where he indicated his desire to study Architecture. As there was no course on Architecture in the University, the panel recommended him to discuss with the Rector and so the Rector communicated with the Architecture Association (AA) of England to secure a place in their School of Architecture.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Senake Bandaranayake, Dr Senarat Dissanayake, Prof. Anura Manatunga, Dr. Sirimal Lakdusinghe

Dr. Roland began his studies in London in 1954, and while there, he had received a letter from Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai about his visit to London to undergo surgery for nonalcoholic cirrhosis. Fr. Peter Pillai had requested his former student to arrange suitable accommodation and he was able to find a visitor’s room in the hostel where he was staying. He had also given his contact details to the Hospital as the emergency contact of Fr. Peter Pillai and tended to the needs of Fr. Pillai throughout his stay in London.

While studying architecture in London from 1954 to 1959, he became interested in  archaeology and thus he found time to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Indian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1958; and even at this young age, he demonstrated his skills in multi-tasking, which later became the hallmark of his career.

After his studies in London, he toured in Europe and North Affrica visiting archaeological sites and he collected his appointment letter as the Assistant Commissioner (Architecture) of the Department of Archaeology from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Egypt. He became an Associate Member of Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1960, Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962 He later went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Monuments from the University of Rome in 1968 and his Ph.D. from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1988.

Dr Roland Silva

During his illustrious career of 30 years at the Department of Archaeology, Dr. Roland had the privilege of being the last Commissioner of Archaeology and its first Director General. During his tenure, he gave professional and scientific leadership for complex conservation works such as the restoration of the Maligawila Buddha Image and many historical Stūpas. Through his great vision and holistic approach to heritage, he was the pioneer and pathfinder for the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle in 1980 and also for the inscribing of Sri Lanka’s first six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In par with these international projects, he also set up the Central Cultural Fund for the financing and implementation of the project.

Dr. Roland Silva was the Founder President of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka from 1981 to 1990, and also championed for regional representation in ICOMOS International and was subsequently elected the first Non-European President of ICOMOS in 1990, which he held for an unprecedented three consecutive terms till 1999; during which he worked tirelessly to set up national committees of ICOMOS in African, Asian and Latin American countries to realize his vision of making ICOMOS truly a world body. His international work included chairing scientific sessions of UNESCO that listed 222 sites throughout the world and also advocated looking into Asian traditions in conservation and management with an approach to living heritage. He also chaired the international proceedings in Nara, Japan, in 1993 that led to the Nara Document of Authenticity, a landmark document in heritage conservation.

Dr. Roland Silva was a consultant for World Heritage Site projects in many countries. One of his major contributions at the international level was serving in  the team of experts in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, which made the tower stable.  Roland Silva the architect, too was active, having assisted in developing the architecture education by setting up a course in architecture at the Colombo Campus and was thus an influential teacher to several generations of architects. The former Head Office building of the CCF, Polonnaruwa Site Museum, and the old site Museum at Sigiriya were all designed by him, evolving a specific architectural vocabulary with tradition.

He is a constant reference to any student of Archaeology in Sri Lanka, and his theoretical studies of ancient Buddhist architecture are now standard practices. Even at an old age, Dr. Roland was still involved in the heritage sector and attended to the affairs of The National Trust with great enthusiasm. His strong charisma was an inspiration to many and although his demise is a loss to Sri Lanka and the whole world, the legacy he left behind will last the ages where he will join the list as one of Mother Lanka’s greatest sons.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Gamini Adikari, December 2019


Special thanks gooes to Mr. IMS Madanayake and Ms Sonali Premarathne for providing photos for this article.

This article was published on on January 03, 2020

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Truth behind the Prison cell of the last King in Colombo Fort

By Chryshane Mendis


The Prison cell of the last King of Kandy, King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha in Colombo fort is a somewhat well-known monument. Although most individuals working in the Fort area do not notice it, it is a famous destination for tourists. It is situated within the premises of the Ceylinco House building down Janadipathi Mawatha (Queen’s Street) at the turn off to Bank of Ceylon Mawatha. The aim of this article is to see if this is really the prison cell of the last King or something else; as there appear currently two traditions to this story, a common tradition and an academic tradition.



The present monument is in the shape of a half capsule with the curved half facing north containing the chamber. The structure is roughly 12 feet in length, 11 feet in width and about 8 feet in height. The entrance to the chamber is 3 feet wide facing north with two small vertical openings on either side with two iron bars; the width of the walls is approximately 2 feet. The outer surface is decorated with 6 simple pilasters. The structure contains a vaulted roof with the exterior decorated in scales with a circular ventilation duct figuring prominently on top. At the rear end of the structure is a sculptured bust of King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha with an inscription underneath. Close to the entrance fixed onto the wall is another inscription in Sinhala and English which states the capture of the King and his imprisonment in this chamber. Further within the chamber are portraits of the King and Queen, that of Governor Robert Brownrigg and Adigar Pilimatalawe. Also is a painting of the tomb of the King in Vellore and the ship on which he was deported to India.

The Investigation

The King in Colombo

The popular story goes that the King was kept in a cell within the fort of Colombo before his departure, but is it the actual story? Was he imprisoned or placed under house arrest as said by some?

King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was captured on the 18th February 1815 in Madamahanuwara and was transferred to Colombo without entering Kandy. On the 6th of March the King and his escort entered the Colombo fort where they were received by Colonel Kerr, the commandant of the garrison. Here the King remained for nearly a year till the 24th of January 1816 when he and his family was deported to Vellore aboard the HMS Cornwallis.

According to the Official Government Gazette and the writings of Dr. Henry Marshall, he was kept in a house and placed under house arrest, and not in a cell.

To quote the Gazette No. 704, Wednesday, 15th March 1815:

“On the Monday following Major Hook with the Detachment under his command escorting the late King of Kandy and his family entered the Fort…He is logged in a House in the Fort which has been suitably prepared for his reception and is stockaded round to prevent any intrusion on his privacy”

This being an official Government document cements the fact that he was placed in a house specially prepared for him as mentioned above. Further the account of Dr. Henry Marshall too is to be noted here.

Dr. Henry Marshall was a British Army surgeon who served in the island from 1806 to 1821. He is a celebrated Army Doctor and is considered the ‘Father of Army Medicine’, retiring as the Deputy Inspector General of Army Hospitals of the British Empire. In his celebrated work Ceylon: a general description of the island and its inhabitants, with a historical sketch of the conquest of the colony by the English published in 1846 and reprinted by Tisara Prakasakayo in 1969, he gives an accurate and neutral description of the island and the events in its conquest, even being critical of his own, the British, in their conduct of the 1818 rebellion. In the above work he gives a detailed account of the last King, his appearance, his character and a very neutral look at his rise and fall. In it he states that

“ the prison or house provided for him was spacious, and handsomely fitted up. He was obviously well pleased with his new adobe, and upon entering it, observed, “As I am no longer permitted to be a King, I am thankful for the kindness and attention which have been shown to me”

Adding further in his book he also gives a dialog between him and the King in Colombo, whom he was requested to visit professionally; he states that he found the king frank and affable and willing to converse on any subject. It is given that apart from Kandyan matters, the former king also asked Dr. Marshall aspects of his personal life such as the duration of his stay in the island, and his home in England.

The writings of Dr. Marshall, a contemporary of the present events at discussion, further confirm beyond doubt, of the King being placed within a house in the fort and not in a prison cell.

Having given facts that dispel the myth of the late king being placed in a cell, it is important to see the whereabouts of the said house. Through a brief study done by the writer, only the reference from R. L. Brohier’s Changing Face of Colombo was found indicating the location of the said house. He states it to be a Dutch dwelling house, which was later occupied by the Darley Butler firm; this is the present site of the Ceylinco House, the location of the present monument.

Figure 1 – Dutch plan of Colombo, 1756 (from Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company)

An investigation into the location of this site through the maps in National Archives and the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon, found indeed this location to be a residential block. From the maps of 1733 and 1756-59 from Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon, it is clear that the block along the Janadipathi Mawatha from Ceylinco House to the National Mutual Building (Center Point Building) was a residential area for officers of the Dutch East India Company.


Thus it is clear that the present site of the Ceylinco House was the site of a Dutch house during the 1700s and would have most likely been there in 1815, which is just 19 years after the takeover of the Colombo fort by the British.

The identity of this building

Having proved the stay of the king in a house and not a cell, the next question raised is as to the true identity of the present monument which is said to be the cell of the king. When was it built? What was its purpose?  R. L. Brohier states the following in his Changing Face of Colombo:

“a quaint concrete cubicle in which a man can barely sit, is displayed in the court-yard off the foyer of Ceylinco House. It is popularly accredited to have been the cell in which King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was restrained- mind you, for nearly one year. On the face of the written word and evidence of once own eyes, the assumption is a travesty. The monument has no greater significance possibly than that of having been a sentry box set up at the gate-way to the adjoining garrison building erected by the British in 1875 (Echelon square buildings- now demolished)”

Thus R. L. Brohier claims that this was a guard house of the adjoining Echelon barracks. To further test this, the writer conducted a deeper inquiry using two approaches, one, to examine on the location of the site and two, to the nature of the building.

The first approach is an examination on the location of the site and its built history.

Figure 2 – Plan of 1904/5 from the National Archives. BLUE shows block with Darley Butler building; GREEN shows Dutch Hospital.

Between the timeline of the Dutch house and the present Ceylinco building on this block, is another building, that of the Darley Butler building owned by the company of the same name (plus some unidentified smaller buildings adjoining the east of Darley Butler building on the same block). Tracing the monument here could help fit it in a particular context.

By the 1860s, prior to the removal of the ramparts, the Darley Butler building had been established on the site as per an old photograph, and continued till 1960/61 when it was demolished during the building of the present Ceylinco House. The foundation for the present Ceylinco House was cut on 21st October 1955 and completed on 20th October 1962. As per figure 3, a 1960 aerial image, and comparing the ground plan with the 1904/5 map, the superstructure of the Ceylinco building was constructed on the south-east section of this block, while the Darley Butler building (on the northwest section of the block) remained standing. However it may have been demolished between 1961 and 1962 and would now comprise the area of the car park situated just behind the Ceylinco House.

Figure 3 – taken from the Baur’s building in 1960. RED circle shows the present monument (from book The Faithful Foreigner)

It is interesting to note here as mentioned in the book ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going: a history of Ceylinco Insurance’ that during the construction of the present Ceylinco House, within the eight foot deep foundation, there had been a viaduct about 6 ½ feet in height and also was found the remains of human bones without the skull; and also that architects confirmed that the Darley Butler building was built on the site of an old Dutch house.

Accordingly prior to the removal of the ramparts, to the northeast of this block was the Dutch Hospital, to the south the Middleburg bastion and to the southwest the Galle gate. After the removal of the ramparts, bordering this site to the south was the Echelon barracks.

Understanding the context of the Darley Butler building and the Ceylinco House, now the monument in its built context will be looked at. The map of 1904/5 of Colombo shows a small box shaped structure just bordering the Darley Butler building to the south, a closer examination of it from a much clearer map of 1938 showed this particular structure within the boundary of the Echelon barracks, it appears to have been a guardroom as there is an entrance to the barracks just by it facing Queen’s road.

Figure 4 – Plan of 1904/5 from the National Archives. RED-Darley Butler building; GREEN-Dutch Hospital; BLUE-Echelon barracks; RED CIRCLE- shows a square structure which is part of the entrance to the barracks from Queen’s Street.


Figure 5 – BLUE arrow shows entrance to barracks. Image taken from Chathams Street Clock tower c.late 19th century (from 20th Century Impressions)

The Echelon barracks built on Echelon square was the new military barracks built by the British in 1875. It was constructed on the area which comprised of the Middleburg and Rotterdam bastions and the adjoining rampart and moat. The barracks comprised of four large barrack blocks positioned in the echelon formation and other buildings with a large ground in the center. Its present area comprises of the properties of the World Trade Center, BOC Tower, the Galadari and Hilton.

As stated above, the small box on map of 1904/5 appears to be a guardroom to the entrance of Echelon barracks situated just behind the Darley Butler building. This could be clearly seen from the below photograph of a date around the 1920s/30s(figure 6). It appears square in form and is clearly seen next to the small entrance to Echelon barracks. When analyzing the position of this guardroom and the present monument, they fall perfectly in the same location.

Figure 6 – RED circle clearly shows the Guard house with entrance (from Extract from Sea Ports of India and Ceylon)                    

Further taking the 1904/5 map, when drawing a horizontal line from it towards the west, it falls exactly to the turn off to Flagstaff Street. This is the same when a horizontal line is drawn from the present monument towards the west. And further analyzing the position of the guardroom and the present monument from the 1904/5 map, an aerial image of 1960 and a present satellite image in relation to the Darley Butler building and the Ceylinco House, it clearly shows that both the guardroom and the present monument are the same.


But then this brings us to another problem, the outlook of the present monument looks totally different to the guardroom. From the map of 1904/5 and figure 6, it clearly shows it to be a square shaped building with a tiled roof. But figure 3 taken from the Baur’s building in 1960 shows the present monument with its prominent vaulted roof and ventilation duct.


This brings to conclusion that as both the guardroom and the present monument fit to the same location, there appears to have been a modification or complete remodeling effected to the guardroom by 1960. The purpose of this we do not know. An argument can be thrown at this here is that, if that was the guardroom of the Queen’s Street entrance of Echelon barracks, what was it doing within the Ceylinco House premises when the Echelon barracks existed well beyond the construction of the Ceylinco House (Echelon barracks were demolished in the 1980s). For this, a clearer examination from the plans, maps and images by the writer showed that the Ceylinco House premises had in fact slightly extended southwards to the premises of the barracks; this may have been the case during the acquisition of the property, but the exact nature of which we do not know. Therefore the once guardroom of the Echelon barracks was now within the premises of the Ceylinco House.

For the second approach, the nature of the building can be looked at; is it a prison, a sentry box/guardroom, or even a storage chamber? The writer wrote to the Fortress Study Group UK, which is a professional body on the study of artillery and fortifications, on the possible identification of this building. They responded saying that “it does not look like a prison” and that it may well be a guard house.


In conclusion, and regarding the identity of this monument, both approaches used, identified it to a guard house/guardroom; with the first approach being the more conclusive. Therefore the present monument was indeed a guardroom of the Echelon barracks as stated by Dr. R. L. Brohier. So as to why its appearance was changed and then being associated with being the prison cell of the last King, we may never know. Somewhere down the line for political reasons or either, this claim was brought up and acted upon officially by the authorities. This is a protected archaeological monument at present and contains the official Department of Archaeology description as well as a granite inscription stating the same.

Further as mentioned in the introduction, the story of this site as the prison cell of the last King has two traditions, the common and the academic. According to the common tradition and as per the inscriptions on the monument, it is the cell of the last King; but this is proved wrong as mentioned above. In the academic tradition, it is well known that the King was placed in a house and not a cell.

It is clear from this article that the King was not kept in a cell and that the present monument belongs to a later period. This article aims at changing this public opinion and bringing it in line with the accepted academic tradition, by providing evidence to support the claim.

This is a humble request to all enthusiasts and tour operators – do not mislead the tourist on this site as the cell of King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha; but it still could be taken as a ‘Monument’ to the Last King of Sri Lanka of the location where he last stayed in the island before his departure to India.



  • Brohier, R. L., Changing Face of Colombo, 1984.
  • Macmillan, A., Extract from Sea Ports of India and Ceylon, 2005
  • Marshall, H., Ceylon, 1846, (reprint 1969).
  • Pieris, P. E., Tri Simhala: The Last phase, 1939.
  • Perere, J. G., When the going gets tough, the tough gets going: a history of Ceylinco Insurance, 2011.
  • Ranasinghe, D., The Faithful Foreigner, Thilo Hoffmann, The Man Who Saved Sinharaja, 2015
  • Van Diessen, R., & Nelemans, B., Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon,
  • Wright, A., 20th Century Impressions, 1907.
  • British documents and maps from the National Archives
  • Gazette No. 704, Wednesday, 15th March 1815




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Untapped Archaeological Heritage: Muthugala

By Chryshane Mendis

Muthugala in Polonnaruwa is an enchanting location set amidst rocky outcrops and willus and houses the remains of a forest monastery inclusive of ruined stupas and drip ledged caves for the meditation of monks. This is a hardly known site and came to our light during a recently concluded archaeological survey of the Polonnaruwa District. Our research team comprising of Messrs. Chandima Ambanwala, Sameera Prasanga, Buddhika Konara, Chamal Senadheera, Kasun Darshitha and myself along with our resource person Mr. Attygala visited the site in August; accompanying us as guides were three men from the village including the village headmen. A union of history and nature, this was one adventurous exploration which deserves a deeper investigation.


Muthugala, a quiet dry zone village situated in the Welikanda Divisional Secretariat in the Polonnaruwa District is a paradise of nature where man and wilderness live side by side. This untapped archaeological heritage of the ancient Sinhalese lies in the forests boardering the village and the Flood Plains National Park along the Mahaweli Ganga. To arrive here, one needs to arrive at Sewanapitiya junction which is 18km from Kanduruwela on the Batticaloa road and from there turn left on the road running along the canal, proceeding about a kilometer on this turn left once more along with the branching off of the canal. From there proceed along this for 5km passing lush green fields and home gardens to the village of Muthugala; from there turn left from the school along the bund of a small tank till the road ends at the forest, from there is an off road track which is a 10 minute hike to the site. The remains of the forest monetary is spread throughout that area on the rock outcrops surrounded by willus created by the Mahaweli River.


Village background

A description of the village would add a charming note to this enchanting location. The village comprises of 224 families and though ethnically a Tamil village, some of the villages have Sinhalese ge-names; a glimpse of the mixed cultures that once grew here. There is one school in the village and the main economic activity of the villagers is cultivation, though a few individuals have Government jobs. The growing of paddy is the main activity but fishing and milking of cows are other such activities. The villagers say that canes (වේවැල් /weval) can also be harvested from here but no such industry exists. Certain sections of the roads are tarred while the rest are in the golden sands of the dry zone. Away from the bustling roads, this village brings the sereneness of the peaceful days of old into the modern world and an urban-vary soul would be glad to taste its calmness.

Description of the ruins

The visible ruined stupa

Heading with our guides in the late morning, we managed to go half the distance on the off road track in the van and hiked the rest as it was hard to get the van through the tiny path. We were told that this was Elephant country and that to be vigilant although they do not show up during this time of the day. Walking along the sandy road about the scrub forests we came near a large rock outcrop and climbed it by a path to the left. This was the main location, it was quite evident here that there was once human settlement as there were numerous rock cut steps in certain sections of the rock and the top was scattered around with bricks, mortise stones for columns and few stone pillars. But a closer examination with the trained eye revealed much more. Amoung the debris spread over the uneven rock surface was the clear mound of a small stupa. A close examination of this revealed that there were three visible stairways to the stupa from the north, east and the west and that this was erected on two podiums. But sadly the stupa had fallen prey to treasure hunters. An entrance had been effected from the north and dug to almost 10 feet. The inner structure of the brick stupa was quite visible. Right next to it was identified as the remains of another stupa, although no visible mound was there. Finally completely surveying the rock, the traces of another two more stupas were found in close proximity to the first two; and as well as two ponds made from the natural slope of the rock. On this same site towards the south from where one enters is found a cave with a drip ledge and an inscription. The inscription contains an early Brahmi script indicating the sites usage from the early Anuradhapura times. Close to this cave is a smaller cave and in it our resource person on a previous visit noticed small drawings in white; this was looked at by our team and hypothesized to be ancient Vadda paintings. There are about three to four scribbles of some form but one which resembles a figure of a man is quite evident. If this in fact dates to ancient Vaddas, it would take this site to the prehistoric times; but this needs to be clearly verified before any theory is put forward. Assessing the remains on the rock outcrop it was clear that this was indeed a forest monastery. From the top of the rock one could get a clear view of the surroundings, the lush green fields, the open willus with herds of buffaloes, the adjoining hilltops and the endless green of the Flood Plains National Park. Our guides stated that during the rains the entire area surrounding the rock becomes one entire willu under water.

The small cave with the paintings


The white figure, the figure to the right resembles a man.

They said that there were more, many caves with inscriptions on the adjoining hillock, so climbing down the rock we headed north east along the edge of the forest line and the open plains.

This hillock composed of a single high rock formation with thick jungle around it and one could easily get lost without prior knowledge; indeed we felt this way once we completed our tour of the site as it left us totally confused of our geography. Climbing through the thick vines and over and under rocks we explored here a total of 11 caves spread throughout the area. Out of the 11 caves with drip ledges, seven caves contained early Brahmi rock inscriptions just below the drip ledge. All the inscriptions found here mention the names of donors gifting the caves to the clergy. Near the cave on the highest elevation here was found the remaining materials of a small modern shelter, this the villagers explained that some time back they had brought a monk here to stay but was asked to leave by the Wildlife department. The cave here contained an inscription as well as a symbol; this was not a completely closed one for there was about a 5 foot high gap allowing access to the other side and within this were the ruins of large sleeping Buddha statue, the traces of which were hard to identify as it had been vandalized in antiquity. On the ceiling of this cave can be found the faint traces of paintings as well.

The ruined stupa in the first location, dug by treasure hunters.

Treasure hunting is a major problem here said the villagers who were with us and said that it is people from far away that are behind this and not from the village. The villagers try their best to protect these sites and have repeatedly appealed to the authorities to take action but to no avail. While the horror of the plundered stupa in the first hillock was still in our minds, we were in for yet another shock. Before going to the high cave they said that there was a boulder near another cave below that had been broken recently in the search of treasure, arriving at the said location we were taken aback as we found it completely destroyed and dug out, several feet until the bedrock. This was a fresh dig which appeared to have been dug just the previous night or a maximum of two nights before. All around were pieces of the slab of rock and fine soil from underneath. It was a sad sight in deed. The villagers stated that there is another location close to the Mahaweli River called Anakaluwa which was a large rock in the shape of an elephant drinking water and that there was a crown and a sword carved on it, this too has sadly been blasted away. They also mentioned that there was a large rock inscription in the first location near the ruined stupas which had been destroyed about 40 years ago.


The hole cut by treasure hunters in the second location.
The cave in the highest location, within can be found the remains of a statue and traces of paintings.


The splendid drip ledged caves, some reaching over a dozen feet in length surrounded by the ever green forests of the dry zone would have given a peaceful setting for the meditating monks of old and it is sad to see that these centuries old dwellings, protected so well by nature have been disturbed in our times due to false fantasies. Beyond the open plains further to the north was another large rock outcrop, this the villagers stated contained a large rock with one vertical surface in white which they believed would have been plaster for paintings. This too we investigated but found the white layer to be a natural phenomenon.  But there could be much more hidden amidst the jungles. Prof. Senerat Paranavitana in the Epigraphia Zeylanica gives details of 17 early Brahmi rock inscriptions from Muthugala but we were able to find only 8. This untapped archaeological site deserves a deeper investigation which would give valuable information on the human settlement of this now seemingly rural area.

The team with the villagers.
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The Gates of Kandy: An Archaeo-historical Perspective of Balana

By Chryshane Mendis

Introduction and geographical position

The Balana pass, the key to the Kandyan Kingdom was a pass on the southern edge of the Alagalla Mountain range from which ran the old Colombo Kandy road giving access to the mountain kingdom. This was the most important pass in the Kingdom with the other being at Galagedara, as the road coming from the lower plains climbs over a thousand feet in less than a mile over the pass to the plateau of the central highlands. The hill of Balana, being over 600m (GPS – N 7° 16.18116, E 80° 29.77146) above sea level, fell under the ancient administrative division of the Four Korale (Sathara Korale) in the Galboda pattuwa. Balana is mentioned in the Trisinhale Kadaim Potha as being the boundary line which separated the Four Korales from the Uda Rata, and the maintenance of this post fell onto the Dissave of the Four Korales. Today Balana falls under the Central Province and is the also the boundary line between the Sabaragamuwa and the Central Provinces. Balana was a key point in the old road to Kandy (From Colombo via Kotte and Kaduwela to Sitavaka, Ruwanwella, Arandara, Attapitiya, Ganetanna and over Balana to Gannoruwa) which many a foreigner had written about its difficult climb.

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Percival” skin=”primary”]”very difficult…narrow intricate paths…steep ascents and descents…extremely fatiguing”[/porto_blockquote]

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Macpherson” skin=”secondary”]”by far the most difficult track of a journey I ever saw, having to scale numerous almost perpendicular rocks”[/porto_blockquote]

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Mahony” skin=”tertiary”]”This mountain exceeds steepness and wilderness any as I have yet met within India”[/porto_blockquote]

Are some of the comments on the pass as mentioned by Major R. Raven-Hart in his work the Great Road. This toilsome climb up the pass was rewarded with the stunning view of the western horizon. Balana which means the Look-Out in Sinhala was thus used as a sentry point on the approach to Kandy and as a strategic position in defence from invasions. The position was fitted with a fort to check enemy advances, the remains of which can still be found on the summit. The path behind the Balana railway station is said to be old road which runs a steep 2.5km climb to the summit of the mountain and from there on runs relatively flat to the open plains towards Danture. The path now is well carpeted and has a considerable built up neighbourhood including a bus service from Kadugannawa; hence it is hard to imagine the toilsome climb one would have had to endure 300 years ago. The summit of Balana gives a commanding view of the surroundings and one truly needs to be there to experience its strategic importance which words can not describe.

[wpgmza id=”4″]
Balana Fort on Google Maps

Google Street View 360 image of Balana Fort

Historical background

As per a survey of the writer, the first mention of Balana in the Sinhalese sources is during the invasion of Kanda Uda Rata by King Rajasinghe I of Sitavaka in 1582. The Rajavaliya notes that King Karaliyadde Bandara, ruler of the hill country was defeated at Balana by King Rajasinghe followed by the subjugation of the entire Kanda Uda Rata under Sitavaka.

The next episode Balana appears is during the last days of the Sitavaka kingdom where Kandy frees itself from the former. The Sitavaka kingdom lost its control over Kanda Uda Rata in the early 1591/92 which the Portuguese soon capitalized by sending an expedition under Konappu Bandara to crown Don Philip or Yamasinghe Bandara as a vassal King in Kandy; but with the untimely death of Yamasinghe Bandara, Konappu Bandara takes control over the kingdom. In 1593 King Rajasinghe invaded the Four Korales in order to regain control of Kandy and sent his general Arritta Kivendu Perumal ahead of a large army to attack the hill country but was prevented from going beyond Balana as it was blocked by Konappu Bandara and the army of the hill country. Seeing this, Rajasinghe himself took command of the army and once again attacked the pass in which he met his Waterloo at the hands of Konappu Bandara; and within less than a year after the battle he died and along with him the Kingdom of Sitavaka as well, marking the beginning of the Kandyan Kingdom as the sole independent Sinhalese kingdom in the island.

In 1594 the Portuguese under Pedro Lopes de Souza launched an invasion of Kandy carrying the Princess Dona Catherina or Kusumasala Devi to be placed on the throne by removing the usurper Konappu Bandara but which ended at their defeat in Danture. This time, there seems to have been no opposition at Balana for the only major source on this expedition, Queyroz, states that apart from fortified stockades and felled trees which were easily overtaken, the Portuguese made a swift climb of this most perilous part of the expedition and adds the victory over Balana as one of the General’s achievements. Here Gaston Perera gives two theories as to why there was no resistance at Balana; one was, the presence of Done Catherina may have changed the minds of the Kandyans to fight or not a force bringing the last relict of their royal line (as Konappu Bandara was not the legitimate ruler), and two, that it would have been part of Konappu Bandara, now known as Vimaladharmasuriya’s overall strategy of drawing the invading force deep within his territory. In the end, it may seem so as after the occupation of the city, with the defection of the Lascorins after the murder of their leader Jayavira, the Portuguese made a retreat back to Colombo but were cut down in the fields of Danture.

The next episode with Balana comes 9 years later in 1603 when under the command of Dom Jeronimo de Azevedo the Portuguese once again attempted to conquer Kandy ending in the Formosa Retirada or the Great Retreat. In the years up to 1603 Vimaladharamasuriya had been buildings a series of fortifications along the passes to the central hills in anticipation for the impending invasion, amoung them was a strong stone fortress of Ganetanne at the foothills of Balana and for the first time, it is mentioned by Queyroz that Balana was fortified with a fort. On previous occasions, the pass in its natural form functioned as a fort and with numerous stockades at narrow gaps as defenses. But under the new defence plan of Vimaladharmasuriya, Balana was equipped with a strong stone fortress. Queyroz gives the following description of it:

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Queyroz” skin=”quaternary”]“The new fortalice of Balana stood on a lofty hill upon a rock on its topmost peak; and it was more strong by position than by art, with four bastions and one single gate; and for its defence within and without there was an arrayal of 8,000 men with two lines of stockade which protected them with its raised ground, and a gate at the foot of the rock and below one of the bastions which commanded the ascent by a narrow, rugged, steep, and long path cut in the Hill”[/porto_blockquote]

It is recorded by Queyroz that the Portuguese took a month in ascending the pass indicating bitter and protracted fighting up the pass as suggested by Gaston Perera. Coming within range of the fort they set up a battery of three artillery pieces on the neighbouring mountain and poured a continuous fire for three days without any effect. Another attempt was made to come up the rear via an Elephant path some two miles from Balana but that too was found defended by the Sinhalese. No direct assault was seen possible due to the steep and rugged nature of the terrain. A Sinhalese appeared to the Portuguese and offered to show another footpath up the mountain which commanded the fort.  The Captain Major and 200 selected veterans attempted the climb and as Queyroz gives it “so steep and precipitous that if there had not been the thick rattan which served them as foot hold, it would have been impossible to ascend it, and if any one of them had given way, there was no help but to fall down headlong. They sent the whole night in its ascent” but upon reaching the fort they found it deserted except a few to cover the retreat. Vimaladharmasuriya had resorted to his tactic used in 1594 and which would be characteristic of all future Kandyan operations, which is to strategically retreat allowing the enemy to venture deep into the territory and cut them on their retreat when their supplies run out. The Portuguese thus occupied the fort of Balana and even conducted a Thanksgiving service in the fort. But soon internal dissensions amoung the lascorins made the Captain General realize the grave situation he faced and before long the surrounding hills were full of Kandyans prompting the Portuguese to retreat leaving the stronghold of Balana; and this long retreat to Colombo with the entire lowlands under rebellion is known as the Famous Retreat. Thus although Balana fell to the Portuguese for a short time, it was never conquered militarily.

Once again under the command of Azevedo, the Portuguese in August 1611 launched another attempt to conquer the hills and upon reaching Balana found it abandoned, unlike the stiff resistance it gave eight years earlier. The Portuguese soon occupied it and in a fortnight erected a fortification of wood. This fact is confirmed by the Sinhalese war poem the Rajasinghe Hatana. This expedition which ventured into Kandy was called off by a truce between the two parties but sorties into the Kandyan territory continued for several years without any opposition from the Kandyans. And the Portuguese records indicate that Balana was even occupied for some time from 1615 to 1616. Paul E. Pieris notes that in 1616 Balana was put into good order by the Portuguese by constructing a large tank for the storage of water, clearing the forests around the fort to a distance of a musket shot and the construction of a drawbridge over the moat. The reasons the Portuguese were able to get a foothold at the gates of Kandy may be due to the fact of the weak administration of King Senerat who assumed the throne after the death of Vimaladharmasuriya in 1604 and his policy for peace over war unlike the former who was a battle hardened warrior trained under the Portuguese themselves.

The next encounter comes in the expedition by Diogo de Mello in 1638 which culminated at the battle of Gannoruwa. Here too once again Kandy under the leadership of Rajasinghe II evacuates Balana and the city-based on their famous strategy to draw the enemy deep within and attacks them on their retreat, this time ending at the plains of Gannoruwa and after the battle, the King re-sends troops to keep watch at Balana according to the Parangi Hatana. This is the last instance the Portuguese would be related to Balana as their expulsion from the island comes 20 years later in 1658.

Balana comes into only one military engagement with the Dutch more than a century later. The relative peace which the Dutch maintained with Kandy since the 1640s broke down in the 1760s and war began in 1761 ending in 1766. Towards the end of the war in 1765 the Dutch mounted an invasion to the Kandyan heartland through the usual route of Balana and found the pass and the city deserted in typical Kandyan fashion. The invading force occupied the city for several months but realizing their shortage of supplies decided to retreat back to Colombo but found the Balana pass occupied by the Sinhalese. The following is taken from a correspondence with Batavia (The Dutch Wars with Kandy 1764-1766)

[porto_blockquote skin=”quaternary”]“knowing that the usual pass over the notorious hill was beset with batteries, wolfpits, and other obstacles, they decided on the suggestion of the old Mudaliar Dessa Nayak to make their further retreat along a path until then-unknown to us running along the hill Ballane and over back of this, northwards to come out into the seven korales beyond Weewede”[/porto_blockquote]

The garrison of Kandy finding the Balana pass occupied by the Sinhalese was shown a by-path by the Mudaliyar of the Hapitigam Korale and thus avoided a total massacre.

The Balana pass would face another two military excursions under the British but yet, would be evacuated as per their famous strategy. During the war of 1803, when the British marched up the great road they found the pass to be abandoned. Once again during their final excursion in 1815, the Balana heights were found abandoned on the approach of a detachment under Major Moffatt on the 2nd of February. D’Oyly in his own words states “I sincerely rejoice, that the reputed difficulties of the Balana Mountain have been surmounted with so much Facility, & and that Yatinuwara & the Capital are so fairly open to our Troops”. And with the surrender of the Four Korales under the Adigar Molligoda to the British, the Balana pass as with the rest of the country a few days later came under British dominion thus ending the saga of the Balana pass as the key to the Kandyan Kingdom. And with the building of the new Kandy road in the 1820s, the old road up the Balana pass lost its prominence and was soon a forgotten path.

The Mountain of Balana, the gate way to Kandy as seen above, although defendable, was abandoned most of the time giving entrance to the city. Only twice was an enemy denied access and given battle at Balana, that when the redoubtable Rajasinghe attempted to retake Kandy and when Vimaladharmasuriya checked the Portuguese advance in 1603. These two incidents show the strength of the position if it is defended with determination, but the overall Kandyan strategy meant allowing the enemy access to the city thus abandoning the position at Balana. Further, the ideology of the Kandyans regarding field fortifications were as stated in Channa Wickramasekara’s Kandy at War“the field fortifications were built more for the purpose of hindering an advance than stopping it”.

The Fort: an archaeological analysis

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”H. C. P. Bell” skin=”quaternary”]“The site of the old fort…the villagers call the spot, where it stood, Ukkotu-tenna. Strictly there are two forts, the upper and lower, together covering about three acres, of which the lower fort claims five-sixths. This had been encircled by a stone wall about 4 ft. in thickness, now broken down. The walls of the upper fort are less visible”[/porto_blockquote]

The above is a description of the fort by H. C. P. Bell in his famous Report on The Kegalle District in 1892. As at today, only the upper fort remains. The present ruins of the Balana fort can be found on the summit of the Balana hill overlooking the Balana railway station. One can access it via the road from the Balana railway station from which it is a 2.5km hike up or from the Kandugannawa Balana road from behind the Kadugannawa station which is about 5km. The access to the fort is through a tea estate with a new board showing the fort. A paved path has been made recently leading to the fort. The present ruins are made of stone and the area is being cleared from time to time although certain sections were hard to access due to the thick thorn bushes. The entrance to the fort is from the southeast and is surrounded by three round bastions. There are two entrances on two levels. The two level entrance is flanked by two round bastions on either side. The first entrance is 2 feet 10 inches wide with a flight of six steps to the first level which is 3 feet 6inches above the ground; the second entrance is 10 feet directly in front of that which is 3 feet wide and rises 4 feet above that level giving access to the inside of the fort. The two bastions from the first level is 37 feet apart and the walls of these entrance features are roughly 1.5 feet thick. The two bastions ‘A & B’ slightly differ in size with the bastion ‘A’ being smaller than the other. The height of the bastions varies as the elevation there changes but not exceeding roughly 4 feet in height. The wall between bastions A and C is roughly 80 feet in length and contains three walls at three different heights. The total width between these three walls is 9 feet.

A ground plan of the fort by the writer based on a survey conducted in July 2017.

Bastion C was covered in thick undergrowth which was hitherto unknown to the writer and thus it was ‘discovered’ during a field survey carried out by the writer and the team in July 2017 when clearing the undergrowth. This bastion appears to be smaller than the other two and is situated above a small drop facing the Balana road. This is at the northern tip of the fort. From here, the wall turns southwest and runs for about 70 feet. This stretch too, the writer had to cut his way through the thorn bushes and hence it was difficult to gauge the height of the wall from the outside; as the entire area within the fort is of the same level as that of the walls. This wall ends at an ‘S’ shape at the edge of a natural rock. Few feet away it begins once more towards the southeast along the rock. From here one could gaze upon the open plains of the Four Korales which is similar to the view from the Kadugannawa climb on the Kandy road. The wall from here, now basically a foundation on top of the rock, runs for 43 feet till the rock ends and furthermore two drains could be seen cutting through the foundations of the wall; the width of the wall is about 4 feet here. From there turning further eastwards runs the wall for about 90 feet to bastion B. At the edge of the rock are a flight of steps to the base of the wall towards the bastion. There are three steps turning in towards the fort and 14 steps running parallel to the wall to the base, from which is a steep drop towards the west with large trees. On this section, the maximum height of the wall reaches 10 feet. Here 10 small drains could be found coming from within the wall. On the 90 feet stretch of the wall towards bastion B, there is a section 30 feet before the bastion which appears to have broken away creating a gap of 5 feet in width and 6 feet in height. The width of the wall on this long stretch is 4 feet. The entire area of the fort is roughly 14,900 square feet and the walls are perpendicular to the ground with only bastions A & B showing a slight angle.

Speaking to the department of Archaeology, they explained that no excavation has been conducted here but said some conservation work had been carried out in the early 2000s, and this was evident as all the remains are in a good state of preservation and in certain sections cement too could be seen used as mortar. At certain places within the fort, broken tiles could be seen indicating that a roofed structure in the center of the fort existed. A proper excavation would be necessary for a deeper analysis of the fortification.

A military perspective

From the remaining sections, it is possible to assume that a garrison of over 100 soldiers would have fitted within the fort. The bastions are not large enough to hold numerous heavy cannons but possibly one large cannon or three to four Kodithuwakku (Gingals-light artillery). The present road runs below bastions A and C and at a particular bend, the road runs less than 100 feet below bastion C. Therefore as this section is exposed to the road, it might be the reason for the extra strengthening of the wall in three lines on this section. Also, the old Kadawatha would have been placed in an area across the present road below the northern section of the fort (this section of the hill north of the fort to the road is in thick jungle, a proper survey would perhaps shed light onto more features connecting the fort to the Kadawatha). Bastion C could have commanded a large area across the road to the neighbouring mountain. The two entrances are designed in a fashion where only one person could enter or exit at a time thus making an entrance to the fort by storming almost impossible. The true topography of the fort has been distorted by the tea plantation making it hard to understand its historical and military context. Further the Kandyans had created an effective communication system from Balana to the Capital; this was by way of beacon signals. When the enemy was sighted, the beacon on the Balana hill and the neighbouring peak would be lit, which would be followed by the lighting of a beacon on Diyakelinawala mountain and from that to the Gannoruwa hill from which would be communicated to the city.

Towards the west of the fort about 100 feet below is an empty land with a rather flat surface with less trees; on our way down to the station we found a footpath just below the fort on the Balana road which led to this land, it was relatively flat with few trees and tea bushes at the beginning of the path. As stated earlier, the fort had two sections, an upper and lower. Clearly the ruins on the summit are that of the upper fort. It may be possible that the lower fort was situated on this location which appears to be larger in area than the upper fort. There were sections of stone walls along the path but those appear to have been put up for the tea plantation. The encroachment of the tea plantations in this lower section as well have rendered it impossible to identify any features as similar sized stone have been fitted as retaining walls for the tea bushes.

The land below the fort which could be the possible site of the lower fort. The present fort ruins are straight up and is covered by the trees.

Dating the present remains of the fort

Regarding the construction of the Balana fort, in historical literature, the first permanent fortifications appear in 1603 which were built by King Vimaladharmasuriya. Later it is recorded in 1611 that the Portuguese spent a fortnight erecting a fortification of wood. And with their occupation of the fort for a small period, in 1616 it is stated that the Portuguese added modifications to the place. Apart from these, there is no available record to indicate a construction.

The only means of finding an approximate date would be through a proper archaeological analysis through excavations and as well as examination of its features through a comparative analysis. The questions put forward here with regard to the present ruins are, the when and who of its construction? The ‘who’ comes due to the fact that although it is generally known as a Sinhalese fortification, it is a fact that it was occupied by foreigners at certain periods. The main elements drawn from the fortifications for a comparative analysis would definitely be the bastions. What is unique here is that the bastions are round; which is unusual for an artillery fortification.

Regarding the ‘who’ of the construction of the fort, all European artillery fortifications from the mid-16th century no matter how small, adapted the bastion fort design, which was the norm until the mid-1800s. In the bastion fort design, the bastions which were round during the middle ages were made to an angle with two sides and two flanks which removed any blind spots by giving fire cover from any point in the rampart. Thus the use of round bastions fell out of use; even small forts like the Matara Star fort and the Katuwana Dutch fort have angled bastions. Thus it is hard to assume that this is the work of any European power, hence it is more likely a Sinhalese work.

Regarding the ‘when’ of the construction, the last record of construction comes in the early 17th century as stated above. The Dutch nor British spent much time here, and with the fall of the Kingdom to the British, they concentrated on their military outpost at Amunupura a short distance away from Balana. Even during the 1818 rebellion, no record of any activity at Balana was found. Thus it has to be a work before 1815. The question of whether the present remains were constructed in the 1600s or the 1700s could only be confirmed by an archaeological excavation.


  • Abeyawardana, H.A.P. (1978), A Critical Study of Kada-Im-Pot, Author’s doctoral thesis. Government Printers.
  • Bell, H.C.P. (1904), Report on the Kegalle District – XIX 1892. Colombo: Government Printers.
  • Codrington, H.W. (1917), Diary of Mr. John D’Oyly 1810-1815. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXV.
  • Dolapihilla, P. (1959), In the Days of Sri Wickramasingha. Maharagama: Saman Press.
  • Perera. C.G. (2007), Kandy fights the Portuguese. Colombo.
  • Perera, F.S.G. (1930), The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon, Colombo: Acting Government Printer.
  • Pieris, P.E. (1913), Ceylon the Portuguese Era, Vol. I. 1992nd ed. Colombo: Tisara Prakasakayo.
  • Pieris, P.E. (1914), Ceylon the Portuguese Era, Vol. II. 1983rd ed. Colombo: Tisara Prakasakayo.
  • Powell, G. (1973), The Kandyan Wars, Great Britain: Trinity Press.
  • Ravan-Hart, R. (1964), Ceylon Historical Manuscripts Commission, Bulletin No. 06 ‘The Dutch Wars with Kandy 1764-1766’. Colombo: Government Printers.
  • Ravan-Hart, R. (1951), The Great Road, Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. IV
  • Suraweera, A.V. (2014), The Rajavaliya and the first ever translation of the Alakeshvara Yuddhaya, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
  • Lankananda, Ven. Labugama (1996), Mandaram Pura Puvatha, Cultural Affairs Department.
  • Parangi Hatana
  • Balane Hatana
  • Rajasinghe Hatana
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20th Century Historians: Rev. Fr. S G Perera

By Chryshane Mendis

The student of the colonial history of Sri Lanka has undoubtedly come upon the name of S. G. Perera in their studies. Fr. S. G. Perera, a Catholic Priest of the Society of Jesus was an exemplary scholar of the last century and whose parallels are unheard of. Publishing over a dozen books and over 300 articles in journals, his contributions to the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and the history of the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods of the island have aided the development of historical knowledge to a great extent in Sri Lanka; what could be called his magnum opus, the translation of the ‘Conquista’ of the 17th century Portuguese historian Fr. Queyroz, is the single most important Portuguese literary work which is the basis for any historical study on the Portuguese period. His proficiency of the Portuguese language gave him access to numerous original sources which he has translated and made available to the public is part of the wonderful legacy of this great historian of Lanka.

Fr. S. G. Perera (image from The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03 )
Tombstone of Fr. S. G. Perera in Dadalla cemetery

Simon Gregory Perera was born in June 1882 in Kalutara and attended school first at Holy Cross College Kalutara, then after a brief stay at St. Joseph’s College he finally completed his education at Wesley College. After completing his education at the age of 18 he passed the Government Clerical examination and joining the Government Service was posted to the Land Registry Office at Ratnapura. In 1905 at the age of 23 he followed his missionary calling and joined the Society of Jesus, a congregation of the Roman Catholic Church and left for a Jesuit College in India. He was ordained a Jesuit Priest on November 21st 1917 and was the first Sinhalese to of the order. From there he went to Rome and his scholarly nature soon made him Professor of Missionology at the Gregorian University Rome. He followed the academic career and served as the Principal of St. Servatious College Matara and was a long term member of the tutorial staff of St. Aloysius College Galle teaching Latin in the Upper Forms. He also served as the Vicar General of the Galle Diocese of the Catholic Church. Further he was the editor of the Ceylon Literary Register, member of the Ceylon Historical Commission and was a council member of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. He passed away on the 19th of February 1950 and is buried in the Dadalla cemetery in Galle.


His greatest contributions

Fr. S. G. Perera in his last days (image from The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03 )

Out of the many works of Fr. S. G. Perera, the translation of the work of the 17th century historian Fr. Queyroz can be seen as the most important. The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon was written by the Jesuit Priest Fr. Fernao De Queyroz in Goa and completed by 1687. This work contains the entire history of the Portuguese in the island written from the Portuguese perspective after much research by the author. This work is considered only second to the Mahawamsa in its historical value and is one of the main references of any student of history of Sri Lanka. In a time of less native literature in regards to the political aspect of the 16th and 17th centuries, this work has aided us to understand more of our history of those periods and is a treasured historical document. The existence of such a manuscript came to light in the late 1800s to Fr. Joseph Cooreman, S.J. who was the Vicar General of Galle, he had communicated this to Mgr. Ladislaus Zaleski the then Apostolic Delegate of the East Indies residing in Kandy and he obtained a copy of the manuscript from the original at Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Paul E. Pieris who later examined the manuscript identified its great value and secured another copy from Rio de Janeiro which he used in his works; this copy was purchased by the Government in 1912 or 1913 and published it as it was in the original form in 1916. In 1918 the Government entrusted the translation of this work to Fr. S. G. Perera who completed this translation over a period of 10 years and finally published it as “The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon” in 3 volumes through the Government Printer in 1930. This translation into English made this valuable piece of history accessible to generations of scholars. The laborious task of translation and research of Fr. Perera can clearly be seen in the very well written Introduction to this book where he traces the origins of the author and the writing of the book and its fate.

Fr. Perera’s linguistic familiarity with the western classical languages along with Sinhala, English and Portuguese gave him access to a wide variety of original sources pertaining to Sri Lanka’s history in the libraries and archives of Goa, Lisbon, Hague, Rome, London and Paris. And thus made numerous articles and books  such as The Jesuits in Ceylon, Life of Father Jacome Goncalvez, The City of Colomobo and along with translations such as the Kustantinu Hatana to name a few.


His Library

On the suggestion of the Past Pupils of St. Aloysius College after his death, his private library of rare books and manuscripts became part of the ‘Fr. S. G. Perera Memorial Library’ created by Fr. Perniola and Fr.Chiriatti of the Society of Jesus. In 1976 this library came under the guardianship of Fr. Aloysius Pieris SJ at the Tulana Research Center in Gonawala Kelaniya where it can be still accessed today.

Through his knowledge of Portuguese and other languages Father Perera had amassed a wealth of documents and books from the Archives of Rome and Goa and a visit to the library by the writer showed the untapped wealth of knowledge of these collections. Apart from the published historical books, this library which contains more than 3000 works holds many rare books and manuscripts of the records of the Catholic Church in original Portuguese. Apart from the historical documents, his library contains many other works on various subjects such as Law, Literature, Biology and Zoology etc. The original working copy manuscript of the Temporal and Spiritual Conquest too could be found here with the side notes of the great scholar.

Fr. Perera’s  working copy of the Conquista
A section from the working copy used for his translation into English.

Below is given a selected Bibliography of the publications of Father Perera; a complete list of his lectures, published articles and books can be found in page 278 of the Journal The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03.


The City of Colombo, 1926

The Expedition to Uva made in 1630 by Constantine De Saa, 1930

The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon by Father Fernando de Queyroz, Books 1-6 in 3 Volumes (Translated), 1930

A History of Ceylon for Schools: The Portuguese and Dutch periods 1505-1796, First Edition 1932 (5 editions)

A History of Ceylon for Schools: The British period 1795-1911, First Edition 1932 (5 editions)

Alagiyawanna: Kustantinu Hatana. Critical edition, 1932

The Douglas Papers, 1933

The Tombo of the Two Korales, 1938

Historical Sketches, 1940

The Jesuits in Ceylon, 1941

Life of Father Jacome Goncalvez, 1942

A Priet’s letters to a niece on love, courtship, and marriage, 1942

The Life of the Venerable Father Joseph Vaz, 1943

Valigala: Ahalepola Varnanava. Critical edition by Fr. S.G.Perera & Mr. M.E.Fernando

The Oratorian Mission in Ceylon

Articles in the Ceylon Literary Register Third Series

The Douglas Papers – ‘Considerations concerning certain changes in regard to the Government of Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Intercourse with the Government of Kandy’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the importance and value of the island of Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the establishments for administration of Justice in our Settlement in Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Establishment for the supply of Civil and Military Servants from home’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘On the improvement of the Agriculture and natural advantages’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the Direct supply of articles from this country to Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the Pearl fishery of Ceylon as a source of Revenue’, Vol. I, 1931.

Two letters of the Dutch to Rajasinghe, Vol.I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Answers to North’s despatches’, Vol. I, 1931.

Velapura,Vol. I, 1931.

French Maps of Trincomallee, Vol. I , 1931.

The Expedition to Uva in 1630, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Answers to North’s despatches’, Vol. II, 1932.

Simao Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

Letters of Simao Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

The Hobart Papers – Thomas Greenhill, Commercial resident on Cinnamon, Vol. II, 1932.

Alagiyawanna’s Kustantinu Hatana, Vol. II, 1932.

The Revenues of Ceylon – by Simoa Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

The Kandyan State Trial – Introduction, Vol. II, 1932.

The Kandyan State Trial – ‘Indictment and address’, Vol. II, 1932.

The First Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. II, 1932.

Ceylon Documents at the Hague, Vol. II, 1932.

The First Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Last Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Gascon Rala – Adigar and Poet, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Kandyan State Trial, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Ceylon Documents at the Hague, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Sinhalese Documents at the Bibliotheque National, Paris, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Lisbon Archives, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Ceylon Documents in the Torre do Tombo, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Throne of the Kings of Kandy, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

George Turnour, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Joao Vaz Monteiro – The Earliest Portuguese Tombstone in Ceylon, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

The Franciscans in Ceylon-Contemporary Document in the Vatican Archives, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

The History of Ceylon 1539-1552, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Narendrasinghe, the Dutch and a Catholic Priest, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Some Ancient Grammars and Dictionaries of the Sinhala Language, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Slave Island, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.



Father S.G.Perera, S.J., Wesley’s Historian & Scholar by N.S.Weerasekera

Fr. S.G. Perera: The erudite scholar and historian by W.T.A.L. Fernando

Uragoda, C.G.,  Authors on Books of Sri Lanka, 1796-1948, 2011

The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03.




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The Fortress of Colombo: What else remains?

By Chryshane Mendis

My research into the remains of the Fort of Colombo led me to identify 7 locations in total which all belongs to the Dutch built Fort. The previous article dealt with my identification of 3 sections of the Dutch fort lying within the Navy Headquarters; that is the entire Dan Briel bastion, the Postern gate known as the Slave port and sections of the rampart from Dan Briel bastion to Amsterdam bastion. In this article, I would discuss the remaining 4 locations.

The passion for exploration and history combined can be very fascinating. One does not need to explore unchartered jungles searching for lost ruins to get this experience. The heart that carries this passion  can find it in any environment; in my case, it was a concrete jungle, the well-known and very much alive, city of Colombo. The area of the Colombo fort which was once one entity is now broken down by various roads and private and public buildings thus remnants of a bygone era could be scattered and links joining them to a common history, lost. Thus the remains of the fort of Colombo which once would have collectively known to exist became separated in time and space as Colombo developed into its present form.

These 4 locations I identified on separate occasions. The first of these 4, the Delft gateway is one of the first remains which I came across. This remnant is no secret, and I came to know of it when I began work at the World Trade Center. This can be found in the Commercial Bank premises down Bristol Street. This monument is protected by the Archaeological Department and is well maintained by Commercial Bank, and anyone could freely visit the place.

The Delft gate formed one of the three main entrances to the Dutch Fort of Colombo, the others being the Galle gate in the south and the Water gate in the harbour. This gate was located on the eastern ramparts between the bastions of Delft and Hoorn and opened up to the Pettah which was the residential area of the city known during the Dutch times as Oud Stad or Old City.

The Delft gate was entered upon from the Pettah by crossing the moat using a draw bridge, and a curved passage way to the right gave entrance to the fort. On either side of the gate was one continuous building which housed the guards. The reason for the curved passage way was to avoid direct fire from the outside to the interior of the fort in case of an attack.

What remains at present is the latter part of the interior of the gate opening inside the fort, and the curved passage way could easily be traced. This is the only section of the fort that remains on the east of the fort if bisected from York Street.

The Delft gate (Author, 2016)
The Delft gate (Author, 2016)
The Delft gate through a plan from the 1690s. The black arrow indicates entrance from the Pettah, circled in red is what remains of the gate. Note the curved passageway.


The second location is the remains of the wall of Battenburg battery which can be found inside the Harbour. This section is also known to the Archaeological Department. I came to know of this section through a Television documentary made a few years back and with the help of my cousin brother we gained access to the harbour to see it.

The Battenburg battery was one of the two gun batteries built by the Dutch on the harbour arm that stretched into the sea. A gun battery is an arrangement of guns protected by a wall and does not contain any distinctive shape unlike the bastion and is built independently of the fort. The Dutch built these two batteries, Battenburg and Waterpass on the harbour arm to cover the approach from the sea and linked these two to the main fort through two lines of fortified warehouses. The Battenburg battery was the only section of the Dutch fort to be continuously used in warfare even after the demolition. This was used by the British as one of the four gun batteries which protected Colombo up until the Second World War where the British had installed six inches breech loading coastal artillery on it.

All that remains now is a seaward section stretching for about 50 meters and is made up of Kabook and bricks with relatively new cement plastering at certain sections. What is exposed is the side that would have been open to the sea, the area of which is now all filled due to the expansion of the harbour whereas the side of the wall facing the inside of the harbour is sealed by a concrete wall.

Battenburg battery (Author, 2015)
Battenburg battery (Author, 2015)
Battenburg battery as seen from the Chaitya, circled in red. (Author, 2015)

The third remnant of the fortifications of the Dutch fort of Colombo is the fortified warehouse. This is located at the end of Chaitya road and now functions as the Maritime Museum. Linking the fort proper with the gun batteries on the harbour arm were two lines of warehouses known as Pakhuizen which were double barrel roofed in design unique to the Dutch. It was here that all the commercial activities of the harbour took place as one of the main gates, the Water gate was situated in the centre of the north warehouse which opened up to the jetty where the ships would dock. Apart from performing the warehouse function it served as a link to the fort proper and the outer defences and was thus fortified with thick masonry so as to withstand bombardment from the sea.

What remains at present is the south warehouse and is in a good state of preservation, a close examination of it would reveal the heavy masonry in its construction which could have withstood heavy bombardment, its function is similar to that of the Galle fort which is also the Maritime Archaeology Museum where the warehouse forms part of the connecting rampart of the fort. The remains of the north warehouse could barely be traced as it has been completely modified and now serve as the Harbour Master’s Office; interestingly the rock with the Portuguese court of arms can be found in a small garden in front of this office. The remaining warehouse which functions as the Maritime Museum houses a lovely collection of artefacts and models of the development of the Colombo harbour and also several large scale models of wooden warships of different periods.

The fortified warehouse (Author, 2015)
The fortified warehouse, note the distinctive double barrel roofs. (Author, 2015)

The final location of the remains of the Dutch fort is a large section of the wall from Enkhuysen bastion and to Dan Briel bastion and is located behind the Junior Police Officers Mess down Chaitya road. I came across this section of the rampart by tracing a plan of the Dutch fort which I superimposed onto a present day satellite map. I had concluded that only six locations of the fort remained and tracing this superimposed map I wished to identify the names of the buildings that occupied the ramparts and bastions for the research paper which I was writing. Coming to this section of the ramparts I walked one evening down Chaitya road after work to find the name of this particular building, which my map showed that the ramparts would have run behind it. Noting that this was the building of the Junior Police Officers Mess I noticed something strange. In one corner of the building was a small canteen with a door opening to a court yard at the back; my eyes, trained to spot anything old from my childhood noticed an old wall. My mind went blank, I thought for a second “could it be…” and walked through the canteen to the back to find to my astonishment the largest section of the ramparts I have yet seen! The distinctive slope of the rampart was quite evident, and it was about 10-12 feet in height and stretched for about 40 meters. It appears to have been plastered over several times as different plastering can be observed.  There is also an interesting stone cut drain jotting out of the wall at a point.

Sections of the rampart between Enkhuysen to Dan Briel (Author, 2016)
Sections of the rampart between Enkhuysen to Dan Briel (Author, 2016)
Sections of the rampart between Enkhuysen to Dan Briel (Author, 2016)


These 4 locations and the 3 locations in the Navy Headquarters add up to 7 locations which all belong to the Dutch fort of Colombo. The Dutch fort of Colombo was completed with all its components by the end of the 17th century but which were subjected to modifications over time. When Colombo fell to the British in 1796, the new owners continued to maintain the Dutch fortifications with very few modifications and in 1869 it was decided to demolish the fortifications for the commercial expansion of the city leaving only sections of the fortifications on the west standing.

The Dutch fort, in blue are the sections that remain at present.
The sections of the fort at present. 1) Battenburg battery, 2) Fortified warehouse (maritime museum), 3) Dan Briel bastion, 4) Rampart between Enkhuysen and Dan Briel, 5) Rampart north of Dan Briel, 6) Postern gate, and 7) Delft gate.

Thus this romantic adventure with the Fort of Colombo made me feel like a modern day Howard Carter and made me realise, even in living modern cities, ruins can be lost and forgotten.

For more details on the remains of Colombo and the list of references, please see my research paper titled “Archaeological Remains of the Fort of Colombo” in the Journal of the Archaeological Society of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Puravidya Samhitha Vol. 6, 2016.


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Defiling Modern Warfare: The Dutch Castle of the North

Chryshane Mendis

Sri Lanka is home to several Dutch forts found throughout the island in varying size; much of the Dutch forts have survived the ages and some being in the mint condition such as the massive Galle Fort which is a World Heritage Site. Another interesting fort known to many is the Jaffna fort situated in the heart of the Jaffna town bordering the lagoon; this beautiful piece of 17th-century military architecture was finally put to the test 300 years later in the 20th century when it defiled modern warfare during the civil war.

Out of the other Dutch forts, the Jaffna fort is the most geometrically perfect, being of an equal sided pentagon with five bastions in the corners and would have been the third largest Dutch fort in the island after Galle and Colombo. The relation between the above three forts was that the territories under the Dutch in 17th and 18th century Sri Lanka were divided into three administrative divisions; the territory to the west with Colombo as the center, the southern areas known as the Galle commandement and the north which included the island of Mannar, the regions of the Wanni and the islands and peninsula of Jaffna as the Jaffna commandement with Jaffna as the center. Thus the forts of Colombo, Galle and Jaffna served as the main military post of the respective commandement and the seat of the Dutch administration of that region. Thus these three forts were larger in size compared to the rest of the forts which were under their control in that region.

Painting of the Jaffna fort by C. Steiger in 1710. (image from

Jaffna was an important centre in trade due to its close proximity to the Dutch control areas of Southern India especially in the trade of Elephants and Pearls. Thus due to this important location, the heart of the old native Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna needed to be protected at all costs, and thus the most geometrically perfect artillery fortification in the island was constructed on the border of the Jaffna lagoon. The Jaffna Fort, identified by Sir James Emmerson Tennent as the most perfect little military work in Ceylon, also had under its command the forts of Hammenhiel, Pooneryn, Ply, Beschutter, Elephant Pass, Mannar and Arippu.

View of Gelderland Bastion from the south-east.

History of the Fort

The first European fort to be built in Jaffna was that of the Portuguese who conquered the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619. With the arrival of the Dutch onto the political stage of 17th century Sri Lanka the fortresses of the Portuguese were captured by the Dutch and the Kingdom of Kandy; after the fall of Colombo in 1656, all that remained of the Portuguese were the fortresses of Mannar and Jaffna. The Dutch advanced upon Mannar, which fell without much resistance and began the siege of Jaffna on 20th March 1658; after a bitter struggle, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch on the 22nd June 1658 ending the Portuguese rule in the island. Soon after its fall, the Dutch like in other places of the country began to erect their own fortifications on the site of the Portuguese Fort. The Dutch continued to use the four sided Portuguese fort till 1665 where they completely demolished it and redesigned it to the latest designs of the day- the bastion fort or the star fort design.

Thus the five sided Dutch fort was constructed by 1680. The construction of the Jaffna fort can be divided into two distinct stages, the first stage, the ramparts and five bastions with the moat from 1665 to 1710 and the second stage, the outer fortifications from 1765 to 1792.

Plan from 1698
The main entrance with the date 1680

During the first stage, although the main features were completed by 1680 as indicated on the main entrance to the fort, some of its features were still under construction, and it was completed in its entirety only by 1710. In 1697 it is recorded in the Memoir of Hendrick Zwaardecroon, the Commandeur of Jaffnapatam that the moat was still under construction and also that the bridge to the fort over the moat was made of Palmyra wood and that he has given orders to construct a drawbridge. He further gives deficiencies in the fortifications such as of the gun platforms, the slope of the curtains (rampart), and the embrasures and their recommended solutions.

The second stage of construction commences on the creation of outer defences as indicated on a map dated 1765. On the outer side of the moat was constructed a covered way, the glacis and four ravelins. These outer fortifications give an extra line of defence as well are extending the attack capabilities of the fort. The inner side of the main entrance contains the date 1780 and on the entrance ravelin up until recently was the date 1792 which could be stated as the final year of completion of the fortifications as the fort surrendered to the British three years later.

The plan from 1765 with the outer defences.

In 1795 France invaded the Dutch Republic and created the Batavian Republic, the former Stadholder who fled to the British for protection issued orders on the terms of the British to its colonies to surrender to Great Britain until peace was restored. The British eager to grab the opportunity and to prevent France from taking over the Dutch overseas possessions moved into occupy the colonies even if it meant using force. In September 1795 the British captured Trincomalee and Batticaloa forts and on the morning of the 28th September 1795 arrived at the Jaffna fort which surrendered without firing a single shot. At the time of its capitulation to the British, the Jaffna Fort was garrisoned by only 55 Europeans and 97 Native officers and men. This fine fortification designed to meet any European enemy but being poorly garrisoned in its last days, surrendered without a fight.

Features of the Fort

The Dutch fort of Jaffna was designed like all the other Dutch fortifications in the island on the bastion fort, which was the design for artillery fortifications from the 16th century to the mid-19th century. The designing of a complex bastion fort in Jaffna was due to the key position played by Jaffna in the region, Jaffna formed the key position of the Dutch facing the Coromandel coast and the controlling of the Palk strait and was thus designed to keep out other European nations such as the French and British who were by that time establishing themselves in the Indian Ocean.

BLUE indicates conserved sections, RED indicates not conserved, BROWN indicates destroyed sections (as at June 2017)


The entire fortress of Jaffna including most of the building within was built of coral stone which was found in abundance. The stone was also burnt and used as lime for the construction and used for the foundations or for the filling up of the walls which were then covered up on the outside with cut coral stone (Memoir of Hendrick Zwaardecroon, Commandeur of Jaffnapatam, 1697 for the guidance of the Council of Jaffnapatam, during his absence at the coast of Malabar, p.37).

Concerning the main fortifications of the fort, it was surrounded by five bastions named after cities in Holland. Starting from the south on the left of the main entrance and going clockwise was the bastion of Zeeland, from there ran the rampart along the lagoon to the next bastion of Friesland. The rampart between each bastion is approximately 137 meters. Early Dutch maps of the fort show the lagoon as bordering the rampart between these two bastions with the water gate in the centre of the rampart; now this area has been filled up and between the fort and the lagoon runs the Jaffna-Ponnalai-Point Pedro road. From Friesland bastion, the rampart runs to the bastion of Utrecht, from there to Gelderland and from here to the bastion of Holland to the right of the main entrance. Each bastion had six gun embrasures on each face and three on each flank giving a total of 18 guns on each bastion. Further, each bastion had a belfry, used as communication during a siege.

The Church before destruction. (image taken from The Architecture of an Island)

Within the fort was found the residence of the Lieutenant Governor, the Church, houses for the qualified servants, the hospital, warehouses, the prison, the smithy, ammunition stores, the judiciary the parade grounds and situated on the south just outside the main entrance during the first stage of construction before the creation of the outer defences, was the horse stables and carpentry yard. This fort had one main entrance from the south between the bastion of Zeeland and Holland and a minor entrance known as the Watergate between the bastions of Zeeland and Friesland facing the lagoon. The total area within the fort was 14 acres.

The outer defences comprising of the glacis, the covered way and the ravelins were constructed after 1765. The covered way was created outside the moat and protected Musketeers with a head high parapet formed by the inner edge of the glacis. This allowed the soldiers to check incoming troops from the outside. With this feature soldiers move effectively through the outer circuit of the moat undercover and act as a forward defence line. Another special feature in a covered way was the construction of small sockets jotting into the glacis from the parapet of the covered way; this enabled soldiers to fire parallel to the line of the covered way. The creation of the glacis which is an outward slope from the covered way was designed to prevent the direct fire from enemy cannons to the ramparts. Ravelins are triangular outer works fitted with guns which acted as an outer bastion and was placed between two bastions on the outer side of the moat. The Jaffna fort had four ravelins with the covered way connecting each. Each ravelin had 12 guns each and was connected to the fort with a bridge running from the centre of the ravelin across the moat to the rampart with an entrance in the centre. This allowed troops to enter each ravelin from the rampart situated behind it. To enter the fort, one needed to pass through the entrance ravelin in the south which was on the site of the former horse stables and carpentry yard during the first stage of the fort; the entry to this ravelin was through an ‘S’ shaped path cut through the glacis which prevented direct fire from the outside to the entrance and upon entering from here would have had to cross the moat through the draw bridge to the main entrance of the fort. These outer fortifications formed the first line of defence as well as extending the range of fire of the fort. The Jaffna Fort was the only fort in the island with such a complex system of outer defences. Being the second largest pure military fort in the island (Galle was a fortified town; Colombo was the largest pure military fort) the Jaffna fort, although it did not see any action during the Dutch period, it served its purpose almost 200 years later.

The War and present situation

No 17th-century fortification in the island was tested to the ultimate limit as that of the Jaffna fort, the real strength of this colonial fortification was only known when it survived modern warfare during the Sri Lankan civil war. From the time of the British until independence, the fort remained under the military and with the outbreak of the civil war in the north, was one of the only remaining military bases in Jaffna peninsula under the Government forces. In 1990 the garrison – a company of soldiers of the 6th Sri Lanka Singhe Regiment and the Police were under siege for several months from the terrorists with regular bombardment to the fort from artillery and mortar fire. Operation Thrividha Balaya was conducted in September 1990 to relieve the Jaffna Fort, and after severe fighting, the garrison was rescued, and the fort abandoned. The fort of Jaffna was finally recaptured during Operation Riviresa in 1995 with the capture of the entire Jaffna peninsula.

The main entrance with the guard house and Holland bastion in the background.


View of the main entrance from the inside with the date 1780.
On top of the rampart towards Zeeland bastion. Note the damaged bellfry


View of the face of Gelderland bastion from the covered way. Note the original stone in dark grey and the new reconstructed part in light grey.

The once most perfect fort in the island was left in ruins during the civil war, the ramparts and bastions although severely damaged remained fairly in shape but it was a tragic loss of heritage for the buildings inside the fort. After the end of the war, in 2010 an ambitious project to conserve the Dutch fort by the Department of Archaeology was begun. A visit by the writer in June 2017 to the fort found the bastions and ramparts completely restored using new coral stone. Almost all the gun embrasures and the top layer of the ramparts have been reconstructed; a view of the fort from the outside clearly would show the extent of the damage done to the fort as the original coral stones are of a darker grey compared to the new white stones. In this way, it could be seen that at least a good 50% of the ramparts and bastions have been damaged during the war. All the bastions are now in good order expect the bastion of Friesland; the entire northern section of this bastion including a section of the rampart towards Utrecht Bastion has been destroyed leaving only the foundations. The main entrance is well preserved and still bears the dates ‘1680’ and ‘1780’ on the exterior and interior respectively but in the entrance ravelin which is situated in front of main entrance to the fort has been reconstructed and does not bear the date ‘1792’ anymore. The water gate, situated between Zeeland and Friesland bastions is visible but has been sealed up in the recent past.

Concerning the buildings within, nothing has survived the war, all buildings including the British era Queens House (which was the former Governor’s residence) are in ruins with few standing walls and the magnificent Dutch Reform Church built in 1706 is a pile of rubble at present. This beautiful Church which stood parallel to the Wolvandaal Church and Galle Church was of exceptional beauty and is a national tragedy to have lost such a monument of history. Speaking to an Officer of the Central Cultural Fund at the fort, he said that CCF has taken over from 2016 in the conservation of the fort while the Department of Archaeology will be looking into excavations. He said that they have planned to excavate and conserve the Church. He said that a minor excavation there found Dutch VOC coins and pottery.

Part of the destroyed Church
Part of the Queens house.

Concerning the outer works, thus far only the entrance ravelin and the eastern ravelin and its adjoining covered way have been fully conserved. From the ravelin in the north between Gelderland and Utrecht bastions to the ravelin in the west between Utrecht and Friesland and its covered way remain in its unconserved state as it was during the time of the war showing the horrors of heritage destruction during the conflict. Also, the bridges connecting the ravelins to the ramparts too have vanished. When concerning the glacis, although the extent of the land which once comprised of the glacis is there, it has lost its slope over the years and only a small section on the south beside the entrance ravelin still maintains its slope.

Conserved section of the covered way.
The conserved ravelin with its Gun embrasures and fire steps.
The conserved ravelin from the covered way, the tunnel gives entrance to the ravelin.
A cross section of the entrance tunnel to one of the damaged ravelins, this gives a clear idea on how these were built.
The cross section of the damaged rampart with the damaged Friesland bastion in the background.

The Jaffna Fort is the only fortification in the island with exterior bastion fortification features such as ravelins, covered ways and a glacis and thus gives a unique experience to study and observe these features. In a positive outlook, the Jaffna fort in its present state with conserved and unconserved sections offers a valuable field of study to students of history on the construction and architecture of artillery fortifications of the 17th century. The destroyed section of the rampart between Utrecht and Friesland bastions gives an excellent cross sectional view of the rampart and how it was constructed, and also the un-conserved ravelins too gives a good idea on how the parapet and the gun embrasures were built. On standard contrast, the northern main fortifications of the Galle fort look more majestic but taking the Jaffna fort as a whole; it definitely is the grandest and best artillery fortification in Sri Lanka.


  • Nelson, W. A., The Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka, 1984
  • Brohier, R. L., & Paulusz, J. H. O., Land Maps & Surveys, 1951
  • Lewcock, R., Sansoni, B., & Senanayaka, L.,The Architecture of an Island,
  • Van Diessen, R., & Nelemans, B., Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon,
  • De Silva, C. R., Ceylon Under the British Occupation,1953



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20th Century Historians : D.W. Ferguson

By Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,
Chryshane Mendis

Historical researches undoubtedly require reference to original sources; at present much of the original literature on Sri Lanka both local and foreign have been reproduced and translated into the present vernacular. This tedious task has no doubt aided the modern student of history to dig through original works of literature with much ease. Contributions of Donald William Ferguson in the areas of Portuguese history are a landmark in scholarship in the country and there is scarcely a student or writer of Sri Lankan history who has not benefited by the penetrating researches of Donald Ferguson.

Image taken from Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India, Monograph series No.01, Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.

Donald Ferguson was part of the well-known family of Fergusons in the profession of Journalism. His father, A. M. Ferguson was from Ross-shire Scotland and arrived in the island in 1837 aboard the same ship carrying Sir Stewart Mackenzie who was to take up duties as the new Governor; He had tried his hands as a Planter, a Customs Officer and a Magistrate and finally joined the weekly newspaper Observer as co-editor along with its proprietor Dr. Christopher Elliot in 1846 and subsequently became its sole proprietor and chief editor. He was joined soon after by his nephew John Ferguson as Assistant editor who is famously known for the Ferguson Directory.

Into this family of journalists, Donald Ferguson was born in Colombo on 8th October 1853 to Alastair Mackenzie Ferguson and Anne Mackerras. He received his primary and secondary education in England at Highgate and Mill Hill where he acquainted himself with the classical languages of Latin and Greek but also with Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French. He also made familiar of himself with Sinhala and Tamil. After completing his studies in the United Kingdom he pursued a journalistic career in Ceylon focusing on the history of the island and joined his father and cousin on the staff of the Observer as Assistant Editor. He was also the founder and chief editor of Ceylon Literary Register and the Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. His study of the Portuguese and Dutch languages enabled him to focus on the original sources pertaining to Sri Lanka’s history and through his frequent visits to England due to ill health, he was a regular visitor to the British Museum where he copied and translated documents relating to Sri Lanka. His unique access to these original works made him a prominent authority on the colonial history of the island especially the Portuguese period publishing numerous papers to journals especially to the Ceylon Literary Register and the Journal of the Ceylon Brach of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1893 he retired to England and continued his passion with Ceylon history until his death on 29th June 1910 in Croydon.

“He was indeed a rare type of scholar…his life should be an example and a stimulus to us all and his memory will be cherished with gratitude by this Society” – Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society upon announcing his death.

“The quantity and quality of his work, which would have been great for a person of vigorous health, were truly surprising when one remembers the condition under which that work was produced” – extract from the first number of the Third series of the Ceylon Literary Register.

The Ferguson Collection:

This is the library of Donald Ferguson which is now in the Peradeniya University Library. (The following is referred from the article on the Ferguson collection by N. T. S. A. Senadeera from Vol. XXXIII of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1991).

Through his studies in the British Museum, he had made copies of rare works for his personal use and finally included a collection of over 300 items including rare books, manuscripts and maps. Apart from main historical books, his collection contains many kinds of obscure and recondite booklets and pamphlets on Ceylon over the last few centuries. With the acquisition of the Ceylon Observer by D. R. Wijewardene his collection known as the Ferguson collection became part of the D. R. Wijewardene Library. As stated by J. H. O. Paulusz “there are two main disasters that can overtake a library of this kind. On the death of scholar, his collection is usually sold to many others, resulting in dispersal. The other disaster is the removal of the collection or its rare contents abroad. Both these disasters were averted from the Ferguson Collection by the wisdom and foresight of Mr. D. R. Wijewardene.”

Identifying the usefulness of this valuable collection D. R. Wijewardene’s initial intention was donating it to the Sangharama and Vihara Trust of the University of Ceylon (now the Peradeniya University)but recognizing its wide appeal agreed that it should be placed within the reach of the whole island and therefore offered it to institutions to purchase the whole collection. As this did not materialise, in his last will Mr. Wijewardene directed his executors to offer it to the University of Ceylon now the Peradeniya University. On 30th May 1951 his lawyers after his death contacted the University and on the 14th August, the Vice-Chancellor accepted the offer and finally, in December 1959 the Ferguson Collection was transferred to the Library of the University of Peradeniya.

In 1948 J. H. O. Paulusz published a 75-page book from the Ceylon Daily News Press titled “The Ferguson Section of Mr. D.R.Wijewardene’s Library” describing 19 books and 4 maps of the Ferguson collection and containing a catalogue of the entire collection compiled by Mr. S. A. Mottau. This small book gives the magnitude of the collection and as Paulusz states, it is a collection put together to serve a definite end that is to promote and facilitate research among the Dutch records and to support the Original material available in the National Archives of Sri Lanka.; the collection in fact is a single unit. The book describes 19 books and 4 maps of the collection varying from early Sinhala prints to Dutch, German and Portuguese travellers accounts.

The comprehensive catalogue in the end complied by Mr. S. A. Mottau is divided by languages in order Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Sinhalese and Pali, Tamil and other Indian languages and Other miscellaneous languages. These are further sub-divided into General Publications, Pamphlets, and reference books and dictionaries.

A breakdown of the catalogue with the language and number of works is as follows:

Dutch general publications – 31

Dutch pamphlets – 1

Dutch references etc – 10

English general publications – 33

English references etc – 4

French general publications – 17

French pamphlets – 4

German general publications – 23

German pamphlets – 6

German references etc – 3

Portuguese general publications – 34

Portuguese pamphlets – 10

Portuguese references etc – 9

Sinhala general publications – 1

Sinhala references etc – 3

Other… general publications – 3

Other… references etc – 4

The list contains Travel diaries, books, Tombos etc with the title of work, author and date of publication. The number of works in the above topics excludes the numerous volumes of the same work which have separate sub reference numbers. This catalogue serves as a valuable indicator of the quality and quantity of the collection and an important tool for the student of history.

His notable works:

His most notable contribution can be stated is the translation of the Decadas of de Barros and do Couto in the title of The History of Ceylon from the Earliest times to 1600 A.D. in No. 60 Vol. XX of the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1908. The Decadas were a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia first written by the historian Joao De Barros and later by Diogo Do Couto. Ferguson’s translations are those of the sections pertaining to Sri Lanka and makeup one of the most important Portuguese works referred to by historians alongside the great work of Father Queyroz (The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon). In a period of less Sinhalese literature this work serves as an important source of reference to study the political situation of the island from the beginning of Portuguese rule till 1600 A.D. This work has been the base for all students of the colonial history of the island and who are therefore in debt to Donald Ferguson for making available such a piece of history.

Some of the other important contributions of his were the translation of another Portuguese historical work being the Lendas Da India by Gaspar Correa which focuses on the early period of Portuguese activities in the island and also the correct identification of the date of arrival of the Portuguese in the island which took place in 1506 and not in 1505 as commonly known, this is now accepted by Historians.

Below is a list of all his publications in the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society:

“A Belgian Physician’s Notes on Ceylon in 1687-8”,  Vol. X (35), 1887.

“Captain Joao Ribeiro: His work on Ceylon and the French Translation Thereof by the Abbe Le Grand”, Vol. X(36), 1888.

“Ribeiro’s Account of the Siege of Colombo in 1655-56(Tr)”, Vol.XII (42), 1891.

“Robert Knox’s Sinhalese Vocabulary”. Vol.XIV (47), 1896.

“A Letter from the King of Portugal to Raja Sinhe II”, Vol.XVI (50), 1899.

“The Inscribed Mural Stone at the Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“Alagiyawanna Mohottala, the Author of “Kusajataka Kavyaya”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“A Chapter in Ceylon History in 1630”, Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Joao Rodriguez De Sa e Menezes” Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Correspondence Between Raja Sinha II and the Dutch”, Vol. XVIII (55), 1904.

“Joan Gideon Loten: The Naturalist Governor of Ceylon (1752-57) and the Ceylonese Artist de Bevere”, Vol, XIX (58), 1907.

“The Discovery of Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1506”, Vol. XIX (59), 1907.

“The History of Ceylon, From the Earliest times to 1600 A.D.: As Related by Joao de Barros & Diogo do Couto (Tr.)”, Vol. XX (60), 1908.

“Letters from Raja Sinha II to the Dutch”, Vol. XXI (62), 1909.

Posthumous publications:

“Mulgiri-Gala”, Vol. XXII (64), 1911.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXX (80), 1927.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (81), 1928.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (82), 1929.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (83), 1930.

“Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr)” with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph series No. 01, 2010.



Uragoda, C.G.,  Authors on Books of Sri Lanka, 1796-1948, 2011

Gaston Perera, Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr) with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph Series No. 01, 2010.  (Appendix I – The Donald Ferguson Collection in the University of Peradeniya Library by N. T. S. A. Senadeera, Appendix III – Obituary Notices on Ferguson’s Death(extract from Obituary Notice in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland  and extract from the first number of the Third Series of the Ceylon Literary Register))

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Kotte Heritage 3: The Bastions and Passes

Chryshane Mendis

Passes and bastions are important elements of fortifications. The Passes, large and small give access to and from a fort and at times of war would be heavily guarded. Bastions are fortified projections on the ramparts of a fort from which defenders could easily defend the rampart as well as attack enemies due to its wide angle of fire. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with both these elements.

The fortress of Kotte had 6 minor passes and one main land pass giving access to the outside world. The main land pass was through the Outer city in the south. This was around 200 feet in width and protected by the outer moat on both sides and granite stone walls along the moat along with two bastions. This main entrance to Kotte is at present north of Pita Kotte junction near the Sirikotha. There were further two minor passes to the outer city situated on the outer end of the moat.

In the inner city there were 4 minor passes apart from the inner city gate in the south. One pass lay in the northern tip of Kotte and was fortified with a drawbridge to the road towards Colombo. On the northeast of the inner city rampart was the Kantagantota pass and with the other two passes situated on the two edges of the south inner city rampart. The 6 minor passes were created through narrow channels across the lake and the mud layer that surrounded the fort. These passes would have been small concealed openings in the rampart which could have been easily defended during a siege. It is important to note that the fortress of Kotte was designed on that of the Indian city of ‘Mithila’ mentioned in the Ummaga Jataka and accordingly Mithila too had 7 passes to the city.

The bastions are recorded to have been built of granite instead of Kabook from which the rampart was built and they were placed at the entrances to each pass for their protection. Two bastions each guarded the main land access in the outer city and the inner city gate at the inner city and one bastion each protected the rest of the passes. Apart from these defences that were created before the arrival of the Portuguese, with their arrival and subsequent guardianship of the city of Kotte, they too erected defences at the inner city gate and the main land pass in the form of a vallation (a defensive structure like a bastion). Further the ancient Sinhalese chronicles states that Devalas and Kovils were built on top of the bastions.

At present very few of the remains of the above features can be identified. From the bastions, only the Angampitiya bastion which was on the western end of the south inner rampart can be seen and scanty remains of the draw bridge of the northern pass and the entrance to the Kantagantota pass can be seen. The following will go according to the numbering of the Passes and Bastions of the above map.

Pass 01 and Bastion 10

This was situated on the northern tip of the fortress of Kotte and gave entrance to the road to Colombo. This pass was known as the pass of Ambalama and fortified by a bastion and a draw bridge. At present it is would be the location between Morris Rajapakse Mawatha and Jayanthi Mawatha bordering the Parliament road soon after the bridge from Rajagiriya. Remains of the draw bridge, first identified by Mr. Prasad Fonseka of the Kotte Heritage Foundation can be found in the premises of the Lions Club on Morris Rajapakse Mawatha. Here 3-4 large stone pillars could be found which are believed to have been supporting pillars to the draw bridge.

The Pass of Ambalama with the bastion and draw bridge would have been situated in this location on the other side of the road.
Inside the Lions Club premises, there are 2 large stones on the mound bordering the Parliament road.
One of the large stone pillars in the Lions Club premises which would have supported the draw bridge.


Pass 02 and Bastion 09

Heading along the eastern inner city ramparts from the north, this was known as the Kantagantota pass and could be found at present in the Parakumba Pirivena. A conserved section of the rampart is found running across the Temple premises and the opening in the middle of the rampart is where the pass would have been. The bastion would have been in close proximity within the present Temple premises but no remains can be found at present.

The gap between the rampart in Parakumba Pirivena

Pass 03 and Bastion 05

This bastion and pass is situated on the edge where the southern and western ramparts meet. This is also known as the Angampitiya bastion and can be reached by turning onto Angampitiya road and after about 200m, from the four-way junction turn left till This bastion and pass is situated on the edge where the southern and western ramparts meet. This is also known as the Angampitiya bastion and can be reached by turning onto Angampitiya road and after about 200m, from the four-way junction turn left till you reach the Sri Jayawardhanapura school play grounds, the rampart can be found on this road in two sections and the bastion is found at the end on to the left. This bastion has been built on a natural mound and cut granite blocks could be found scattered around. This is the only visible bastion of the fortress of Kotte at present but is in a neglected state. A visit two years back showed some granite blocks inplace but these have since been disrupted. The 3rd pass to the inner city would have been near this bastion. Just in front of the bastion is an old well now situated inside a private land, it is stated that there were wells at the entrances to every pass so that the people may wash themselves before entring the fort. This bastion and pass is clearly marked in a Dutch map which is reproduced in the book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS.

Angampitiya bastion
Some of the dislocated granite stones of the bastion.

Bastions 06 & 07 and entrance to inner city

These two bastions would have covered the entrance to the inner city from the outer city. at present no remains of the bastions can be seen as the present Ethul Kotte road runs through this section and the area has been completely built up. A section of the rampart coming from Angampitiya bastion can be seen in the Salvation Army Church premises. The Portuguese sources state that they had built a defensive structure known as a vallation at this entrance, this too could clearly be seen on the Dutch map.

The location of the inner city gate just north of Baddagana junction.

Pass 04 and Bastion 08

This can be found on the end of the eastern rampart where it meets the inner city moat. The rampart here is conserved but no trace of the bastion can be found. From the point where the eastern rampart meets the southern rampart at the 90 degree angle, the southern rampart extends several meters towards the east. This could be the entrance peer to pass no. 04.

The newly conserved section would be the peer to the pass.

Pass 05 and Bastion 01

This pass and bastion was situated at the western end of the outer city moat and rampart and at present would be in an area somewhere down the southern end of 4th Lane. The bastion would have given entrance to the pass through the shallow mud layer here through the lake. This is situated at a lower elevation than the main land pass (Ethul Kotte road area) thus would have been ideal for as a pass as the entire approach could be seen from the higher elevation areas with much safety.

Pass 06 Bastions 02 & 03

Pass 06 was the main land access to the fortress of Kotte just north of Pita Kotte junction and the bastions were built on either side of the main land pass. At present no remains can be found and these would have been situated on either side of the Ethul Kotte road where the present Janatha Sevaka Sangamaya building is and another building on the opposite side. In the centre of this, the Portuguese had built another vallation for further protection.

View from the Land pass towards Pita Kotte junction (Sirikotha is on the left)
Site of bastion 03


Site of bastion 02. The western outer moat is behind the small truck.

Pass 07 and Bastion 04

This pass and bastion was situated on the eastern end of outer moat and rampart. At present it could be traced to a location down Ranpokuna Mawatha. This too is in a lower elevation such as Pass 05 and Bastion 01 but no remains can be traced.

Supposed location of the bastion down Ranpokuna Mawatha.


  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
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The Fortress of Colombo: What lies beneath the Navy Head Quarters

By Chryshane Mendis

The harbour of Kolon Thota or Colombo was a prominent port in ancient Sri Lanka and from the 15th century onwards it was the principle port of the country due to its proximity to the Capital city of Kotte. With the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, they made Colombo their main center establishing a large city over time. The succeeding European colonists, the Dutch and British too made Colombo their center. To protect their interests in the harbour the Portuguese fortified their city and the harbour creating the Fort of Colombo; the succeeding Dutch too erected their own fortifications on the site of the Portuguese ruins. The British after occupation maintained the Dutch fortifications till the mid-19th century where they were demolished for commercial expansion of the city. The Fort of Colombo has a colourful history of almost 500 years and the final fortifications; the Dutch Fort was demolished in the 1870s but not entirely as I found out.

Having read much about the Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka, I was determined to explore the untold story of the Fort of Colombo beginning from its inception from the time of the Portuguese, for as common knowledge goes no remains exist. This journey took me on an adventure of a life time, I felt like a modern day Howard Charter to the surprises that awaited me in that busy city center called Colombo 01. There hidden amoung the crowded streets of Fort are the hardly known remains of the name-sake of Colombo 01, the very ruins of the Dutch Fort of Colombo. This is the remarkable story of their rediscovery.

Strolling through books of history I came across a picture which took me quite by surprise, in the book The Epic Struggle of the Kingdom of Kandy by Brendon Gooneratne was a picture somewhere from the 1970s of a wall of the Fort. Judging from the surroundings it seemed to be somewhere on the modern Chaitya road, so hopping on my trusty scooter one afternoon in 2015 I headed down Chaity road in Fort; traveling near the Light House Galley I noticed the building featured in the picture behind the old wall, this turned out to be the Office of the Navy Commander inside the Navy Head Quarters but there was no old wall insight but large trees, so climbing the lighthouse to gain elevation I scanned the tree lines and to my astonishment found through the branches glimpses of an old wall. I was speechless, if that picture was true; those are the ruins of the Dutch Fort. Now I needed a closer look, so I wrote to the Navy Commander seeking permission to visit the old wall inside. I was thrilled when I received a written reply from the Navy granting me and my friend Minol Peiris permission to visit the wall and after contacting the Commanding Officer Captain Suresh De Silva via telephone a date was fixed for the visit. I cried in amazement as to what wonders I would see for seeing ruins within the Commercial Capital of the country is thrilling and of something believed not to exist.

Arriving at the Navy Headquarters we were given passes and greeted by Lieutenant Commander Abeyrathna who escorted us to the site. This old wall faced the Galle Buck road and entering a small compound we came to the base of it. It was beyond words! It was not just a wall but an entire bastion with four cannons jutting out which have been sealed off. The walls were some fifteen feet high and were an odd shape rather than the known triangular bastions like those of the Galle Fort, it had five faces or sides and it was quite clear that it had gone through considerable alterations during the past century with a mix of red bricks and modern cement and concrete. At the base on the south side of the bastion were large boulders which seemed like a natural rock formation.  We documented and photographed this and then we were told that there was more, a gateway to the Fort!  Walking behind the bastion we reached the Flag Staff Street and turning left walked few meters down and to our left we turned with amazement, there flanked by two buildings was an entire gateway with the date still on it. It was in a ruinous condition with trees growing on it and was the dump site of construction material. It was a Postern gate, meaning a small secured entrance by the looks of it with the passageway sealed in the center. The date ‘1676’ was barely visible.

Exploring this we climbed a small portion of wall connected to it and peeping to the other side, I noticed something! We asked the Navy officer who accompanied us if we could go to the other side and he agreed to take us. This was the back garden of another building. My suspicion was right, there on the other side were parts of an old wall, and as they joined the small gateway it was quite clear that they were part of the ramparts of the Fort. The section from the bastion end to the Postern gate is about 30 meters and of about 4 feet in height and has a mix of stone and kabook masonry, along this stretch is a modern wall built upon the ruins. The behind of the Postern gate was a sad sight; it was fully covered with trees with large roots going deep into the masonry. Beyond that too were remains of the ramparts, it ran for about 20 meters with a varying height of about 5 feet, this section too was in a ruinous condition with trees growing on top of it. This part mainly consisted of kabook masonry. We were just taken away. These were definitely part of the fortifications of the Dutch Fort.

We inquired as to whether the Archaeology Department visits these ruins but they said that no one comes and asked us if we could help them identify the ruins. Roused by the fire of discovery I immediately set to work on identifying them. Digging through the maps in the National Archives, the memoirs of the Dutch Governors, various other sources and specially the book The Dutch forts of Sri Lankaby W.A.Nelson I was able to uncover the history of the ruins.

The Dutch Fort, built on the western end of the ruined Portuguese City after its fall in 1656 was constructed on the Bastion Fort design (i.e. Galle Fort) and consisted of 9 bastions and 2 gun batteries on the Habour arm. The Dutch Fort was totally completed by the 1690s. The bastions were named after cities in the Netherlands and from north clock wise, the bastions of Leyden, Delft, Hoorn, Rotterdam, Middleburg, Klippenburg, Enkhuysen, Dan Briel and Amsterdam. The gun batteries on the Habour arm were Battenburg and Water Pass.

The Dutch fort in 1756 (Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV)

The bastion in the Navy Head Quarters was the bastion Dan Briel, this was a modest bastion which protected the rocky beach along the west coast between Enkhuysen and the Battenburg battery. This bastion was situated on a hill, which was the highest point in the city hence the large rocks and the considerable elevation observed at the present site. This bastion’s apex or the pointed end where the two sides of the bastion meet seemed to have been cut sometime in the late 19th century probably in order to make way for the Galle Buck road, as is evident from a map of 1904; giving it its odd five sided shape today. The bastions where initially built of Kabook and only after 1751 were they built of proper lime and stone. Previously the old British lighthouse and the flag staff was located on this bastion and now built upon it is the office of the Navy Commander.

Dan Briel bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
Dan Briel bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
Dan Briel bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
Dan Briel bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
Dan Briel bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
Dan Briel bastion (Author, 2015)

The Postern gate had a fascinating history; the Fort had three main entrances, one being the Delft gate on the eastern ramparts, the other the Galle gate on the south, and the third being the Water gate in the habour. In the old days this small secondary entrance was known as the Slave Port which led to the Kaffirs field which was the land area between the Fort and the sea on the western coast; this is where the Company’s slaves were kept. “Without the walls, between them and the sea are the Huts where near four thousand Slaves, belonging to the Company lye at night…their huts are little, made up with nothing but straw and leaves” is the description given by the German Christopher Schweitzer in the 1680s. Thus this was the small entrance from which the slaves of the VOC entered the Fort to work. The Kaffirs field would now correspond to the buildings of the Navy Head Quarters, Galle Buck road, Chaitya road to the coast (now vanished for the Port City), the slaves of the Dutch were first kept here till they were relocated in the 18th century to a small peninsula in the Beria lake now known as Slave island due to an incident, which is an interesting tale for another time.

The Postern gate or Slave Porte (Minol Peiris, 2016)


The date ‘1676’ (Minol Peiris, 2016)
The behind of the gate (Minol Peiris, 2016)


The walls on either side of the Slave Port were the ramparts of the Dutch Fort one, connecting Dan Briel to the Slave Port and the other from the gate to the Amsterdam bastion, but seemed to have lost their shape and size due to the alterations of its surroundings.

Part of the rampart adjoining Dan Briel bastion and the Slave port (Minol Peiris, 2016)
The rampart adjoining the Slave port and Amsterdam bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)
The rampart adjoining the Slave port and Amsterdam bastion (Minol Peiris, 2016)


We were speechless at what we had seen, ruins in the heart of Colombo! I was simply amazed to the fact that these ruins are hardly known and not properly conserved. I was overjoyed as to what I had discovered; the ruins of the Dutch Fort but there was more to it than meets the eye, my research further led me to locate more remains amounting to an astounding seven locations.

The next article would feature the rest of the remains of the Fort of Colombo.



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Breaking myths: uncovering the truth behind the ‘Old Dutch Stables’ of Pettah

By Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,
Chryshane Mendis

The Pettah, located in the heart of Colombo bordering the Colombo harbor and the commercial hub Fort was once part of the colonial Dutch city of Colombo which was the center of administration of the Dutch. The Pettah during the Dutch period was known as the Oude Stad or Old City and formed the residential quarters of the city which bordered the Castle or the Dutch Fort of Colombo on the west. This once highly residential area during the Dutch occupation gradually transformed into a commercial hub during the British period and remains that way at present with its unique charm not felt elsewhere. The outline of the Pettah or the roads, are those laid out by the Dutch in the mid-17th century and has managed to maintain its form for over 300 years. Well into the British period the Pettah consisted of houses of various persons and is still scattered around with buildings of old, some preserved and some modified beyond recognition. Out of the surviving Dutch buildings, only the building of the present Dutch museum down Prince Street built in the late 17th century remains in the Pettah, the various other historic buildings such as the Town Hall and the Olcott building belong to the British period. Interestingly there is said of a building situated down Prince Street to be the ‘Old Dutch Stables’. Hunting down this mysterious building, it was found to be on Prince Street, few blocks before the Dutch museum.

This building which now houses a printing press and several other shops, can be found on the right of Prince Street before the Dutch museum when entering from 1st Cross Street but is unrecognizable from the outside as it is camouflaged to meet that of the rest of the Pettah. Through this outer entrance one would gaze in amazement at the massive door frame and its yellow walls instantly recognizing it to an old colonial building.

The front of the building facing Prince Street


The doorway which is about 6 feet from the outer entrance is made of think timber with a large lattice fanlight. Entering through here one comes to a long narrow corridor with tables and racks on either side used by the printing press. Immediately after entry there are two similar doorways on either side of the wall with large door frames but which are sealed off. About 10 feet in front one would find a massive masonry arch with elaborately decorated columns and a keystone in the center of the arch with a symbol of a horseshoe, this section contains a high ceiling. Passing this arch is an uneven corridor with an old two storied building running along the left side and a modern two storied building on the right.

The main entrance

Sealed doorway to the right
Sealed doorway to the left
The Horseshoe on the Keystone

The section on the left is about 20 feet in length and houses the printing press and a few other shops in the rooms. The upper floor looks abandoned and could be reached from the right wing. This upper floor contains an old wooden balcony  with railings which are almost falling apart. The doors and windows of this old section are typical of old 20th century buildings with  decorated oval arched fanlights.

The Upper section
Old wooden balcony with railings

The Old building on the left of the inner corridor
The new right wing in the inner corridor

This building is in a very bad state of preservation and only the strength of its original structure has made it to withstand the winds of time. The two sealed off doorways no doubt opened up to two side wings of this building which are sadly no more as two new buildings have come up on either side in recent times. The people there state that the new up stair building on the right of the inside corridor was built in the 1970s and that before there was an old single storied section with the tiled roof tilting inwards and this section was separated from the inner corridor which would have been an inner courtyard by a long lattice work.

The investigation

This building is thought to be a Dutch stables as claimed by the people around. Having studied the history of the Colombo Fort well, I was surprised to find such a claim. Deciding to find out the truth about this building I dug through the various sources of history and also went through old maps at the National Archives but found no indication of a Stable at the Pettah. When the Dutch took over Colombo from the Portuguese in 1656, they demolished the entire Portuguese city and built anew their own city. They concentrated their military fortifications to the west of the city forming the present Fort area and to the east; they built the residential quarters known as the Oude Stad or Old City forming the present Pettah. Within the Fort they housed the garrison and all high government officials including the Governor and other buildings of the Dutch East India Company which also included the Company stables. The Oude Stad was the residence of the Burghers and the other communities that served in the Company. Going through a map of 1733, there are mentioned 15 important buildings in the Oude Stad including the Siminarium (Seminary which is now the Dutch Museum) and the Nederlandse School on Prince Street known as De Prince Straat during the Dutch times, but no mention is made of a stables.

A Stable or not?

L. Brohier gives an interesting account of the Pettah during the Dutch times in his Changing Face of Colombo speaking on the life of the people during those times and interestingly mentions that residents who own horse carriages, the horses where brought in from the front door and stabled in the garden behind. Therefore this building could not have been a purpose built stables but an ordinary house. Alternately no source could be found as to when this building was constructed and who the original owner was. Digging through the National Archives no material was found on this. I was advised to check with the Colombo Municipal Council as they too have a wealth of documents on Colombo; meeting with the Municipal Assessor regarding this, she said that no such records were found and that the building has not been assessed. Speaking to researcher Mr. Dhanesh Wisumperuma, he stated that the Horseshoe is generally used as a symbol of Luck and was used in houses until recent times; the horseshoe found on the arch of this building could have been placed for this purpose. This might have led to people misinterpreting it as a Stable. Therefore it could be stated that this building was in no way a Stables but an ordinary house.

Dutch or British?

Now the question was its period of construction, was it really a Dutch era building or not? As no written evidence could be found on the date of construction of this building, only an analysis of the architectural features could reveal its most likely period. What mainly characterizes this building to the Dutch period is the large door frame. A study of the colonial architecture revealed that although by the first decades of the 1800s British style buildings were being built, the old Dutch traditions in-house design survived well into the 20th century; leaving to the opinion that what may look Dutch, could well be British. Further speaking to renowned architect Mr. Ismeth Raheem, he explained that the Pettah was remodeled several times and that very little remains of the work of the Dutch period. Looking at the architectural features of this building, he stated that the Keystone on the arch looks British and placed a date between 1880–1930; well into the British period.

A further comparison was made with the Olcott building, another late 19th century house down Maliban Street where Sir Henry Steel Olcott resided.  The column supporting the arch in the Olcott building drew much resemblance to the same found at the said Old building.  And further going through old building plans in the book The Architecture of an Island, I found the surviving sections of this Old House in resemblance to a plan of a Moslem trader house of the mid 19th century down Chekku Street, Pettah but an excursion down this said Street revealed no such house at present for a physical comparison. This building which has not come under the preview of the Department of Archaeology, although not Dutch and not a Stable is no doubt a unique component of Pettah’s once proud heritage and if preserved would be an appeasing sight for the wondering tourist to glimpse on a once bygone era of the Pettah.


  • Brohier, R.L., & J.H.O. Paulusz, Land Maps & Surveys, 1951
  • Lewcock, R., B. Sansoni, & L. Senanayaka, The Architecture of an Island,
  • Van Diessen, R., & B. Nelemans, Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon,
  • Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon
  • Brohier, R.L., Changing Face of Colombo,
  • Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union Vol. 41, No. 2, 1951
  • Maps at the National Archives
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Kotte Heritage 2: The Ramparts and the Moat

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,

The ramparts are an important feature in fortifications which serve as the defensive wall protecting the camp or city. Ramparts were used in the ancient world to protect a city, a military camp or a border. Due to the insecurity of the ancient world in comparison to the modern era almost all large urban centers or cities needed fortifications for its defence. The remains of walled cities could be found throughout the world from the ancient cities of Mesopotamia to each and every major civilization up until the dawn of the modern age. In Sri Lanka, the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Panduwasnuwara too were protected by a ring of ramparts. The city of Kotte was first developed in the late 14th century as a purely military fortress by Nissanka Alakesvara and later developed into a fortified city during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century.

The city of Kotte was divided into two sections, being the inner city and outer city. The inner city was surrounded by a strong rampart with a moat at the South and surrounded by the lake; while the outer city area was fortified by a moat and rampart from the South which guarded the only land pass to the city. The overall defenses were constructed by Nissanka Alakesvara at the inception but the rampart of the inner city area was constructed by King Parakramabahu VI.


Inner city ramparts

The inner city ramparts were constructed by King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century and were made up of laterite (kabook) stones. This inner rampart circles the entire city only interrupted in about 6 locations by inner reservoirs. There were 4 small passes into the inner city from the outside and the principle entrance was the inner city gate in the centre of the Southern ramparts. There were further 6 bastions built along the ramparts with 4 guarding the entrance to the 4 passes and 2 at the main inner city gate. The city was protected by a purpose built mud layer and the lake from the North, the West and the East while the rampart from the South was protected by a deep moat. This moat was constructed only on the eastern section of the South ramparts as the western half was in proximity to the lake which provided sufficient protection.

Outer city ramparts

The outer city fortifications were faced to the South which was the main land pass to the city. It is stated that the outer fortifications were built by Nissanka Alakesvara. It composed of granite ramparts, a moat and 2 bastions and also some bastions built by the Portuguese. The granite rampart to the West would have run for about 190 meters while the Eastern section would have run for about 145 meters. In front of these was constructed on either side of the land pass two deep moats. These moats would have been filled with mud and a thin layer of water. The Nikaya Sangrahaya and the Saddharmaratnakaraya states that the outer ramparts were further protected with iron spikes, various other mechanisms and watch towers.

What remains at present?

The ramparts and moats are some of the only preserved archaeological sites in Kotte and a considerable stretch on the inner city rampart could be seen whereas no trace of the outer city granite ramparts could be found. The outer and inner city moats are also very much preserved. Below is a survey done by the writer in April 2017 on the accessible locations of the ramparts and moats.

Description of the inner city ramparts

This description would begin from the north from Parliament road and would go clockwise from thereon.

The outline indicates the inner city ramparts. Red is the ramparts which can no longer be traced. Blue is the conserved ramparts. Brown is the non conserved ramparts

A considerable length of ramparts could be found in the Perakumba Pirivena which could be accessed along the Parliament road. When entering the Pirivena, one could see the rampart running across the Temple premises with about 5 meters of rampart to the right and with an opening of about 10 feet leading to the other side of the Temple; it begins again and runs deep into the temple land for about 50 to 60 meters. The remaining ramparts throughout the area have been declared protected monuments by the Department of Archaeology but many encroachments have taken place; the section in the Temple is an excellent example on the encroachment as it could be clearly observed how the neighbouring lands have destroyed the ramparts. The height of the ramparts here is nothing over 2 feet and the width at the beginning is about 5 feet. One could walk along the long section of the ramparts and when moving forward it is evident on how the lands on the left have taken over; the initial width of 5 feet has about 5 kabook blocks, as one walks on this reduces to 3 kabook blocks and soon to just 2.

Red indicates the rampart

The small section of the rampart in the Pirivena
This road on the other side of the Pirivena and is part of the rampart continuing from the above picture

The encroachment could be clearly seen in two places

The next section of ramparts could be found down the scenic Sri Lanka Nippon Avenue. The first visible ramparts can be seen few meters after the Mahindarama Temple. From here on the rampart is preserved to a considerable extent running down to the south where it turns left along the inner moat. It runs through home gardens which are in certain places well maintained while other sections are overgrown with weeds and also at certain places it is destroyed for the connecting roads. The initial section here is currently being restored by the Department of Archaeology. The book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also stats that this rampart would have been plastered over with a section down this road containing plaster. As the rampart here runs through private lands a thorough photo-documenting was not possible.

This building is in the Mahindarama Temple down Nippon road and seems to fit the location of the rampart. Its base is made up of laterite blocks which may have been from the ramparts
Part of the rampart under conservation from the Department. This is the first section of ramparts visible down Nippon Avenue

The rampart coming to the inner city moat turns right and runs along the moat. But as the rampart coming near the moat, it turns right; a small section turns left projecting to the boarder of Nippon Avenue. This was according to KOTTE: THE FORTRESS the pier for one of the four passes entering to the city. This initial section is well preserved. Entering to the moat the road crosses on to the rampart and runs along it. Here much encroachment could be seen. As one walks up the ramparts along the moat, it increases in elevation and the great depth of the moat could be seen. From here there is only a single line of kabook bricks indicating the rampart. This section could also be accessed through the First Lane down Rampart Road from Ethul Kotte. This entire section is about 150 meters. It ends at a wall just 2 blocks from the Ethul Kotte road where the inner city gate would have been. Adjoining this block is a new apartment complex and few years back sections of the rampart was visible there but are now lost.

A view of the southern ramparts. Red indicates the conserved ramparts. Blue indicates the moat. Brown is rampart not conserved. Orange arrow indicates the location of the inner city gate
Rampart beginning along the inner city moat. The newly conserved section would have formed the pier for the pass that would have been from here. The eastern ramparts join the wall from where the older conserved section begins

The road running on top of the ramparts along the inner city moat

Rampart along the inner city moat

Now going along the South ramparts on the West of Ethul Kotte road a small section could be found in the Salvation Army Church premises. This stretch of rampart is not conserved and many walls of the neighbouring houses have been built on top. This rampart runs towards the west and ends near the Angampitiya bastion from where it turns north, these sections could be accessed along the Angampitiya road. From where the rampart ends in the Salvation Army premises after few blocks it could be traced again for about 20 meters. Arriving down Angampitiya road from the four ways junction turn left along the small road and arriving up to the Sri Jayawardhanapura School Play Ground one would come across the rampart. Arriving near the ground to the left is a high rising ground with trees, this is the ancient Angampitiya bastion and observing it clearly one could find granite stones which have now eroded away. The section from the Salvation Army Church joins here and turns north. This southern stretch is not clearly visible but walking at the base of this ridge through the thick undergrowth one could find the kabook blocks which make up the rampart.

The Salvation Army Church, part of the site of the inner city gate. Behind this could be found sections of the western half of the southern ramparts

Sections of the ramparts behind the Church
The Angampitiya bastion. The rampart comes straight from the inner city gate and at this point turn left (as per the picture) and forms the western rampart
Granite blocks of the Angampitiya bastion
Section of the rampart coming from the Inner city gate side. Note the elevation by the red arrow

Remains of the rampart on this section

From here the rampart runs northwards with few sections along this road and on the road across Angampitiya road could be seen.

Sections of the western rampart from Angampitiya bastion

Angampitiya road running across

The last visible ramparts along the western section

The western side of the ramparts of Kotte is interrupted at 3 places due to the ancient inner reservoirs but at present, after the above described ramparts, no remains of the ramparts or the reservoirs could be traced. A survey by the writer done along all the roads towards the North on the west of Ethul Kotte road revealed no visible ramparts. This area is highly residential and it is most likely that certain sections still remain within few home gardens as the book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also mentions, but these are off limits for the regular tourist.

Description of the outer city ramparts

The outer city ramparts which were said to have been built of granite blocks is not visible at present. But traces of kabook blocks could be seen along the western section of the outer moat.

Remains of the rampart on the western section of the outer moat

Description of the inner city Moat

The inner city moat can be accessed as mentioned above along the Sri Lanka Nippon road or the First Lane down Rampart road. Walking along the ramparts along the moat one could see how gradually the moat deepens. The moat would have been filled with a layer of mud and water thereby restricting access by swimming and also maintaining the height of the ramparts. Scaling the moat from the bottom to the top of the ramparts is a near impossible task as the writer experienced thus adding a superb defence to this place. The inner city moat is found only on the east of the inner city gate and no moat was built on the west as area along the Salvation Army Church is levelled ground.

Inner city moat

Description of the outer city Moat

This can be found before the Pitta Kotte junction bordering the UNP Headquarters Sirikotha. The moat could be found on either side of the main road. Both sides of the moat are overgrown with shrubs but the great depth of the moat could be seen clearly. This outer moat and rampart guarded the only land pass to the fortress of Kotte and was the scene of many battles.

Western section of the outer city moat

Eastern section of the outer city moat

The ramparts of Kotte, as being some of the prominent archaeological sites of Kotte are also the most affected sites due to the encroachments made by residents. Although the Department of Archaeology has declared these as protected monuments, without the support from the residents it is an impossible task to preserve them.


  • Fonseka, Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.


The next article would explore the bastions, the passes, and the lake of the fort…