Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jaffna Fort, a Wounded Survivor of Sri Lanka's 30 Year War

Sri Lanka is home to a number of forts constructed by the Dutch, who controlled parts of the country (earlier called Ceylon) from mid 1600s to 1796. Galle Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the best preserved Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. However, there are a number of other forts built by the Dutch around the country. Most are located on the coast and there are some inland forts as well.

Jaffna Fort is the second largest Dutch Fort in Sri Lanka. Originally, it was built by the Portuguese after 1619. Later, the fort was reconstructed by the Dutch, who took control of it in 1658.

Jaffna was a separate kingdom from the 13th century when Polonnaruwa kingdom declined and later collapsed. The Jaffna Kingdom controlled the Jaffna peninsula some other areas and its influence varied. During the Kotte period it was captured by the Kotte Kingdom but once again gained independence some years after king Parakramabahu VI died in 1467. In 1619, Portuguese took Jaffna, killing its last king. Then the Portuguese built a fort. In 1629, the armies of the Kingdom of Kandy laid siege to the fort, but could not capture it.

After they captured the fort from the Portuguese, the Dutch expanded the fort with stronger ramparts and bastions. In 1795, the British captured the fort and it remained under British rule until 1948.

As Jaffna used to be a battle ground in the recently concluded war in Sri Lanka, the fort also suffered from it. Almost all buildings inside the fort were destroyed during years of fighting. In the 1980s, the Sri Lankan armed forces held on to the Jaffna Fort even when the city was lost to them. Therefore the LTTE subjected the fort to heavy fire, which destroyed much of the historical buildings. Ultimately the army abandoned the fort.

Historical buildings within the Jaffna Fort included the Queen’s House, which used to be the residence of Sri Lankan Presidents when they visit Jaffna. The building was one of the very few which escaped total destruction during the war. At the end of the war, much of its walls were standing, but the roof had been destroyed.

Another landmark in the Jaffna Fort was the Dutch Church, or the Kruys Kerk. This church had been built in 1706 and had it survived, would have become the oldest surviving Dutch Church in Sri Lanka. The architect and builder was Martinus Leusekam, who was described as Baas Landmeter (Chief Surveyor) and it was a large church, making it an unmistakable landmark of Jaffna. It was built using imported Dutch bricks and was well preserved even after more than 350 years of its construction. But after the LTTE took the fort, they destroyed the church completely. Only the ruins of the walls remained after the war.

Other buildings such as the old prison, the hospital and the ancillary buildings have undergone much destruction. The belfry on the inner rampart is similar to those found in other Dutch forts. Although it survived the war, its walls are missing.

In 1995, the Sri Lankan armed forces retook Jaffna and the Jaffna Fort also came under them. The Dutch government granted financial support to renovate the fort after the war ended in 2009. It looks different now than what these pictures from 2010 show.

Pics by Amila Prasanna Sumanapala

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