White Fort by the Blue Sea
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
Among the many forts in Sri Lanka, the Jaffna Fort stands out as a distinctive architectural structure notable for its unique design. Its limestone and coral stone walls add a unique beauty to the Fort. The white-grey walls set a striking contrast against the bright blue sky of the background. In the vicinity the vast-spreading Indian Ocean glows like a blue sapphire, stretched till the horizon.
Ceylon Today recently had the opportunity of visiting the Jaffna Fort. More pleasingly it was during the quarantine curfew times so the ancient site was devoid of any visitors. It was tranquil everywhere, only the wind making any noise. The colour palette is minimal and basic; blue, white, grey, and black. The dry grass and sand are almost unnoticeable. The calm atmosphere is ideal for an artist or a deep thinker. Yet, these walls, these ramparts and garrisons, many gates and the moats, are silent witnesses of a tragic and horrific past.
Here is a place where many horrific events have happened. Hiding its many tragic secrets starting from the early 17th century to the early 21st century, today the Jaffna fort stands as a proud cultural heritage of all Sri Lankans. It is a tourist attraction and a place where archaeologists, architects, and historians roam around exploring the past and architecture of the place. The Jaffna Fort was first built by the Portuguese in 1619 when they invaded Jaffna, ending the rule of the Aryachakravartin kings. Then, the Dutch seized Jaffna in 1658 and extended the Fort.
What we see today is the remnants of the construction by the British during the 18th century after they captured Jaffna in 1795. The local identity of Jaffna was cut short when it was seized by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and then the British. After the 17th century, Jaffna was a more colonial landscape and the fort became the centre of colonial Jaffna. The Jaffna Fort was the first and only fort built in Sri Lanka by the Dutch for the sole purpose of serving it as a military base. The British expanded the fort and used it as an administrative centre as well.
During the three-decade war against the LTTE, the fort was a centre of many terrific events. In the time between 1985 and 1995, the fort was under the control of the LTTE. The Fort faced severe damage during this decade, proving that cultural heritage is a helpless victim of conflict. The fort was liberated by the Sri Lankan Army in 1995 after the historic ‘Operation Rivirasa’. The Jaffna Fort is a place where one can witness the architecture of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. It is a cultural landmark that stands as a witness of many historic events such as the demise of the Aryachakravartin rulers of the Jaffna kingdom, the rise of the three European nations that invaded Sri Lanka, and the threedecade bloody war of Sri Lanka. Today, the Jaffna fort is studied, protected, and admired. It is under the care and protection provided by the Department of Archaeology and the Central Cultural Fund.
(Pix by Kelum Chamara)