Situated on the south side of the Jaffna peninsula at the water’s edge of the lagoon, the ancient Jaffna Fort is the second largest existing fort in the Island. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1619 and re-built and expanded by the Dutch during the second half of the 17th and the 18th centuries to facilitate trading activities of Sri Lanka’s northern region indicate not only of Jaffna’s strategic importance to Europeans but its significance throughout Sri Lanka’s history.
The five sided inner defense works consist of thick and high ramparts and bastions with a wide and deep moat around it. The layout resembles a geometrically regular pentagon which is defined by the ramparts with a bastion at each corner of the pentagon. Beyond these defense works is the star shaped moat, the outline of which roughly follows the bastion and rampart walls.
The outer defense works include the glacis, the ravelins and a covered way. Unlike the Dutch forts at Galle and Colombo, which were fortified towns, the Jaffna Fort had an almost exclusively military and administrative function. The fort is the only surviving example in Sri Lanka, where its inner defenses has a geometrically regular pentagonal layout. Moreover this is the only example in the Island, where outer fortifications consisting of glacis, ravelins and covered way are to be seen.
Nelson in his book titled ‘Dutch Forts in Sri Lanka’ (1984) goes on to declare that
‘it was, as a technical fort, ………….everything was done to the latest design at each successive stage…….final result was the strongest fortress in the East, the perfect defensive design in the days of powerful and destructive solid shot artillery of limited effective range. In Britain, fully comparable places are to be found only at the towns of Berwick , at Fort George neat Inverness, at the citadel of Plymouth at Tilbury Fort on the Thames approaches to London…………. There are many fine artillery fortifications from the same period around the Indian Ocean. Yet it is doubtful whether in it’s technically perfection and its completeness, Jaffna can be surpassed’.
Within the fort stand significant buildings of architectural importance. The church erected in 1706, within the walled enclosure was one of the most impressive architectural works of the northern region. This building, which lacks significant ornamentation, showed how effective a buildings architecture could be, if proportions (both exterior as well as interior), and massing of volumes are correctly achieved.
The sheer verticality, enhanced by its roof structure and high gable facades had made it the dominant structure of the entire townscape. The Queen’s House (formerly, the Governor’s Residence) was the best example of domestic building of the northern region which represented at its best, the architectural characteristics that developed during the 17th and 18th centuries in Sri Lanka. In its final evolution, this stately building had a wide and spacious double- pillared verandah.
Jaffna fort with such heritage values of national and international significance was in a perfect state of preservation until the country’s civil war that erupted in the mid 1980’s. The fortifications and buildings within it were severely damaged due to artillery fire. The Church is now reduced to a heap of rubble.
Map of Jaffna Fort
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
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Traveling Directions to Jaffna Fort
Route 01 from Colombo to Jaffna
Route 02 from Colombo to Jaffna
|Though : Kurunegala – Dambulla – Anuradhapura – Vavunia|
Distance :400 km
Travel time : 7-8 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Puttlam – Anuradhapura – Vavunia|
Distance : 400 km
Travel time : 7-8 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps