Malwana Fort (මල්වාන බලකොටුව)

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We were waiting at a small road side path drinking a refreshing Thembili (king coconut) for thirsty. In front of us and on the other side of the road was a small road covered with grasses and other weeds up to knee-high. It seemed that the road was almost abandoned and only a footpath was visible. We were in Malwana-Mapitigama road and the path was the sole entrance to the land where the old Malwana Fort is situated. There was a sign board put up by the Department of Archaeology at the side of the road.

Malwana is at present well known for rambutan plantations, the exotic fruits much loved by many, both the young and the old. Although this fruit has been planted in other areas during the recent past, fruits with the tag ‘Malavane peni rambutan’ have the market advantage – retailers used to attract customers by saying so. Some have forgotten that it was once known as the adobe of Dom Jeronimo de Azevedo and some other Captain Generals. The brutal rule of Azevedo is recorded in history as well as in folklore. The lives of the inhabitants were not sweet as rambutan during that time – many Sinhalese lost their lives just a few centuries ago. Malwana was a stronghold of the Portuguese, who had a Fort and whose captain general had a house there.

After the break, we walked slowly along the small path, as we knew that it was narrow path on the bank of a small stream, Pahuru Ela. The secret behind the partial abandonment of the path was visible when we walked a few feet. The part of the road, which is actually a high bund along the left bank of the stream, has collapsed to the stream. Hence no vehicle can now be driven along the road.

The path led us to the house belongs to Thanuj Dharshana, the owner of the land which the fort is situated. According to him, Hapuarachchige Punchi Singhgho, the grandfather of him, has bought this land from a Muslim dweller way back in mid-20th century. The land plot is a square or nearly rectangular shaped block of elevated land known as Narangaskotuwa watta. It is situated in the corner of land where the Pahuru Ela stream joins Kelani Ganga to the west of the land. The other two sides had been covered with a moat which can be identified even today. This moat has been reclaimed and has been cultivated with coconuts as mentioned by VD de Lanerolle in his book Lanka Purawrutta published in 1960. The present entrance pathway is from the eastern side where the moat met the Pahuru ela.

We walked around to see the remnants of the Malwana Fort. This was not my first visit to the Fort, and I had visited it few times during the last 15 years. I didn’t notice any change during those visits, and for the surprise of us, this time it was not so. Conservation work of the fort has started recently and we could see one bastion and parts of the rampart has been reconstructed using cabook stones brought there for the purpose. It has been declared as a protected monument under the Antiquities Ordinance in 2009 which is a step towards the protection of this historical monument. However, it seemed that the conservation work has been stopped for a while and there were some cabook stones on the path as well as on the Malwana Fort ground.

With the clearing of the ground, sections of the old rampart with larger cabook stones were visible on the edges of the land. R.H Bassett in his book Romantic Ceylon published in 1934, mentioned about the cabook walls which stood to a height of two or three feet in several places. De Lanerolle had mentioned of square bricks, remnants of guns and other weapons found within the Malwana Fort premises.

The Portuguese in Malwana

The Malwana Fort was of defense importance placed on the right bank of Kelani Ganga, a river which leads to Sitawaka. Malwana was first selected as the adobe of the Portuguese Captain General Azevedo in 1590s who had his headquarters there. According to the well known Portuguese author Fernao de Queyroz described the constructions in three phases: Azavedo building some strong houses and living there for nine years during peace times and it is mentioned as the usual residence of the General.

Azevedo had his adobe not at the present Malwana Fort premises, but another place in Malwana facing the present fort premises. According to Queyroz, Constantino de Sa Noronha built a more defendable stronghold in front of those houses at Malwana. However, the king of Kandy dismantled these when he invaded Colombo during the battles after the death of de Sa during the battle of Randeniwela in 1630. This source further describes that Diogo de Melo de Castro tried to rebuild them, but owing to his death that occurred in 1638 the work did not go beyond the foundations.

The plan of the Portuguese  Malwana Fort is being published in Constantine de Sa’s Maps and Plans of Ceylon, which is dated to the period between 1624-1628, based on the descriptive matter as pointed by E. Reimers, who was the Archivist to discover these in Hague in 1921. This plan (reproduced as figure 1) shows prominent and comparatively large bastions with narrow necks connected to the small space in the middle. It is marked as “S. Elena”, probably the name of the Fort.

The description accompanied the above map mention that he (de Sa) has “built his residence at Rassapana on the bank of the same river, [Kelani] but on a higher place where the floods do not come. A fort which, of course, of construction here, according to the model shown in the plan, is already 24 palms high. It will serve as a residence for the generals. There is no artillery whatever for this fort. It has a company of 70 soldiers for garrison.” It further states that Azavedo built some good houses on the bank of the river, but a great portion of those has fallen down due to the swelling of the river and abandoned. It is evident that the adobe of the Captain General and the fort were two different edifices in Malwana. The house of the Captain General was at the place called Rassapana, the remains of which were visible in 1930s as mentioned by Bassett. This could be the house built by de Sa.

Queyroz mentioned that Malwana Fort was demolished and stockades were dismantled sometime after 1638 when the Portuguese forces stationed inland were called to increase the guard Colombo and Negombo against the threat of Kandyan kings and the Dutch. However, a garrison was stationed there soon after.

As an area, Malwana was much liked by the Portuguese and it is mentioned that “because it is held as the most fresh and pleasant in Ceylon, and the climate is excellent”. Ribeiro has mentioned that it was a sanitary station where officer and men were sent for the recovery of their illnesses. Records state that there was a church and a chaplain stationed in Malwana. After leaving the country, Azevedo instructed his successor Homem to make Malwana his headquarters in 1614. This seems to be followed by at least some of the Captain Generals of the Portuguese at least up to late 1630s. A description in the Sinhalese verse Kustanteenu hatana elaborates how Constantino de Saa left Malwana to suppress the uprising led by Kuruwita Rala a.k.a. Antonio Baretto and returned to the city as god Sakra after defeating the asuras. The city is mentioned as the “pavara Malwana” meaning the well-known or excellent city, which could be true as it was the adobe of this colonial ruler of maritime areas of the island.

Malwana was attacked by Sinhalese kings and freedom fighters (rebels as some call them) who took up arms against the Portuguese. There was an uprising at Malwana in 1603, when almost the entire country rose against Azavedo after his defeat in Kandy. Sometimes, Sinhalese armies invaded and garrisoned at the Malwana Fort. Describing one such instance, it is said that the fort was of stone and mortar, and in place of bastions there were watch towers all around it. This happened after the death of Castro, i.e. late 1630s.

The Fort we see: Is it a Dutch Fort?
There is a popular belief that the fort was abandoned after the Portuguese, but it is not so. Christopher Schwitzer, a German in the Dutch service from Sri Lanka from 1676 to 1683, has mentioned Malwana as a fort. He was doing duty at the “little fort called Malvane” for four months from July 1, 1678. He describes the fort as “It hath pallisado’s, parapets, and a ditch, eight fieldpieces, and other necessaries and sixty men to keep it.” He mentioned that it was very unhealthy by reason of the thick frogs; it was during this time that Tennekoon delivered himself to the Dutch. Queyroz has also stated of a Dutch stockade at Malwana with 20-80 soldiers.

A Dutch plan of Malwana  Malwana Fort available at Sri Lanka National Archives shows a more spacious center with four buildings, probably warehouses and the size of the bastions are smaller when compared with the central space. These bastions are similar to the bastions which we see at present (figure 2). It is different and do not have prominent necks connecting with the center of the fort as in the plan dated to de Sa’s time (figure 1). The Dutch plan has a moat to the eastern and southern sides of the fort, while the description of the Portuguese soldier Ribeiro says the eastern side is undefended.

When we consider all the above facts, the present Malwana Fort could possibly be the remnants of a Dutch fort reconstructed on the ruins of the Portuguese Fort. Further research is required to determine this. However, the date which the Dutch abandoned this fort is not obvious but it should be some time when importance of Malwana in defense became minimum. The surrounding area was abandoned by early 18th century as mentioned by Valentyn, who described Malwana in 1720s as “a small jungle clad district of place called Malwana with two small villages or hamlets without name…” The glory of the city during the Portuguese occupation is not found in this description.

Source : (The Nation)
By Dhanesh Wisumperuma
Pics by Bushana Kalhara

R.H Bassett in his book Romantic Ceylon published in 1934 mentions this fort as originally Sinhalese and being  captured by Portuguese

Across the ferry, in Malwana, at the bend of the river, is the fort of S. Elena, originally Sinhalese, but captured and rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1593. The trace of the redoubt still exists, about sixty yards square, with angular bastions at the corners;  the Kelani on the western flank, a deep ela on the north, and a smaller channel on the south, while the east is, as Ribeiro says,  ” undefended.” The cabook walls stand to a height of two or three feet in several places.”

Also See

Map of  Malwana Fort

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Traveling Directions to  Malwana Fort

Route from Colombo

Though : Awissawella Road
distance :25 km
Travel time : 45 mins to 1 hours
Driving directions : see on google map


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