Menikkadawara Fort of the Portuguese
According to historical documents, The city of Manikkadawara (Manikkadawara Nuwara) has been built during the period of Dharma Parakramabahu IX (1489-1513) by his brothers, Sri Raja Singhe and Vijayabahu. The Portugues used Manikkadawara as a military station against Kandyan Kingdom for the first time in 1598.
The portuguese General Jerónimo de Azevedo was first to realise the military importance of Manikkadawara in order to launch attacks against Kandy. He had first protected all the entry points through the mountains to Manikkadawara which covered an area with a diameter of 2.5 kilometers. Then he had build a strong fort using rocks within 4 months using the labour of the portuguese soldiers. This is said to be the only impregnable fort at that time. It is said that the fort had a capacity to hold 300-400 soldiers.
Mr H.C.P. Bell had carried out a brief investigation in the latter part of 1800’s and has published his observations in the 1892 report on Kegalle District.
In addition to the minor outposts at Alawwa, Pitagaladeniya, Bisowala, Kannaththota this was the chief fortification within the Kandyan Territory for Portuguese armies. General Jerónimo de Azevedo was the fist to make use of this fort in the battle against Don John Wimaladharmasuriya I (1592 – 1604) in 1598. Bell records the following in his Kegalle Report quoting from the English translation of Portuguese historian Manuel de Faria e Sousa
After the gaining of the victories in the Seven Corlas which we have described, and the destruction of the enemies stockades, the General D. Jeronymo d’Azevedo determined to send and make a stockade in Manicravare. as it was nearer to the kingdom of Candea, in order to be able to conquer it from there; and to build m that stockade a military magazine and barrack, that it might serve as a garrisoned fortress near the Four Corlas. This stockade he decided should be of stone for better fortification and security of the troops who were to be stationed there. Wherefore he collected a large number of pioneers and workmen, and all the tools and materials necessary for the work. These he entrusted to Salvador Pereira da Silva, who set out with an ample body of Lascoreens and as many Portuguese soldiers as could be assembled ; and, one league before reaching the fort of Manicravare in the past September of 98, he pitched his camp, in which he remained some days. During this halt was collected the plant necessary for the work, in order to complete everything the day they arrived. He suspected that the Tyrant had a mind to surprise our troops before they had fortified themselves, so as to hinder a work which would be of great embarrassment and harm to him, as they [the Portuguese] would thereby block the gates of the kingdom of Candea where he would be confined. The requisite materials having been collected, our men set out for the place where the fortress was to be made, and on arriving at it they at once fortified themselves ; and when the following night came on which the enemy had determined to surprise them, there was already made a defensible fort of wood, our men qute secure inside it, and the enemy frustrated in their design without daring to meddle with them.
Our men soon put their hands to the work of [building] the fortress of stone, on which they spent a period of four months at great loss and labour ; and whilst engaged therein they did not fail to make several incursions into the territories of the Tyrant, from which they always returned victorious.
The Tyrant seeing that he could not stop that work, determined to draw away the General. Wherefore he proceeded with his army to the frontiers of Dinavaca, and commenced to make war vigorously on those districts which were ours. Upon this the General hastened thither with another army which he had formed of soldiers taken from the garrisons in various parts, leaving them, however, guarded. He sent Captain Salvador Pereira da Silva in command to oppose the enemy: this the latter did, and in several encounters routed them. ‘The fortress of Manicravara was carried on until the whole was completed, with its walls, bastions, and a tower of two stores in the middle, the work being so well finished and strong, that it was considered impregnable throughout that Island. Thither the said General proceeded with the rest of the army at the beginning of the past January of 99 and made preparations for making an inroad into the Corlas.
D. Hierome de Azevedo in Ceylon raising a strong fort at Manicravara be the nearer to the kingdom of Candea, the conquest whereof was his chief aim, so perplexed the usurper that he, setting out several bodies with the king of Uva to dstract our General, was in all places by him overthrown.
D. Jeronymo being informed of this (the incursion of the Kandyans into Portuguse territory) provided the stockade of Manicravara, which he was, with three companies of soldiers, the Captains of which were Thome Coelho, who was head of all, Joao Serrao da Cunha, and Diogo de Aranjo, and with victuals and ammunition for many days.
According to Bell, the first and the larger camp mentioned above is not located in Manikkadawara but in the adjoining village of Holambuwa. Bell reports there was a large almost circular mound with flat surface 242 feet wide and 231 feet long with bricks scattered around it. Bell believes that this would have been completely made of clay bricks as the Dadigama Kota Vehera site which was less than 2 miles away would have supplied the Portuguese with unlimited quantity of ready made bricks. In the centre of the fort stood an oblong brick building, 58 ft. by 45 ft., probably divided into rooms.
Bell also states that the fortress at the Menikkadawara, a mile off, may not have been run up till some years later. This is pointed out by the natives as the real Parangi Kotuwa, or “Portuguese Fort.” Regarding Holombuwa they know nothing.
The Portuguese may have used the better known name Manikkadawara for the Holombuwa Fort. This is same fort which is also known as Thunthota Fort (Tontotte Fort) by the Dutch (see above drawing of the fort). E.K. Hemathilake Bandara in his book Ithipura Kolombuwa states that this fort was built near Thunthota in Thummodara on Raja Mawatha from Gampola to Kelaniya. This road was built by placing slabs of rocks across Kuda Oya that flows from Dedigama and allowing water to flow over it to allow horses to cross the stream with ease. Today the Gurugoda Oya flows to the left of the fort land and is surrounded by paddy fields. The current area where paddy fields are may have been flooded at that time.
He also states that the length and width of the fort is 242×231 feet. There appears to have been a brick building 58 1/2 feet long and 45 feet wide in the center of the fort. This seems to have had 6 rooms. The base of the walls around the fort wall is left about 5 feet in some places. There are 4 places which can be identified as possible locations of the 4 bastions. The fort fall lies at about 7 feet height from the Gurugoda Oya. It is 5-6 feet away from Thunthota Oya. In the middle of the fort is a trench. The rock in the middle of the Thunthota Oya has two 5×5 foot cavities cut in to it. It is said that a wooden bridge was built with 2 stone pillars fixed these cavities. From here, large stone slabs (4-5 inches thick, 9-10 feet long, 4-5 feet wide) were laid at various points along the way to the fort wall. A large cannon has toppled in to the Gurugoda Oya. Residents say it rises during the off-season.
The exact location of this Holombuwa fort is lost today Mr Chryshane Mendis in his masters thesis ‘Fortifications and the Landscape – A GIS Inventory and Mapping of Kandyan and Dutch Fortifications in Sri Lanka” has placed the Thuntota fort at 7°11’28.3″N 80°15’58.8″E based on the map details and satellite imagery.
This Manikkadawara Fort would have been destroyed by the Kandyan forces during the thirty years’ war succeeding its erection in 1598. This fort was built again by Constantine de Saa during Dutch occupation in 1627.
Manicravare became more a school of war than a garrison of the Portuguese army in Ceylon. It had been chosen by the old commanders as a lace of arms of considerable importance, because of its position on the frontier of our territory and that of the king of Kandy our enemy. In his eyes being an open place without walls or fortresses, our soldiers were compelled to be ever on the alert against continual assaults, and always kept awake as frontier guards. The danger of the post did not allow them the same license they had in quarters, so that they could no more trouble the Province in which they were quartered by their mutinous seditions and other vices which sapped their strength and spread discontent…………………
Constantine da Saa replied to the Viceroy, that it was important before erecting a fort at Batticaloa to throw up one first at Manicravare the usual standing camp of our army, which would not only help to secure it, but be a protection against sudden attack; for, being on the boarders and frontier of Kandy, it remained exposed to the first onslaught, and it was very probable that the Kandyan king would then begin the war, angry as he would be, at our fortifying Batticaloa, the most useful port he had to carry out so important an affair. He [the General] wanted money (the most necessary thing for all their resolutions), since Ambrose de Freitas in this year, 1627, still occupied the post of Viador de Fazienda, and it was he who placed impediment in the way because of the expenditure, which in some respects was perhaps exceeded. Constantine de Saa, however, with the approval of the Court Admiral, and aided by the liberality and valour of his soldiers, raised three thousand [? cruzados], and being foremost to show zeal and vigilance in the work, he made the fortifying of Manicravare so easy that in a few days it was finished.Rebelion de Ceylon, y los progressos de su conquista en el gobierno de C. Saa, y Noroña. (1681)
In the four Corlas, five leagues from Balana and eleven from Colombo, is a place among villages called Manicravare. This was the seat of the chief camp opposed to the King of Candia, and from there the Seven Corlas were defended. It consisted of twelve companies of 340 Portuguese soldiers, who were commanded by the Capitaomor-do Campo. It had a Sergeant-Major, two Adjutants. a Captain of Ammunition, and a Chaplain or Friar of St. Francis. There resided also the Disawa, who here corresponds with the General (Gorernador das armas) of a Province among the natives, and he had always effective three or four thousand Lascoreens and their chiefs : this in time of peace, and when there was war he brought many more men… ………….
…………….. Besides these fortresses with the forces that we have referred to, there were others unworthy of our giving them this name, as was that of Manicravare, Satregao, and Beligao, and others similar, formed of a little earth. We only kept them up so long as the camp occupied themHistory of Ceylon: Presented by Captain John Ribeyro to the King of Portugal, in 1685
Menikkadawara fort was finally abandoned when the camp mutinied and marched to Colombo against its Captain-General in 1642.
The fort at Manikkadawara is the only four sided star fort constructed in Sri Lanka. This fortification is a product of dual parentage, built in both European and Sri Lankan traditions. Curtain walls with central, instead of corner, bastions enclosed this square fort. The internal structure had a pyramidal roof and was surrounded by verandas both on the ground- and first floors.
Unfortunately today this fort has become just a mound of earth. A granite slab with the Portuguese Emblem had been discovered in the Manikkadawara Rajamaha Viharaya during the English rule had been moved to Colombo National Museum in 1890.
- H. C. P. BELL, 1904. ARCHEOLOGICAL, SURVEY OF CEYLON. REPORT ON THE KEGALLA DISTRICT · OF THE PROVINCE OF SABARAGAMUWA. 1st ed. Colombo: GEORGE J. A. SKEEN.
- H.C.P බෙල් (සිංහල පරිවර්තනය කොත්මලේ කේ. බී. ඒ. එඩ්මන්ඩ් ), 2005. ලංකා පුරාවිද්යා ගවේෂණය කෑගල්ල දිස්ත්රික්කය පිලිබඳ වාර්තාව (Report On The Kegalle District – 1892 : සිංහල පරිවර්තනය). 1st ed. කොළඹ: පුරාවිද්යා දෙපාර්තුමේන්තුව.
- Jayasena, R., Floore, P. and Klingelhofer, E., 2010. First Forts – Essays on the Archaeology of Proto-colonial Fortifications. Leiden.Boston: IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.
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Map of fort at Menikkadawara
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Route from Colombo to fort at Menikkadawara
Route from Nelumdeniya to fort at Menikkadawara
|Through : Kadawatha – Nittambuwa – Warakapola – nelumdeniya|
distance :76 km
Travel time : 2 hours
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|Distance : 7km|
Travel time : 10 mins
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