The Dutch Fort in Gurunagar, Jaffna

MAR Manukulasooriya, in the Sunday Observer, 1 October 2023 with this title “A distinctive Dutch archaeological site in South-East Asia”

The Jaffna Fort is near the coastal village of Gurunagar [within the Jaffna Peninsula]. It was built by the Portuguese in 1619 under Phillippe de Oliveira as a four-sided garrison with ramparts, corner bastions and moats following the Portuguese invasion of Jaffna.


The Dutch captured it in 1658 and expanded it to a pentagon shaped with lime stones and coral stones, inner fortifications, ramparts, corner bastions and star shaped moats. The Dutch Fort occupies 62 acres. Its base is 40 feet width and it has a slope of 20 feet width parapet walls. There were five ramparts, artillery fortifications, a protestant church, a prison, Queen’s palace, administrative hubs and 21 dug wells.

There are three draw bridges between the outer fortifications and the inner fort in the moats. It’s a distinctive Dutch archaeological site in South and East Asia. In 1795, the British captured the Dutch Fort and made a few renovations and used as their administrative hub.

With the onset of the war, it came under siege on several occasions and was the scene of pitched battles. From 1985 to 1996, it was under the control of the LTTE. During this time, the LTTE destroyed several key features to stop the Army entering the Fort. But it was reoccupied by the Army in 1998 after a 50-day siege during the operation Riviresa.

Buildings in the fort include the Governor’s residence (King’s house), Queen’s house, Church, the Garrison, parade ground, Police quarters and other buildings from the Portuguese era.

A centre called “Northern Heritage Centre”: has been set up by the Department of Archaeology in the fort depicting pictures of all the archaeological sites in the North.

The 400-year old fort is a reminder of Sri Lanka’s colonial past as well as a maritime heritage.

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