The Old Dutch Trade Centre, ‘Nupe Market’ & The Dutch Reformed Church

Image Courtsey | Bygone Ceylon

It is recorded that in 1602, Admiral Joris van Spilbergen landed on the shores our island and proceed to discuss a treaty with the Kandyan King of Sri Lanka in the effort to promote trade in Sri Lanka’s exports of cinnamon, elephants and pearls. He arrived on the east coast of Batticaloa and travelled further inland to meet the King. What started as a business venture eventually became a significant moment in Sri Lankan history. The pearl of the Indian Ocean and sunny island of Sri Lanka, its culture and community are a consequence of few European influences; from the Portuguese to the British to the Dutch. These colonial invasions left much to be learned of Ceylon and its people, visible in the culinary and architecture, fashion and society. In our quest to uncover the history and cultural influences in Sri Lankan art and architecture, we find an intriguing and unique influence of Dutch in the landscape of Matara, including that of the Old Dutch Trade Centre, also known as the ‘Nupe Market’, and the Dutch Reformed Church.

These unique constructions began after the construction of the significant and remarkable fortresses that stand erected at Matara, following a powerful rebellion between that of the Portuguese, Dutch and the Kandyan Kingdom, a tale of war, and betrayal as we uncovered previously in our recollection of these architectures, “The Star Fort was originally built in 1765 in the attempt to protect the main Dutch Fort, after the Matara Rebellion in 1762 by the Governor Lubbert Jan Baron Van Eck, recognized as Redoute Van Eck at the top of the Fort entrance with the Dutch East India Company insignia and the coat of arms of the governor flanked by two rampart lions. When the Portuguese first reached the land of Ceylon in 1505, they built their first fort in Colombo and by 1619, had major influence over the coastal areas. Consequently this led the monarch of Kandy, Rajasinghe II to ally with the Dutch to take over the land captured by the Portuguese and by 1660, the Portuguese had been defeated. The Dutch then continued to construct fortresses to protect from oncoming attacks from those who wanted land, more particularly those of the Matara Rebellion. And thus, the Matara Fort was built, in 1640; which was only a wall that was 42-feet thick, 164-feetlong and 13-feet high with a cannon along the land that permitted ships to enter the harbour.  However, this Fort could not survive against the Matara Revolt of 1762 and so, after much war the Dutch had captured the land once more, enforcing more defence by constructing the Star Fort, but this time with twelve cannonball guns.” - The Six-Point Star Fortification, Star Fort Matara.


The ‘T’-shaped building, widely known as the Nupe Market was recorded to have been built in 1775 by the Dutch, directly after the construction of the Star Fort. However, interestingly, there is much debate and speculation over its construction as few records show it to have been originally built by the British, contrary to its name. Nonetheless, its architecture is resembling of the Kandyan Kingdom and culture, with red clay tiles or, ‘peti-ulu’, from the Kandyan period making up its pitched roof that is supported by white stone pillars. The roof’s wooden frame is fringed with traditional latticework. The significance of the Nupe Market lies not only its architecture but for its history; the Trade Centre is one of many remnants from Ceylon’s past that the city of Matara was a centre for trade between the colonial rulers and foreign nations.


Built in 1706, the Dutch Reformed Church is recorded to be one of the oldest protestant churches on the island, a ‘smaller replica’ of the Church at Galle Fort. With Doric and Calvanist style architecture, the Church is a symbol of the island’s multicultural heritage. The exterior of the church is intricate, yet plain, with round-headed windows on each side and a varendah on the south side, the building holds up to two-hundred seats – quaint and elegant yet humble. The Wolvendaal Foundation records the historic significance of the church also through its tombstones - “There is evidence of greater antiquity in the tombstones, which pave the floor of the church. One of these is of Barbara Jongeling, the young wife of Lambert Lambertijn, the medical officer of the station in 1686. In any case, the Dessaves Frank Willem Falck, father of the Governor of that name, and Johannes Fernandinus Crijtsman, in 1737 and 1758, respectively, found their resting place within the church.”

Today, the Old Dutch Trade Centre, ‘Nupe Market’, houses cottage industry vendors who sell souvenirs to visitors. Having been passed down to the Department of Archaeology in the 1980s after it was left in ruin, the Nupe Market which stands now is one that has been restored. The Dutch Reformed Church stands restored by the Wolvendaal Foundation in collaboration with the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an island magnificently diverse in culture, influences by multi-ethnicities, religion, race, nationalities and more. The island we see today is the consequence of many an influence from its colonizers and kingdoms. The Dutch was one of few and that which remains are those the Sri Lankan communities have adopted as their own, from architecture to cuisine. Surely, the island is bound to its past through these remnants, yet continue forward with a unique identity, a culmination of its predecessors.  

Are you part of an organization looking to promote cultural diversity? We will be happy show you the scope of Sri Lanka's finest Modern & Contemporary artists through our services and counsel in the form of talks a dynamic presentations and inventive engagements. For more details, call us on +94772305054 /+ 94114545355 or email us on


18th April, 2022 Applied Art | Architecture