Fort Frederick, Trincomalee

Baldaeus, 1672, A true and exact description of the most celebrated East-India coasts of Malabar and Coromandel and also of the Isle of Ceylon, first edition, Janssonius van Waasberge en van Someren, Amsterdam

Stretching along the narrow peninsula of Sri Lanka’s North Eastern coast is a unique part of the country that is widely known and appreciated for its sapphire waters and white-sand beaches. Trincomalee is Sri Lanka’s natural harbour, although now a popular traveller’s point, used to be a popular point of trade and exchange; the magnificent harbour has, throughout time, been considered to be one of Asia’s finest. In its entirety, Trincomalee is a greatly appreciated piece of the island, beloved and awed at for its rich history and charming culture. Sri Lanka, in fact, is an island brimming with cultures of diverse kinds and art and architecture representative of these cultures. From the Koneswaram Temple to the Fort Frederick, Trincomalee boasts of the nation’s past, historical artefacts and tales of its religious and cultural communities, the Hindu community, namely. In our attempt to document the cultural and historical landmarks of Sri Lanka, we travel back to the sixteenth century as the story of Fort Frederick unveils in studying its architectural significances from the bastions to the temples that reside inside it.

Fort Trincomalee or originally known as ‘Fort Triquillimale’, was built by the Portuguese in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, having been completed in 1624 CE on the Swami Rock Konamamalai, on which the culturally popular Koneswaram Temple was built. The temple is a consequence of many cultural alterations from the Chola reign to the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras. Daily ARTRA has previously explored the history of the Koneswaram, from its Dravidian architecture to its many constructions and reconstructions due to the wars and battles that occurred during the period of colonial reign; the story of the Koneswaram can be read here. Incidentally, Fort Frederick was built from the remnants and debris of Temple Koneswaram after the first time it was destroyed on the 14th of April, 1622 CE by Portuguese colonial Constantino de Sá de Noronha under the rule of Phillip III, King of Portugal.

“This beautiful architecture however, would soon be brutally destroyed years later by the Portuguese. The Koneswaram temple was eminent to not only the Sri Lankans but also to the Portuguese; a famous author and Portuguese Catholic priest, Fernão de Quieroz was recorded to have described the beautiful space as the ‘Rome of the Pagans of the Orient’. But alas, in the 17th century when the Portuguese-Dutch war began, they were in the process of strengthening their place in Asia through the construction of a fort in Trincomalee where the temple was situated and required the assistance of Jaffna King, Ethirimana Cingam. The refusal and disagreement between the two would then lead to the ruination and destruction of the temple. Over hundred Hindu temples and shrines, relics and religious structures would crumble at the hands of the Portuguese.” – Excerpt from ‘The Cultural Story & History Of The Koneswaram - Art, Culture & Heritage of Thirukoneswaram’.

A plan of the Dutch Fort of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, 17th century, The National Archives of Netherlands

The Fort of Trincomalee now known also as, ‘Fort Frederick’ was built as a triangular fort, made of stone and mortar, with three bastions at each angle as a mode of defence against other European fleets and battleships. The fort was diligently equipped with guns from a Danish fleet ship. The most important bastion, ‘Santa Cruz’ was situated on the south side of the peninsular, and on this bastion was mounted six pieces of artillery. The second most important bastion, ‘Santa Antonio’ was situated on the north limb of the peninsular and was equipped with five pieces of artillery. These two bastions would connect a long and thick wall on the narrower side of the peninsular. The third and last bastion, the smallest of the three bastions, was situated on the north side up on the peninsular and was mounted with three pieces of artillery.  However, the fort would eventually be captured by the Dutch fleet in 1639 and a newer fort was built in 1665 in defence against the British and the French. After many battles and captures, the fort would later be reigned by the British who named it ‘Fort Frederick’ and remained a Britsh garrison till 1948, the year of Sri Lankan independency. Today, it remains as a detachment of the Gajaba Regiment, Sri Lanka Army and can be readily accessible to those eager to learn of Sri Lanka’s past. Inside the fort, reside the Koneswaram Temple, the Gokana Temple and the Wellesley Lodge, a bungalow in which the 1st Duke of Wellington resided.

Sri Lanka is an island, abundant in cultural and rich cultural history. It is a personality of its own, descended down from many reigns and eras yet stands distinct from each. The Trincomalee is unique to one of many Lankan cultures and Fort Frederick is one of many forts that Sri Lanka possesses, its architectural significance indicative and evident of the island’s history, from its colonial rule to the religious and cultural spaces. Each region of cultural significance, we find, is an embodiment of the Sri Lankan spirit, the sense of resilience and how the nation has embraced all cultures. Fortifications are testimonies to the nation’s struggles and battles, yet it is their architecture that stands monumentally significant, symbolic to the people and communities that reside and have resided there.  

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9th January, 2022 Applied Art | Architecture