Buddhism and Sri Lanka

According to Sri Lankan chronicles, Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Arhant Mahinda, during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa.

Sri Lankan Inscriptions

The earliest trace of epigraphy in South Asia is said to be found in Sri Lanka. A piece of pottery, dated to circa the 4th century B.C. has been discovered from the Anuradhapura citadel.

Architecture of Sri Lanka

The architecture of Sri lanka has a long history and shows diversed forms and styles, mainly infuenced by their religions and traditional beliefs.

Sri Lankan Antiquities

Inherited from the past, Sri Lanka has a large number of antiques with cultural and historical significance which reflects the glory of past era.

Visit Sri Lanka

Located in the northern waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is an island blessed with a large number of attractons which has made the country an ideal destination for the tourism.

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Galle Old Town Fortifications

Galle Fort (Sinhala: ගාලු කොටුව; Tamil: காலிக் கோட்டை) is an ancient fort in Galle, Sri Lanka. In 1988, it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO based on criterion (iv) of outstanding universal value (ICOMOS, 1988). It is the only colonial and non-Buddhist cultural site among the country’s six Cultural World Heritage sites (Janakiraman, 2019).

World Heritage Site: Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Location: City of Galle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka
Coordinates: N6 1 40.984 E80 12 58.846
Date of Inscription: 1988
Description: Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, before the arrival of the British. It is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions.
Criteria:  (iv) Galle provides an outstanding example of an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Among the characteristics which make this an urban group of exceptional value is the original sewer system from the 17th century, flushed with sea water controlled by a pumping station formerly activated by a windmill on the Triton bastion. However, the most salient fact is the use of European models adapted by local manpower to the geological, climatic, historic, and cultural conditions of Sri Lanka. In the structure of the ramparts, coral is frequently used along with granite. In the ground layout, all the measures of length, width, and height conform to the regional metrology. The wide streets, planted with grass and shaded by suriyas, are lined with houses, each with its own garden and an open verandah supported by columns - another sign of the acculturation of an architecture which is European only in its basic design.
Reference: 451; Old Town of Galle and its FortificationsUNESCO World Heritage Centre, United Nations.
Galle, a trading port
Due to the strategic location along the main sea routes, the natural harbour at Galle was prominent among other ports in the country since ancient times (ICOMOS, 1988). The earliest record of Galle is said to date back to Ptolemy’s World Map from the 2nd century A.D. (Janakiraman, 2019). It is believed that the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta passed through the Galle port in 1344. (ICOMOS, 1988; Janakiraman, 2019). Also, the Galle Trilingual Slab Inscription reveals that Chinese, Muslim, and Hindu traders frequented the port in the 15 century A.D. (Janakiraman, 2019).

First erected in the 16 century A.D., the fort at Galle was occupied, throughout its history, by three European colonial powers: the Portuguese (1505-1640), the Dutch (1640-1796), and the British [(1796- 1948) Sanjeewani, 2012].

Portuguese and the early Black Fort (1505-1640 A.D.)
The Galle fort's history begins after the accidental arrival of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka in 1505 (Rajapakse, 2013). Galle was majorly a trading settlement of Muslims when the Portuguese fleet of ships under the command of Don Laurenco de Almeida reached the island to take refuge from inclement weather on their way to the Maldives (Janakiraman, 2019; Sanjeewani, 2012). After the arrival, the Portuguese made contact with the king of the Kotte Kingdom and reached an agreement with him to protect the port area from the Muslims (Sanjeewani, 2012). As a result of this, they first constructed a small fort called the Black Fort near the sea in 1517 and then built a more solid fort in 1588 (Bohingamuwa, 2019; Rajapakse, 2017; Sanjeewani, 2012). The plan drawn for this fort by Mathiyas Albakar was documented in 1589 and in which Galle is named Ponta de Gale with a reference to the Forta Leza, the Black Fort (Sanjeewani, 2012). The earliest fortification was a primitive arrangement consisting of a wall with three bastions facing the landside (Janakiraman, 2019). The three bastions were known as St. Jago (the sun bastion), Conceicao (the moon bastion) and St. Antonio [(the star bastion) Abeyawardana, 2004]. The seaward side was considered invulnerable and was not fortified (ICOMOS, 1988). 

As is revealed by the plan drawn by Bento de Resende in 1640, the Portuguese made several improvements and repairs to the fort in 1595 and in 1610 (Sanjeewani, 2012).

Dutch occupation and construction of the Galle Fort (1640-1796 A.D.)
After a short battle of five days, the Dutch army consisted of 12 ships and 2,000 men, took over the control of the Portuguese fort at Galle on 13 March 1640 and occupied it until 1796 (Abeyawardana, 2004; Janakiraman, 2019; Sanjeewani, 2012). Considerable physical changes were done to the fort by them by destroying and incorporating parts of the old Portuguese structures (Rajapakse, 2013; Sanjeewani, 2012). They replaced the ramparts of earth with granite and limestone and widened the moat (Abeyawardana, 2004).

At the time of the Dutch occupation of the fort, the Indian Ocean had many European nations competing for power in the region (Janakiraman, 2019). The siege of the Galle port helped the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) to dismantle the Portuguese monopoly of the cinnamon trade in the region (Janakiraman, 2019). To protect the port as well as the fort from the English, French, Danish, Spanish, and Portuguese fleets, the Dutch began to construct fortifications on both the landward and seaward sides (Abeyawardana, 2004; ICOMOS, 1988; Janakiraman, 2019). They started to construct massive ramparts for the fort in 1663 and continued it up to 1729 (Abeyawardana, 2004; Janakiraman, 2019; Rajapakse, 2013). The Portuguese bastions, St. Jago, and St. Antonio were renamed Hoofdwacht and Zee punt in 1667 while the Conceicao became the middle part or the Moon Bastion (Abeyawardana, 2004). By 1669, they established a well-planned town within the fort with a regular street grid accommodating administrative, religious, residential, and commercial uses, similar to the fortified cities of Europe (Abeyawardana, 2004; Janakiraman, 2019). The city also included an intricate sewerage system flushed by using seawater with the aid of a windmill on the Triton bastion (Abeyawardana, 2004). 

British colonization and the fort (1796-1948 A.D.)
The British took over the Dutch-held coastal areas in Sri Lanka including Galle, in 1796 (Sanjeewani, 2012). They occupied the Galle Fort on 23 February and used it as their administrative centre for the South of the island while continuing its function as a residential town (Abeyawardana, 2004; Rajapakse, 2013; Rajapakse, 2017; Sanjeewani, 2012). However, with the enlargement of the Colombo Port in the early 20 century A.D., Galle lost its significance as a seaport but remained an important administrative and legal centre for the South (Abeyawardana, 2004; Janakiraman, 2019).

The British adapted many of the Dutch structures inside the fort for their use and only replaced those which were no longer functional (ICOMOS, 1988; Janakiraman, 2019). They filled in ditches, added new blockhouses, and put a gate in between the Moon bastion and the Sun bastion (ICOMOS, 1988) They also sealed the moat and added a new commemorative gate in 1883 for the jubilee of Queen Victoria  (Janakiraman, 2019). Further, they built the lighthouse in 1848 (rebuilt in 1940 after it burnt down the year before), the Library Building in 1871, the Galle Gymkhana Club in 1885 on the esplanade and the Galle Railway Station in 1894 (Janakiraman, 2019). The present main entrance to the fort which is located midway through the northern rampart was opened by the British in 1873 (Abeyawardana, 2004). The present Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple was constructed in 1889 by a wealthy Sinhalese philanthropist on a plot of land he owned within the fort (Janakiraman, 2019).

Changes after 1948 
The British left the Galle fort after Sri Lanka gained independence from them in 1948 (Sanjeewani, 2012). The remaining Burger (most are Dutch descendants) and Muslim communities re-established themselves inside the fort but many Burger families began to migrate to Australia, particularly at the end of the 1970s (Sanjeewani, 2012). Eventually, the Burghers were replaced by a sizable Sinhala community inside the fort (Sanjeewani, 2012).

Conservation of the colonial heritage
The measures to conserve the fort began with a private member’s bill in the colonial State Council, in 1940 (Sanjeewani, 2012). In 1971 the Department Of Archaeology assumed responsibility for the historic buildings in the fort while declaring the fort a protected monument in 1974 under the Antiquities Ordinance no. 9 of 1940 (Sanjeewani, 2012). In 1988 UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on Galle Fort.

The fort
Extending in an area of 52 hectares (128.5 acres), the land area of the fort is defined by the standard grid iron pattern of streets established in all Dutch colonized cities of Asia (ICOMOS, 1988; Rajapakse, 2013; Sanjeewani, 2012). The fortification contains 14 bastions, a gateway, and a clock tower (Bohingamuwa, 2019). The majority of curtain walls have been built in 1663 and the northern fortified gate, protected by a drawbridge and a ditch, bears the date 1669 (ICOMOS, 1988). The buildings found in the fort are mainly three types, viz: residential (townhouses), public (hospitals, administrative buildings) and religious [(churches) Rajapakse, 2013]. Of them, the residential quarter consisting of townhouses forms a greater percentage of the built fabric of the fort (Rajapakse, 2013).

Although a few Portuguese structures have survived, much of the urban fabric of the present fort is from the Dutch and British periods (Janakiraman, 2019). The present Police Headquarters of the Southern Province occupies the site of the Portuguese Black Fort and there was a church called Saint Pedro in front of the present Kachcheri or the Government Agent's Office (Abeyawardana, 2004). The Roman Catholic Church built by Franciscan priests in 1544 was located at the premises where the present Islamic Mosque stands (Abeyawardana, 2004).

The Kachcheri building, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Galle Museum Building and the post office building are some of the Dutch constructions that survived within the fort to date (Abeyawardana, 2004). The original gate of the fort by the harbour still remains intact and a stone-carved Dutch VOC monogram with the date 1669 is found over its inner archway (Abeyawardana, 2004). The first church built by the Dutch within the fort was at the north end of the warehouse building (built between 1672-1676) and the bell tower (erected in 1701) of that church still can be seen (Abeyawardana, 2004).

The fort received a limited impact from the 2004 tsunami, primarily due to its strong high wall and the coral and boulder reefs around it (Bohingamuwa, 2019).

Landmarks within the fort

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Ruhuna: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-073-4. pp.20-23. 
2) Bohingamuwa, W., 2019. The Galle Fort World Heritage Site: A Nature-Culture Approach to the Conservation of Cultural Heritage along the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka. Journal of World Heritage Studies: Disasters and Resilience, pp.29-37.
3) ICOMOS, 1988. Advisory Body Evaluation Report: The historic city of Galle and its fortifications. UNESCO.
4) Janakiraman, A., 2019. The local identity politics of world heritage: lessons from Galle Fort in Sri Lanka (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). pp.21,50-52.
5) Rajapakse, A., 2013. The “Sense of Place” and diminishing living heritage in the World Heritage site of Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. In The Proceedings of the ICOMOS Thailand International Conference: Asian forgotten Heritage–Perception, Preservation and Presentation. pp.205-221.
6) Rajapakse, A., 2017. Exploring the living heritage of Galle Fort: Residents’ views on heritage values and cultural significance. Journal of Heritage Management, 2(2), pp.95-111.
7) Sanjeewani, S.L.G., 2012. The transformation of space in the Galle Fort (Sri Lanka) by its inhabitants. A thesis submitted to the graduate school in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree Master of Urban and Regional Planning. Ball State University. Muncie, Indiana. pp.12-14,27-32.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 14 August 2022

Hatton National Bank Building (Colombo Fort)

Colombo Hatton National Bank Building
Colombo Hatton National Bank Building (Photo credit: Google Street View)

The old Colombo Hatton National Bank Building (Sinhala: කොළඹ හැටන් නැෂනල් බැංකු ගොඩනැගිල්ල) is located at No. 16, Janadipathi Mawatha in Colombo Fort, Sri Lanka.

This Neo-Classical building is said to have been constructed in 1901 (Manathunga, 2016). It is a two-storied building with an underground floor (Manathunga, 2016). As revealed in the early 20th century literature, this building was occupied by the Merchant Bank of India Limited and the upper floor by the Whitehall & Company (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016). Later, it was occupied by the Hatton National Bank (HNB), one of the oldest banks in the country. HNB bank was established in the 19th century (1888) as a small private bank catering to the banking needs of investors in tea plantations (Manathunga, 2016; Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016).

See also

1) Manathunga, S. B., 2016. Pauranika Sthana Saha Smaraka: Kolamba Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 955-9159-39-9. p.35.
2) Welandawe, H., Weerasinghe, J., 2016. Urban Heritage in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project. p.12.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 14 August 2022

Saturday, 13 August 2022

George Steuart Building (Colombo Fort)

George Steuart Building
George Steuart Building (Photo credit: Google Street View)

The George Steuart Building (Sinhala: ජෝර්ජ් ස්ටුවර්ට් ගොඩනැගිල්ල) is located at No. 45, Hospital Street in Colombo Fort, Sri Lanka. Also known as the "Steuart House", it is one of the oldest buildings built during the British colonial period [(British Ceylon: 1815-1948) Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016]

The building was the headquarters of George Steuart & Co. Ltd, the first company registered in Sri  Lanka (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016). The company itself was founded in 1835 by sea captain James Steuart (1790-1870) who secured the business to his brother George Steuart (1808-1896and named the firm after him. Initially emerged as a large-scale coffee producer, the company suffered a temporary setback in the early 1870s when the rust disease Hemileia vastatrix wiped out the country's coffee plantations in 1869. As a result, the company replaced coffee with tea and later became a renowned tea exporter in the country.

The building transformed into a boutique business hotel in July 2015 under the name "Steuart by Citrus". The hotel comprises fifty rooms, situated on eight floors.

1) Welandawe, H., Weerasinghe, J., 2016. Urban Heritage in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project. p.12.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 13 August 2022

Friday, 12 August 2022

York Building (Colombo Fort)

York Building Colombo
York Building, Colombo (Photo credit: Google Street View)

The York Building (Sinhala: කොළඹ යෝර්ක් ගොඩනැගිල්ල) is located at No. 101, Chatham Street in Colombo Fort, Sri Lanka. It is a British period (British Ceylon: 1815-1948) building in the Palladian architectural style (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016). Presently, it is used as the showroom of "Vogue Corner".

1) Welandawe, H., Weerasinghe, J., 2016. Urban Heritage in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project. p.52.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 12 August 2022

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Elphinstone Theatre

Elphinstone Theatre
Elphinstone Theatre (Sinhala: එල්ෆින්ස්ටන් රඟහල) is located in Maradana in Colombo District, Sri Lanka. Constructed in 1925, it is considered the second oldest theatre in the country (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016). It was the venue for some of the greatest theatre productions made in Sri Lankan history (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016).

1) Welandawe, H., Weerasinghe, J., 2016. Urban Heritage in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project. p.93.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 11 August 2022

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

St. James Church, Mutwal

St. James Church, Mutwal
St. James Church, Mutwal (Photo credit: Google Street View)

St. James the Great Church (Sinhala: මෝදර ශාන්ත ජේම්ස් දේවස්ථානය) is a Roman Catholic church situated in Mutwal (or Modara) in Colombo 15, Sri Lanka.

The history of this church runs back to the 19th century. It was built in 1872 to cater for the religious needs of the Roman Catholic community in the area. Peter Ilari, the first priest of the church is said to have planned the church building (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

The single-storey church building is sheltered by a high roof and a flat wooden ceiling. In the early 20th century, the whole building was re-plastered (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). Except for two paintings by George Henrickus on the top corners of the ceiling, other paintings have been re-painted during the later renovations (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009)

1) De Silva, N.; Chandrasekara, D.P., 2009. Heritage Buildings of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, ISBN: 978-955-0093-01-4. p.118.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 10 August 2022

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

All Saints' Church, Hulftsdorp

All Saints' Church, Hulftsdorp
All Saints' Church, Hulftsdorp (Photo credit: Google Street View)

All Saints' Church (Sinhala: අලුත්කඩේ සියළු ශාන්තුවරයන්ගේ දේවස්ථානය) is situated at No. 222 on Hulftsdorp Street in front of the Western Province High Court in Colombo 12, Sri Lanka.

The church was established in 1860 for the Sinhala Anglican congregation in the area who wanted their own place of worship (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). Designed by J. F. Churchill, the church building was constructed in 1895 by the Government Work Department under the direction of Mudaliar J. A. Perera (Manathunga, 2016).

The single-storey church building bears Gothic architectural features (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009; Manathunga, 2016). The two-storey bell tower is said to have been used as a watch tower during World War I [(1914-1918) De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009].

1) De Silva, N.; Chandrasekara, D.P., 2009. Heritage Buildings of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, ISBN: 978-955-0093-01-4. p.117.
2) Manathunga, S. B., 2016. Pauranika Sthana Saha Smaraka: Kolamba Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 955-9159-39-9. p.76.
Location Map
This page was last updated on 9 August 2022

Monday, 8 August 2022

Kotasara Piyangala Viharaya

Not to be confused with Ampara Piyangala Viharaya

Kotasara Piyangala Viharaya
Kotasara Piyangala Viharaya (Photo credit: U Edg3, Google Street View)

Kotasara Piyangala Viharaya (Sinhala: කොටසර පියංගල විහාරය) is a Buddhist temple situated in Bibile in Monaragala District, Sri Lanka. 

The history of Kotasara temple runs back to the 3rd century B.C. (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021). Remains of the ruined building and structures belonging to the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods are found scattered throughout the temple premises (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021). Of them, the ruins of the Padhanaghara building are notable.

The Tempita Viharaya of the temple was constructed in the mid-eighteen century (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021).

Tempita Viharaya
Tempita Viharas were a popular aspect of many Buddhist temples during the Kandyan Period. These structures were usually built on a wooden platform resting on bare stone pillars or stumps which are about 1-4 feet tall. The roof is generally made of timber and held by wooden stumps. The walls are usually made of wattle and daub and they form the main enclosed shrine room containing the Buddhist sculptures and murals belonging to the Kandyan style. Some Tempita Viharas have narrow verandas and ambulatories circulating the main enclosed space. The construction of these buildings started in the 17th century and lasted until the end of the 19th century (Wijayawardhana, 2010).

Kotasara Tempita Viharaya
The Tempita Viharays of Kotasara temple consists of several sections: the entry portico, the Mandapa, the upper-level ambulatory, the antechamber and the inner sanctum (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021). Except for the entry portico, the other sections have been sheltered with a single hip roof (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021). Also, all sections except the entry portico, have been enclosed with wattle and daub walls (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021). The floors and roofs of the chambers and ambulatories are supported by wooden and stone columns. The front wall of the antechamber is decorated with a Makara Torana (dragon arch) while the other walls are adorned with murals of the Kandyan Sittara style unique to the Uva province (Silva & Chandrasekara, 2021).

A protected site
The Tempita Viharaya, Bhikku dwelling, the well, ancient Dagoba and building ruins belonging to Kotasara Piyangala Raja Maha Vihara premises in the Grama Niladhari Division No. 102-B-Mallahewa, in Bibile Divisional Secretary’s Division are archaeological protected monuments, declared by two government Gazette notification published on 6 June 2008 and 23 January 2009.

Kotasara Piyangala Viharaya
The Makara Thorana of the Tempita Viharaya (Photo credit: U Edg3, Google Street View)
1) Silva, K.D. and Chandrasekara, D.P., 2021. The Tämpiṭavihāras of Sri Lanka: Elevated Image-Houses in Buddhist Architecture. Anthem Press. pp.160-161.
2) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1553. 6 June 2008. p.529.
3) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1586. 23 January 2009. p.105.
4) Wijayawardhana, K., 2010. Sri Lankawe Tampita Vihara (In Sinhala). Dayawansa Jayakody & Company. Colombo. ISBN: 978-955-551-752-2. p.12.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 8 August 2022