Ancient Kotte Fort

Ancient Kotte Fort
The Kotte Fortress (Sinhala: කෝට්ටේ බලකොටුව) is an ancient fort located in Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte in Colombo District, Sri Lanka. 

Kotte was the capital of the Kingdom of Kotte during the 15-16 centuries A.D. Since it existed for nearly 150 years as the capital of the country, a significant amount of preserved ruins of this kingdom could be expected. However, the rapid development and land occupation that was taken place in recent history in this area has caused massive destruction of the ruins including the Kotte fortress. Presently, a few locations where the ruins of this ancient fortress exist has been protected by the government as archaeological sites under the 1940 Archaeological Act no.9.

Construction of Kotte Fortress
According to Nikaya Sangrahaya, the initial step to make Kotte a fortified city was taken by Alagakkonara (Nissanka Alakesvara) during the reign of King Vikramabahu IV of Gampola [(1360-1373 A.D.) Fonseka, 2010; Somaratna, 1969]. It is said that this fort was built as a garrison town to resist the tax collectors who had been appointed by the rulers of Jaffna. The political instability and power struggle that occurred at the end of the 14th century resulted in the giving up of Gampola and the ruling body was then moved to Kotte, the newly established frontier fort. However, Kotte became an official kingdom after the anointing of King Parakramabahu VI (c.1412-1467 A.D.) as the King of Jayawardanapura (Wijewardana et al., 2011).

King Parakramabahu VI
King Parakramabahu VI developed this garrison town into a fortified capital city (Rajapakshe et al., 2018). In addition to the fortification, the king built a three-storied Temple of Tooth, and a five-storied palace for himself, but no traces of these two edifices are found today (Fonseka, 2010; Wijewardana et al., 2011)

European invasions and colonial rule coupled with the uprising named Vijayaba Kollaya (which happened in 1521) caused the destruction of most parts of the Kotte fort (Wijewardana et al., 2011). However, the fortification in Kabok stones (laterite blocks) is still visible at several places in the area.

The fort
The site that was selected for the Kotte fortress is surrounded on three sides by Diyawanna Oya, Kolonnawa Oya and, marshland which provided ideal natural defences for the fort. According to local chronicles such as Nikaya Sangrahaya, and Saddharma Ratnakaraya, the Kotte fortress had been built on earth filled area of about one square mile and it consisted of thick peripheral walls, and wells, water & mud moats, and observation turrets (Wijewardana et al., 2011). 

The fort citadel was bounded by a protective rampart. Two outer and inner moats were constructed to protect the southwestern side of the citadel that was not surrounded by water or marshland. The royal palace, the Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic), the treasury, the mansion of Alakeswara, the royal pleasure gardens and other buildings were inside the fort walls. Also, the fort had four temples dedicated to four guardian deities on the four corners (Wijewardana et al., 2011).

The peripheral wall or the rampart of the fort, according to historical documents, is 8 ft tall and 30 ft wide. A stone-throwing machine named "Idangani" and high watchtowers are said to be on the top of the rampart for the protection of the fort. Entrances were located on all four sides of the rampart and the main entrance (a drawbridge across the moat) to the citadel was located on the south. The Perahera pageant carrying the Tooth Relic of Buddha is said to have been conducted around the periphery of the fort (Rajapakshe et al., 2018).

Peripheral wall
Siri Perakumba Pirivena
Alagakkonara built the Kotte fort with an outer peripheral wall for the safety of the fortress. The wall commences from the southern end of the inner moat and extends about 2376 ft (0.724 km) towards the eastern and then 4620 ft (1.40 km) to the northern direction (Wijewardana et al., 2011). It again stretches to the western direction about 1122 ft (0.341 km) and then 3630 ft (1.10 km) to the southern direction (Wijewardana et al., 2011). The wall comes back to its initial point by stretching about 1716 ft (0.523 km) distance parallel to the inner moat (Wijewardana et al., 2011).

The walls of the fortress have been constructed with Kabok stones of 40x20x20 cm dimensions (Rajapakshe et al., 2018). Although it is said in the old texts that the peripheral wall of the Kotte fortress was originally 8 ft tall and 30 ft wide, archaeological investigations have revealed that the wall was about 5 ft tall and 8 ft wide and the total length of it was about 3.5 km (Rajapakshe et al., 2018). Also, a few ancient wells known as "Ura Keta Linda" were reported in the outside but immediate vicinity of the peripheral wall of the fort (Rajapakshe et al., 2018). One such well is still can be seen on the premises of Siri Perakumba Pirivena in Kotte.

The government has protected the peripheral wall of the fort and a 10 ft stretch on the outside and 5 ft on the inside as an archaeological monument.

The inner moat
The inner moat of the Kotte fortress is said to have been built alongside the ramparts for the protection of the southern side of the fortress that did not have natural protection from the rivers or marshlands. It is connected to the Kolonnawa Oya on the western side and on the eastern side to the Diyawanna Oya (Wijewardana et al., 2011). The top of the moat was 30 ft wide and the side walls were 20 ft high. The moat had a varying depth and width mainly due to the natural ground contour and prevailing topography.

The outer moat
In addition to the inner moat, Alagakkonara built the outer water moat for the protection of the fortress. Constructed about 1 km south of the inner moat (close to modern Pita Kotte), the outer moat also has a varying depth and width mainly due to the ground contour and topography. A perennial stream that flowed to the west across the Pita Kotte area had been connected to the moat. One of the six entrances to the citadel was built across this moat.

The site is presently located near the Sirikota premises, the headquarters of the United National Party (UNP).

Kotte inner moat Kotte outer moat .
1) Fonseka, P., 2010. The Ancient City of Kōṭṭe and its Fortification. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, 56, pp.57-117.
2) Rajapakshe, S.; Bandara, T. M. C.; Vanninayake, R. M. B. T. A. B. (Editors), 2018. Puravidya Sthana Namavaliya: Kolamba Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Vol. I. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 978-955-7457-19-2. pp.1-2.
3) Somaratna, G.P.V., 1969. Political history of the Kingdom of Kotte (c. AD 1400-1521) (Doctoral dissertation, SOAS University of London). pp.79-85,147-188, 456-460.
4) Wijewardana, A., Thilakawardana, A. E. L., Priyangani, S., 2011. Aithihasika Kotte (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 978-955-9159-69-8. pp.1-5,9-14.

This page was last updated on 18 February 2023

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