Saturday, June 19, 2021

Matara Star Fort

The Star Fort (Redoubt van Eck) is a Dutch fort situated in Matara District, Sri Lanka. Built on the western bank of the Nilwala Ganga river, the fort is located about 400 m from the entrance of the Matara Fort. It is the last major defensive work built by the Dutch in Sri Lanka (Abeyawardana, 2004; De Silva, 1988).
History
The Dutch who occupied several coastal parts of the Sri Lanka after expelling the Portuguese, had gained the control of the the Matara Fort by the 17th century. In 1760 a rebellion took place at Matara mainly due to the Dutch endeavor to register peasants' holding of lands and either to dispossess or tax them if they couldn't prove title (De Silva, 1988). Sinhalese forces backed by the Kandyan Kingdom captured the Matara Fort in March 1761 and held it for a period of nearly one year (De Silva, 1988; Wikramaratne, 2015). The Dutch retaken the fort in February 1762, and decided to erect the Star Fort on the western bank of the Nilwala Ganga river in order to strength their defenses (De Silva, 1988; Wikramaratne, 2015).

The construction work of the Star Fort was begun in 1763 and completed in 1765 (Abeyawardana, 2004; Mandawala, 2012; Wikramaratne, 2015). A person named Orukema Muhandiram  was in charge of this construction under the Dutch Governor Baron Van Eck (Mandawala, 2012; Wikramaratne, 2015). After the fort was built, it was used as barracks with the residential accommodation for the Commanding Officer.
 
In 1796, the fort was fallen under the rule of the British (Abeyawardana, 2004; Wikramaratne, 2015). During their time, the fort was used as a residence for government officials and maintained under the Public Works Department (Abeyawardana, 2004; De Silva, 1988). 
 
By 1965, the fort was the public library of Matara Urban Council (Abeyawardana, 2004; Wikramaratne, 2015). In 1980, it was taken over by the Department of Archaeology (Abeyawardana, 2004; Wikramaratne, 2015).

The fort
The fort has been built in the shape of a unique six-pointed star (Abeyawardana, 2004; De Silva, 1988; Wikramaratne, 2015). It is surrounded by a moat and a drawbridge with arches have been built at the main gate. Although the drawbridge no longer exists, the attractive gateway with the Dutch coat of arms is still well preserved (De Silva, 1988; Mandawala, 2012). The moat had been filled with earth but was later excavated and preserved by the Department of Archaeology (Abeyawardana, 2004). After the main gate there are two similar gates and two inner rooms (Wikramaratne, 2015). A deep well is found in the middle of the fort (Wikramaratne, 2015).

The gate
The attractive arch-shaped entrance gate of Matara Star Fort is considered a splendid example of Dutch colonial architecture (De Silva, 1988). The semi-circular upper portion of it is ornamented with the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie: United East Indian Company) initials (De Silva, 1988; Wikramaratne, 2015). Below it is the name of the fort, Redoute van Eck (De Silva, 1988). A plaque with van Eck's coat of arms, flanked by two lions is found immediately below the fort name (De Silva, 1988). Also, the initials of van Eck (L.I.V.E.) and the year "1763" are denoted on the bottom of it (Wikramaratne, 2015).

Two long narrow slots into which the beams of the drawbridge (now vanished) retracted are found on either side of the upper half of the gate (De Silva, 1988).
 
Inscription
An inscription is found immediately above the arch-gate of the fort.
As De Ly, opperkoopman en secunde van het Gaals commant mitsd'. Dessave deser landen, AO MDCCLXV
A protected site
The Star Fort at Matara town (in Uyanwatta land located in the southern section of land plot no. 1 of the Mulika Pimbura no. 12875), in the Divisional Secretary’s Division of Matara is an archaeological protected monument, declared by a government gazette notification published on 26 March 1959. 

References
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.67-68.
2) De Silva, R.R.K., 1988. Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796: A Comprehensive Work of Pictorial Reference with Selected Eye-Witness Accounts. Brill Archive. pp.180-183.
3) Mandawala, P.B., 2012. Sri Lanka: Defending the military heritage; legal, administrative and financial challenges. Defending the military heritage; legal, financial, and administrative issues. Reports from the Seminar 16 – 17 May, 2011, in Karlskrona, Sweden, organised by ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Legal, Financial and Administrative Issues (ICLAFI) and the Swedish Fortifications Agency of Sweden. p.101. 
4) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 11709. 26 March 1959. 
5) Wikramaratne, I., 2015. Pauranika Sthana Saha Smaraka: Matara Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 955-9159-54-2. pp.59-60.

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This page was last updated on 19 June 2021
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