The Kalpitiya Fort

A legacy left by the Dutch
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The history of the Kalpitiya peninsula during the Portuguese period. It was a strategic military base and an ideal place from where to control the lucrative salt and cinnamon trades as well as the pearl diving. The 14 islands around the peninsula and the beaches of this area, with a briny sea air and a sleepy atmosphere, is full of a romance evoked by the maritime colonial activity. The old Dutch fort is the most notable icon of those times.

The fort was designed in 1666 and was completed in the year 1676. It stands at the entry point to the Puttalam lagoon. It is unique in having just one entrance. Its small white pediment has a belfry at the top. There is a crest, with two elephants and a palm. We are reminded that these were the treasures valued most by Dutch, who could ship pachyderms and the rich produce of the tropical land at a high value.

The yellow bricks that make up the entrance arch were brought down especially from Holland. This fortress’s layout is very simple. It has four bastions with the two by the lagoon side smaller than the two by the land. The fort walls are massive, built by the Dutch with coral and limestone. The guard posts atop the bastions are remarkably small. The Dutch had brought in fierce Indian tribals, virtually pygmies in size, to mount guard.

Inside the fort, the remains of an old church can be seen. It was a Roman Catholic, Portuguese shrine, around which the Dutch had built. Next to the church stood the large hall where the fort’s inmates must have gathered for their meals. Among the many other remnants are two old wells. There were also two tunnels compensating for the single entrance, one leading to the Dutch Reformed church which stood some 400 metres away, and the other leading to the sea. Both are now blocked.

The best time to experience the fort is dawn. As the first rays of sunlight begin to illuminate the still dark sky, the sight of the ruined fort and the empty lagoon will stir your imagination, bringing in half-formed images of Kalpitiya’s intriguing past. Later in history the British would take over the fort. But its Dutch spirit was never altered and lives on, in the classic arches and the massive doorways.

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