Negombo Fort


Negombo is home to the largest community of Catholics in Sri Lanka, a legacy of the Portuguese, who industriously spread Catholicism all along the west coast. Portuguese surnames abound here, though the people do not descend from the Portuguese. Their ancestors adopted a Portuguese name when they had been baptised. In the Dutch time Negombo was important because the highest quality cinnamon grew in this area, but with the disappearance of the cinnamon trade it lost its importance.Negombo itself is an ugly town. Beauty is to be found on the beaches and around the lagoons, where colourful fishing boats lie on blue water against a backdrop of palm trees and blue sky.

The fort was located on a narrow strip of land between a lagoon and an inlet of the sea. It was surrounded by moats, and the gate was accessed via a drawbridge. Facing it on the landside was a town with the familiar rectangular pattern of streets which was itself protected by earth walls. The area to the west was regularly flooded by the sea, changing the land on which the fort stood into a peninsula. Governor Rumpf described the fort as a ‘fine defensible structure’ when he visited it in 1720, but the painter Heydt, who painted it in 1744, was less enthusiastic and felt that it could have been built ‘somewhat more durably’.

Governor Rumpf visited the Negombo Fort to view the improvements that had been recently made to it. The walls had been topped up, new watch towers had been built on the bastions, a big bell tower had been built above the gate, and a wooden palisade had been put up. The Fort in its new splendour is shown in this water colour from 1720.

Today only ruins are left. The Fort was demolished in the late nineteenth century by the British, who used its stones to build a prison. The main remnant is an ambivalent mound and part of the eastern wall with the main gate that gives entrance to a tunnel that opens into what was once the courtyard. A clock tower behind it has been added at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

Nearby on the beach is the fishing market of Negombo. The fish is brought ashore here and sold immediately while the sun beats down. Low colored boats and fishing nets lie on the beach. Dirty crows and seagulls are everywhere. The old women who sell the fish are very poor and have very black skins.