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The Besieged Fort of Jaffna

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In 1618, the Portuguese built an enormous fort in Jaffna, to help protect their hard-won property. Colonial-era forts are fairly common across the world, but Jaffna’s must be one of the very few which continued to see action until the late 20th century. Recently re-opened to visitors, it was one of the first things we checked out in Jaffna.

Jaffna Fort

The Portuguese ruled Jaffna until 1658, when the Dutch sailed into town and took over. De Nederlanders expanded the fort and, after a century and half of dominance in northern Sri Lanka, ceded control to the British in 1795. Years after the tumultuous colonial years, the fort was the scene of major battles during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The LTTE controlled it until 1995, when a 50-day siege by the army finally uprooted them. Walking around the fort today, it’s immediately obvious how incredible the fight must have been. Almost everything is in ruins.

We were far from alone during our visit to the fort, which has apparently become a popular spot for a Saturday stroll. I’m unsure, though, whether the people visiting were from Jaffna or further afield. Now that the war is over, the peninsula has become a hot tourist zone for Sri Lankans, who hadn’t been able to visit the northern section of their country for decades. Perhaps even more than the fort itself, Jürgen and I were big attractions among the visiting families, asked to pose for picture after picture. It was a surreal, humorous touch to what had been a rather sobering day out.

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March 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm Comments (2)

A Concise History of Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka History Books

Originally settled about 36,000 years ago, Sri Lanka has one of the world’s oldest histories. So attempting to condense its long and turbulent story into a “concise” version is a fool’s errand. But then, we are the foolish children of a modern age, without the time for outdated concepts like thoroughness or nuance! Give the history of Sri Lanka to us in 140 characters or less, please.

Oldtimer in Sri Lanka
34000 BC Appearance of the Balangoda Man, the earliest evidence of humanity yet discovered on the island.
18000 BC Arrival of the Veddas, an indigenous people still extant in present-day Sri Lanka.
543 BC Prince Vijaya of India lands on the island, and becomes the country’s first recorded monarch. Sri Lanka would be ruled by native kings until 1815.
380 BC The capital is moved to Anuradhapura, where it remains for 1400 years.
250 BC Buddhism arrives to the island, and is thoroughly embraced. Sri Lanka remains one of the religion’s most important centers to this day.
47 BC Queen Anula of Sri Lanka becomes Asia’s first female ruler.
993 AD The fall of Anduradhapura marks the end of the island’s ancient history. The Cholas of India almost succeed in erasing Buddhism from Sri Lanka, and are only driven out in 1070.
1153 Parākramabāhu the Great rules over the greatest period in Sri Lankan history, initiating numerous construction projects and successful wars against India and Myanmar.
1505 Portuguese explorer Lorenzo de Almeida arrives on the shores of Sri Lanka, and establishes the port city of Colombo, initiating European colonialism on the island. The capital is soon moved inland, to Kandy.
1656 Sinhalese rulers sign an ill-advised treaty with the Dutch who, after booting out the Portuguese, immediately claim power themselves.
1796 The British arrive, and after two long campaigns, conquer the Kingdom of Kandy, bringing the entire island under foreign rule for the first time in history.
1824 Tea is brought to the island to replace a failing coffee trade, and quickly becomes one of the main export crops. Ceylon, as the British call Sri Lanka, becomes almost synonymous with tea.
1948 Independence returns to Sri Lanka. Almost immediately, Sinhalese majorities institute policies which marginalize other ethnicities.
1983 The Sri Lankan Civil War kicks off in earnest, pitting the Sinhalese government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who eventually control most of the north.
2004 The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami ravage Eastern Sri Lanka, with over 35,000 dead and over 500,000 displaced.
2009 After 26 years of fighting, the government finally defeats the Tamil Tigers, bringing an end to the devastating Civil War.
And on… Anxious for peace, the Sri Lankan people turn attentions to recovery and eco-tourism. Sri Lanka currently enjoys a high rate of growth, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As long as its different cultures get along, the future looks bright.

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February 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm Comment (1)
The Besieged Fort of Jaffna In 1618, the Portuguese built an enormous fort in Jaffna, to help protect their hard-won property. Colonial-era forts are fairly common across the world, but Jaffna's must be one of the very few which continued to see action until the late 20th century. Recently re-opened to visitors, it was one of the first things we checked out in Jaffna.
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