Home / FT Lite/ First foreign fort built 500 years ago

First foreign fort built 500 years ago

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 23 June 2018 00:00


It was exactly 500 years ago, in 1518, that the Portuguese built a fort after arriving in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) in 1505, which the Portuguese historian Joao Ribeiro described as “the loveliest parcel of land the Creator had placed in this earth”.

Although the Moors had been maintaining trade relations with Ceylon, this was the first time that a foreign power obtained land to erect a fort. 

The Portuguese are said to have discovered Ceylon by accident when a fleet of nine ships led by Dom Lourenco de Almeyda bound for the Maldive Islands were caught in a storm and driven to Galle. Their mission was to intercept Muslim ships bound for Mecca. 

From Galle the ships followed the coast line to the port of Colombo. On their arrival in Colombo, the Portuguese arms had been engraved on a rock in the harbour. It was not until 1898 that the coat-of-arms had been discovered and moved to Gordon gardens behind the present President’s House. 

According to records, Captain Lopo Soares de Albegaria, Governor of Portuguese India, asked the King of Kotte for a plot of land “no more in extent than could be measured by stretching the dried hide from the carcass of a cow or bullock” to erect a trading station. They then used the site to build the fort. Cabook stones and mud were used to construct it. A garrison under the command of Captain Joao Silveyra was kept there. 

Captain de Albegaria had set out for Ceylon in 1518 with a fleet to establish a fortress. Like the earlier fleet he too had been driven to Galle due to rough winds. He had spent several weeks in Galle and in fact, had toyed with the idea of building a fort in Galle. It is stated that he gave up the idea thinking that the Moors in Colombo would have said that they had frightened him off Colombo.

After coming to Colombo, de Albegaria met King Vijayabahu VI (1513-21) and persuaded him to allow him to erect a small fort in Colombo, indicating the need for a fort because of the Moors who were hostile to them. The Moors at the time were doing trading activities with Ceylon.

The busy nature of trade can be judged by Ribeiro’s reference: “Many ships from Bengalla, Persia, the South and the Red Seas used to assemble to take on board cinnamon and elephants, and here was carried on the trade of the island in other commodities which they brought.”  

The Moors would have had friendly relations with the king and when they heard about the Portuguese wanting to build a fort they got alarmed and told the king not to trust the Portuguese. Although they told the king that they had never interfered with the internal affairs of the country, they could not convince him. Once the fort was built, the Moors with the help of the people began attacking the fort with no success.

The Portuguese soon got involved with internal struggles between local princes who claimed the maritime provinces in the west coast. The fighting for power started between three brothers – Mayadunne, Rayigam Bandara and Bhuvaneka Bahu VII – when the latter succeeded Vijayabahu VI as king of Kotte in 1521. Mayadunne started ruling from Sitawaka and Rayigam Bandara from Rayigama. The Portuguese backed Bhuvaneka Bahu and the Moors supported one of the other brothers.

When Mayadunne attacked Colombo with the support of the Samorin of Calicut (Hindu monarch of the kingdom of Calicut in Kerala), he was routed by Bhuvaneka Bahu with the help of the Portuguese. In 1524 the Portuguese converted the fortress to a trading station or factory to please the king. 


Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Why are Sri Lankan passports so bad?

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

My children have two different passports, making them a sort of case study in the stupidity and ultimate cruelty of passports. My daughter has a white passport, so no visas required. My son has a brown passport and he has to prove that he’s not try

Concept of Free Zones and their economic importance

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

With the growth of cross broader international trade, economic liberalisation and relocation of manufacturing facilities to economical location in search of competitive advantages, the concept of Free Zones was born. Free Zones include varieties of F

Howard at the PIM

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

A number of very important people called to thank me for inviting them to the very popular presentation by Dr. Howard Nicholas. It was held on 18 July at the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) auditorium. The title of the presentation was ‘

“Sri Lanka’s future lies in producing exportable manufactured goods”: Dr. Howard Nicholas

Monday, 22 July 2019

Drawing lessons from Vietnam’s experiences The Sri Lanka-born economist attached to The Hague based Institute of Social Studies – Dr. Howard Nicholas – addressing a packed audience consisting of the alumni of the Postgraduate Institute of Manag

Columnists More