Trincomalee is a district, a bay and a port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka, about 110 miles northeast of Kandy. The town is built on a peninsula, which divides the inner and outer harbours. It is one of the main centers of Tamil speaking culture on the island. Historically referred to as Gokanna, it has been a sea port that has played a major role in maritime and international trading history of Sri Lanka.
Distance From Colombo : 240 km
The Bay of Trincomalee's harbour is renowned for its large size and security; unlike every other in the Indian Ocean, it is accessible to all types of craft in all weathers. The beaches are used for surfing, scuba diving and fishing and whale watching. The town also has the largest Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. It is home to major Sri Lankan naval bases and a Sri Lankan Air Force base.
Trincomalee which is a natural deep-water harbour that has attracted sea farers like Marco Polo, Ptolemy and Sea Traders from China and East Asia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is commonly called, has been a sea port since the days of the ancient Sri Lankan Kings. The earliest known reference to the port of Gokanna is fund in the Mahavamsa stating that in 5th century BC, when King Vijaya who having failed to convince his brother to come to Sri Lanka as his successor, got down his youngest son Panduvasdeva, who landed at Gokanna and was subsequently enthroned at Upatissagama.
Rajaraja Chola I invaded Sri Lanka in 993 CE. The copper-plate inscription mentions that Rajaraja's powerful army crossed the ocean by ships and burnt up the kingdom of Lanka. Mahinda V was the king of Sinhalas. In 991 CE, Mahinda's army mutinied with help from mercenaries from Kerala. Mahinda had to seek refuge in the southern region of Rohana. Rajaraja utilised this opportunity and invaded the island. Chola armies occupied the northern half of Lanka and named the dominion 'Mummudi Chola Mandalam'.
Anuradhapura, the 1400-year-old capital of Sinhala kings was destroyed. The destruction was so extensive the city was abandoned. Cholas made the city of Polonnaruwa as their capital and renamed it Jananathamangalam. The choice of this city demonstrates the desire of Rajaraja to conquer the entire island. Rajaraja also built a Temple for Siva in Pollonaruwa.
To complete the task began by his father, of conquering the island of Sri Lanka, Rajendra Chola I invaded the island in 1018 C.E. As a result of the campaign, Rajendra claimed to have captured the regal jewels of the Pandya kings, which Parantaka I tried in vain to capture. Rajendra also captured the crown of the Sinhala king, his Queen and daughter. The Sinhala king Mahinda V was taken prisoner and transported to the Chola country. He was held prisoner for over twelve years and died in captivity. Mahavamsa gives a graphic illustration of the carnage wrought by the pillaging Chola army in the Sinhala country, claiming the invading army destroyed monasteries seeking treasure. Chola inscriptions however are silent regarding the details of this campaign and draw a veil over the pillage.
Mahinda's son Kassapa became the centre of Sihalese resistance against the Tamil Power. The war between the Cholas and the Sinhalese raged for over six months in which a great number of Tamils were killed. At the end of the battle Kassapa managed to drive out the Chola army from the southeast corner of the island and ruled as Vikramabahu I. Remains of a number of Hindu temples have been discovered around the Polonnaruwa area attesting to the presence of the Tamil army.
In 1041 C.E. Rajendra had to lead another expedition into Sri Lanka to quell the continuing attacks against the Chola army by Vikramabahu. Vikramabahu died soon after and anarchy reigned outside the Chola territories. An assortment of adventurers including Sinhalese, dispossessed Pandya princes and even a certain Jagaitpala from distance Kanauj asserted authority over portions of the island. Chola army had to fight and defeat them all.
King Parakramabahu I used Gokanna (Trincomalee) as his eastern port, to launch a successful invasion of Burma in the 12th Century. An English sea captain and historical chronicle writer named Robert Knox came ashore by chance near Trincomalee and surrendered to the Dissawa (official) of the King of Kandy in 1659. Hence, it was an important trade city between Sri Lanka and the outside world, and one of the British Empire's most important ports in Asia during the second world war.
Trincomalee had a Portuguese force during the reign of Kandyan King Rajasinghe I. Rajasinghe finally ended with an alliance with Dutch and the Dutch invaded Kottyar Bay Fort as their first attack. The fall of the Kottyar Bay Fort was the first nail in the Portuguese coffin.
Trincomalee was occupied by the Dutch, and subsequently by French alternately, until the capture of the fort there by the British in 1795. Trincomalee was the first land to be captured by the British who fought and defeated the Dutch, who did not want to surrender Ceylon as directed by the Prince of Orange, who took refuge in London after being defeated by the French republicans under Napoleon. As such Trincomalee has served as an entrance to a western invader from Calcutta.
The Koneswaram Temple. Most of the Tamils and Sinhalese believe that this place is sacred to them and they are the indigenous people of the area. Trincomalee and its environs have both Hindu and Buddhist sites of historical importance. These sites are sacred to the Hindus and Buddhists.
Even though King Mahasena demolished the Sivan Temple and built a Mahayana Buddhist temple on the hilltop the Sinhala Buddhists maintained good peaceful relationships as Theravada Buddhism does not advocate any conflicts with Hinduism and maintained excellent relationships.
The Koneswaram temple attracted pilgrims from all parts of India. Koneswaram shrine itself was demolished in 1622 by the Portuguese (who called it the Temple of a Thousand Columns), and who fortified the heights with the materials derived from its destruction. Some of the artefacts from the demolished temple were kept in the Lisbon Museum including the stone inscription by Kulakottan (Kunakottan). It has an emblem including two fish and is engraved with a prophesy stating that, after the 16th century, westerners with different eye colours will rule the country for 500 years and, at the end of it, rule will revert back to Vadugus. The Hindu temple was also documented in several late medieval texts such as the Konesar Kalvettu and the Dakshina Kailasa Puranam.
There are several Buddhist historical sites around the Trincomalee, meaning that there had been a Buddhist inhabitance in the area for many centuries. These include the famous Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara (Seruwila Temple), south of the trico town, which is under consideration to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site dating back to 2nd century B.C. the Sri Gajaba Len Vihara (Sri Gajaba Cave Temple), Tiriyay temple and the Welgam temple.
The Dutch Fort
The entrance to the roadway leading to Koneswaram is actually the entrance to what used to be Fort Fredrick. The fort was built in 1623 by the Portuguese and captured in 1639 by the Dutch. It then went through a phase of dismantling and reconstruction and was attacked and captured by the French in 1672.
The British in Trincomalee
On January 8, 1782 the fort was captured by the British, only to be recaptured by the French on August 29 of the same year. In 1783 the French ceded it to the British and subsequently Britain ceded it the Dutch. In 1795 the British recaptured and held it until Sri Lanka's independence in 1948. The importance of Fort Fredrick was due to Trincomalee's natural harbour. Through Trincomalee, it was believed a strong naval force could secure control of India's Coromandel Coast. Prior to world war 2 the British had built a large airfield to house a permanent RAF base, RAF China Bay and a fuel storage and support facilities for the Royal Navy and HMS Highflyer naval base based there. After the fall of Singapore, Trincomalee became to home port of the Eastern Fleet of the Royal Navy, and submarines of the Dutch Navy.
Until 1957, Trincomalee was an important base for the Royal Navy and was home to many British people who were employed by the British Admiralty. One of the places inhabited by the British was Fort Fredrick which is now occupied by the Sri Lankan Army. Although some of the old buildings in the fort were used as residences, the British Government built groups of bungalows in the early 50's specifically for their employees. These bungalows still exist and provide accommodation for soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army. One of the groups of bungalows was named Edinburgh Terrace.
Naval and air bases were take over by Sri Lanka in 1957, today SLNS Tissa and SLN Dockyard are used by the Sri Lankan Navy, while the Sri Lanka Air Force is based at SLAF China Bay.
Trincomalee War Cemetery, is one of the six commonwealth war cemeteries in Sri Lanka, it is maintained by Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Navy Base is home to a naval museum called The Hoods Tower Museum. The name of the museum refers to a watchtower built on a hill commanding a 360-degree view of the harbour and the bay.
Trincomalee's strategic importance has shaped its recent history. The great European powers vied for mastery of the harbour. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English, each held it in turn, and there have been many sea battles nearby.
The harbour, the fifth largest natural harbour in the world, is overlooked by terraced highlands, its entrance is guarded by two headlands, and there is a carriage road along its northern and eastern edges.
Trincomalee's location, in a less well developed and sparsely populated area, has in the past hampered its own development. Nevertheless plans are under way to develop Trincomalee as a commercial seaport.
There are the seven hot springs of Kanniya (Kal = stone; niya = land), on the road to Trincomalee. A high wall bounds the rectangular enclosure which includes all seven springs. Each is in turn enclosed by a dwarf wall to form a well. The water is warm, the temperature of each spring being slightly different. The use of the springs for bathing is controlled by the neighbouring Mari Amman Kovil, who holds the lease of the wells...
Trincomalee is and always has been one of the most popular beach destinations of Sri Lanka, with one of the most pristine and calm seas in the island! Not to mention one of the most beautiful beaches in south east Asia...