The Portuguese Period

Galle Heritage Foundation

The Portuguese Period of Galle

The history of the fortified city of Galle starts with the arrival of the Portuguese

The history of the fortified city of Galle starts with the arrival of the Portuguese in the island of Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 16th century.

In 1505 a group of Portuguese sailors led by Don Lorenzo de Almeida, son of Francesco de Almeida, arrived in the island. They built the first fortification in Galle on a cliff, jutting out into the sea. It was called the Swart Bastion or the Black Fort.

Reference is made to Galle by Joard Ribrow in his book on Sri Lanka as follows:-

“The fortress in Galle had been built on a land which is flanked by the sea on two sides and lined by rocks on the north. On the south the harbor was protected by a fence with spikes on top. The fortress comprised three bastions and in front a protective moat with a draw bridge to enter the Fort. Protection to the fortress was limited to the above elements.”

Accession of Portuguese

Portuguese moved on to acquire trading powers in Asian countries where Moors were dominating the trade. As a result, Goa where the moors had so far firmly established their trading powers was conquered and taken possession by Sir Francisco De Almeida.
Legend has so many stories about the immigration of Portuguese. One such story says that Almeida in the process of establishing trading powers in Asian zones sent a naval force under his son Lorenzo De Almeida to capture Moorish traders who were then trading in the sea belt of Maldives. Due to capture of Maldives beach by Portuguese the moors had to find a new voyage way between Maldives and Zeilao (Ceylon), Portuguese suspected moors to roam about in that region. Lorenzo’s ships having got caught to the currents unexpectedly arose were drifted to headland Galle. Many ships loaded with spices and elephants to be exported to Cambodia were anchored at that time in the Galle harbor. Lorenzo and his crew frightened away the moors and having called in some natives and with their consent inscribed the emblem of the king of Portugal to mark their arrival. That inscription was done by a one of their crew members named Gonsalves and his name also was included in the inscription.

However, Gaspar Chorea, a historian who collected information pertaining to 1560 decade AD states that Lorenzo De Almeida came to Colombo in 1506 AD. Lorenzo and his crew of 300 mariners had left from Kochin in India on 01st August. Having engulfed in a sudden storm on their way, they arrived at Colombo harbor. At that time there were ships with substantial cargo aboard meant for export. It is said that coconuts with husks to extract oil, dried coconuts, aricanuts, cinnamon, masts, planks and elephants were among other things in the cargo aboard. Lauranzo had frightened and scared away the Moors who were about to go aboard and perched in the harbor. Later a person named Diogo De Melo was sent with many presents to pay respects to the Sinhala king. The intention of that diplomatic mission was to come to an agreement to receive merchandise such as elephants and cinnamon and in return to provide protection by Portugal to the coastal belt and ports of Ceylon. Sinhala king too agreed thereto because the Moors carrying on trading demanding massive ransoms pulling their weight around had been a severe problem to the country. Lorenzo De Almeida succeeded in establishing linkage with the Sinhala king, entered into an agreement with the king. The emblem of the king of Portugal was made on a rock in the harbor to commemorate the contentment of the event.

Portuguese met the ruler who governed the country from the capital Kotte according to the opinion of many scholars; we can believe that they arrived at Colombo harbor. In a letter sent to Pope by Portuguese king Emmanuwel on 15th November, the experiences of his diplomats on their journey to meet Sinhala king are narrated. According to the descriptions in that narration such as the thorn decorated with tusks, pearls, jewels,, Persian carpets, crown and rings  embedded with pearls, the  golden and silver colour and the robe reaching down to the feet,  Portuguese diplomats most probably  had met the King himself and not a provincial ruler. During the period Portuguese arrived, country was ruled by King Weeraparakramabahu VIII, it appears that the description appertained to him.

Portuguese were taken to show the Kotte kingdom by natives on a deceptive and a longer route the proverb “Like Portuguese went to Kotte” added to the legendry. It is also said that the information reached the King Weeraparakramabahu VIII who ruled in Kotte from public on 15th November, 1505 AD was; those who have arrived at Colombo port eat quartz and drink blood, they give two or three pieces of gold and silver for one lime to the Moor. Having gained upper hand over Weeraparakramabahu VIII, Lorenzo an agreement was reached to receive an annual ransom of cinnamon.  It was agreed to give 400 Basars cinnamon annually in exchange thereof Portuguese were to protect all ports from Mourish. This Agreement was written on Golden sheets in both Sinhala and Portuguese languages.

It is said that after signing the Agreement and with the approval of the king

Portuguese emblem was wrought on a large rock in the harbor by Lorenzo to mark his arrival. Due to certain developments took place in the area, this rock was broken on 07th  September ,1898 AD and was placed in Gordon Garden ( Rjamatwaththa).

Following the arrival of Lorenzo, naval groups came to Ceylon from Portugal  on  several occasions. About 10 books of history pertaining to this period up to 1551 AD have been written based on the notes of Pargna Bolo Pas De Kasthan Beda. Several naval groups that came to Ceylon are annotated therein. Two sailors, Diogo De Castro and Peiro Barba came to Ceylon to collect the cinnamon ransom. During that time the King of Ceylon endeavored to exact the support of Portuguese to suppress the challanges of Moorish and pirate coactions affecting Ceylon at that time.

Particularly as a result of  King of Kotte had to seek the support of Portuguese to  subdue  Mayadunne who was attempting to plunder  the kingship of Kotte with the support of Moors, a severe political chaos cropped up. Portuguese helped to protect the thorn of the king of Kotte on several occasions chasing away Mayadunne and hi Moorish gang. Kasthan Beda cites that Don Javo De Silvera of Portuguese nationality who had come to assist in war came to Galle harbour also with the naval force.

By order of King Don Manuel,Governor Alponso De Albekirk was informed to build a fortress in Colombo. Rebeiro notes that that work did not take place until Loposores came with a naval force on 18th September, 1517 AD. He arrived at Galle and spent one month until the climate in Colombo was suited to embark on construction work.  Moors were fought and chased away from wooden fortresses built at that time by them to provide protection from arrows and cannons and the fortress was reconstructed.

According to the account of Kasthan Mela, a Portuguese team arrived under the leadership of Denis Fernandez De Melo to make Colombo fortress.  The team consisting of Kristhorn De Sousa, Gaspar De Silva, Anthonio De Miranda,Simio Manuel De Lasarda, Lopo De Britto and  Don Fernando  first arrived at Galle. Legend asserts that permission was sought from the king to build a fortress to provide protection to the coin manufacturing workshop in Colombo. As Moorish protested for the suggestion, they were chased away by war and Souza commenced the construction of the fort by force. The king who got disturbed over  to this collision acceded  to provide labour and money for construction of the fortress. Portuguese insisted on a ransom of 10 elephants, 400 Bahars cinnamon and 20 rings embedded with jewels if peace was to be re established. Later the Fortress was built and Don Lorenzo Siluvera was assigned the  power over fortress by Governor, Lopo Suwaris.King Buwanekabahu was ruling Kotte ,King  Raigam Bandara was ruling Raigama and Mayadunne was ruling Seethawaka by 1536 AD. King Mayadunne sought support  of Moors from Comerin to take other areas also  under his governance. Three powerful Moorish armies were sent under famous warriers Pyichi Marrikkar, Kundali Marrikkar andAli Abraham. Portuguese commander Migel Perera together with Buwanekabahu and Raigam Bandara victoriously fought against Mayadunne and Moors .Later Raigam Bandara suddenly died, and since Buwanekabahu was too old coronation of the grand son of Buwanekabahu , prince Dharmapala as the King of Ceylon by the king of Portugal took place in 1540 AD. King Dharmapala who acquired Christian religion and was Christened by the name Don Juwan Dharmapala in 1557 AD, and in his Last Will he ascribed the governance of Ceylon to Portuguese.

Galle Fort Constructed by Portuguese

During the time Portuguese were ruling the coastal areas around Ceylon they constructed security fortresses at various locations along the coastal belt. It is said that they constructed Mannar fort in 1522AD, Baticaloe fort in 1528 AD.

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Portuguese Town Plan and Architectural Specialties Therein

Although Galle fort was a construction intended for war and security purposes, they took steps to design the town to suit their residential requirements.

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Portuguese Town Plan and War Constructions

Portuguese had reached the final stages in construction of protection outwork by 1640 AD. A study of old maps would reveal clear information on construction and expansion of street networks and architectural aspects those buildings.

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