A summary of Portugese History in Ceylon (1506-1631)


Summary of Portugese History in Ceylon (1506-1631)

The first Portuguese visiting Ceylon was

Dom Lourenço de Almeida in 1505 or 1506. Accidentally, after a storm,
adverse winds drove him to the island's coast near Galle. In the last months
of the years 1505 or 1506 Dom Lourenço's fleet anchored off Colombo.

A memorial of this first landing was erected on a boulder overlooking the

Bay of Colombo.The Portuguese called it a "Padrao" and a cross above the

Royal Arms of Portugal surmounted it. This landmark was still seen in 1920
(now?) bearing the inexplicable date of 1501.This first expedition admittedly
built a wooden chapel and an agency in Colombo.These structures were abandoned
a few years later.A treaty was concluded with the King of Ceylon, than
residing in the city of Kotte, about two hours by foot from Colombo. The

Island was divided in four Kingdoms: Kotte, the most important, Sitawaka,

Kandy, in the mountains, and Jaffna in the North.

In 1518, the Viceroy Lopo Soares de Albergaria
landed at Colombo with a large fleet. Here the Portuguese began to build
a small fort named "Nossa Senhora das Virtudes" or "Santa Barbara". This
first fort was a triangular in shape surmounted by a central tower. Sinhalese
soon besieged the fort, and around 1524 the Portuguese dismantle it. The

Portuguese kept an Agent in the Island under the protection of the Sinhalese

King at Kotte.Giving up of Colombo was a mistake. The colony of Muslims
merchants immediately attempted to win back their supremacy in the Kingdon
of Kotte and to re-conquer the cinnamon trade. However, they were to be
defeated by the few Portuguese still presents in the Island. The Mappillas
(Malabar Muslims) that up to 1539 nourished a dynastic conflict in the

Kingdoms of Sitavaka and Kotte, opposed the Portuguese presence in Ceylon.

Martin Afonso de Sousa, at Vedelai in 1538, and Miguel Ferreira, at Negombo
in 1539 would definitely defeat the Mappillas.

Also in these years, and with encouragement
from the King of Kotte, the missionaries began the work of converting the
peoples of Ceylon to Christianity. Churches were erected in the fishing
village of the southwestern coast. Sadly, in 1544, the King of Jaffna massacred
more than 600 Christians in the island of Mannar.However in 1545 the King
of Jaffna submitted and paid tribute to the Portuguese.In October 1550,
the Viceroy Afonso de Noronha arrived in Ceylon with 500 Portuguese soldiers
that occupied Kotte, and sacked Sitawaka.But the Viceroy lost a good
opportunity of establishing the supremacy of Portugal over the entire island.In

November 1554, Duarte de Eca with 500 soldiers built a new fortress in

Colombo.By 1556 the communities of fishermen occupying the sea coast south
of Colombo (70.000 people) were converted to the Christianity. The King
of Kotte, Dharmapala (re-christened as Dom Joao Perya Bandara) and the

Queen (re-christened as Dona Catherina) were converted to Christianity.

Following the King example, a few nobles, adopted the Portuguese title
of Dom (Sir), the Portuguese manners and language. These conversions were
a serious mistake for the King and his entourage because they alienated
the majority of the Sinhalese population.

In 1560, Viceroy Dom Costantino de Bragança
with 1.200 men conquered the town of Nallur, the capital city of the Kingdom
of Jaffna, and soon afterwards the Viceroy proceeded to the island of Mannar
where a fort was built.In July 1565, the Portuguese decided to transfer
the Court and the capital to Colombo, thus Kotte was abandoned. The Portuguese
at Colombo were surrounded, the Sinhalese had three strong garrisons around

Colombo at Wattala, at Nagalagama and Mapane.Only in 1574 did the Portuguese
take the offensive. They plundered Negombo, Kalutara and Beruwela, drove
out the garrisons at Nagalagama and Mapane and ravaged the districts of

Weligama and Chilaw.In August 1587, Raja Sinha, the King of Kandy and Sitawaka,
began the siege of Colombo.The Portuguese town was protected by fortifications
with 12 bastions, that the Sinhalese assaulted many times but always failed.

In February 1588 they abandoned the siege.Till the very end of XVII century
the Portuguese were masters of the coast forts of Colombo, Galle, Kalutara
and Negombo.In 1591 Andre Furtado de Mendoça invaded Jaffna and
set up a new king at Nallur.The Portuguese occupied Kandy for a brief time
in 1592, but, after a few weeks, they were forced to withdraw. They were
also masters of the Kingdoms of Kotte and Sitawaka, but several attempts
to occupy Kandy were met with failure.In 1597 the Portuguese had begun
to fortify Galle.

On 27 May 1597, King Dom Joao Dharmapala
died at Colombo without heirs and, in accordance with his will, his Kingdom
was donated to the