Fort Hammenheil


This is one of the most historical Portuguese forts, also used as a jail till the 1980s. Now the fort is run like a resort, and they provide you with the comfort of napping in a cell. If you want to be “locked up” for the night time, then this would be the ideal place to be, understanding that there’s a 100% guarantee that you will be allowed out of your cell at any moment you want.

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The Location of Fort Hammenheil

The Hammenheil Fort lies on a small rocky island at the entrance to the Jaffna Lagoon. The fort was built by the Portuguese in mid-1618 of quarried coral and was named Fortaleza Real (Fort Royal). After a 3-month siege, the Dutch captured the fort in 1658 and renamed it as Hammenheil (Heel of the Ham) and rebuilt it in 1680. The fort is built around a small island between the island of Kayts and Karaitivu of the Jaffna Peninsula.

The Purpose and History of Fort Hammenheil

The April 1940 Journal of the Dutch Burger Union of Ceylon has a detailed description of the fort. "The strange serenity of the little Dutch water-fort, Hammenheil, invests this memorial with a sense of departed usefulness which is most striking. It stands on a rock at the entrance to Jaffna lagoon and is surrounded on all sides by the sea. In those forgotten days of tumult, Hammenheil served on the north, like Mannar Fort in the south, to guard the passage by water to the Castle or Key Fort at Jaffna."

Construction by the Portuguese

The fort is octagonal in shape, and the base of the ramparts is washed by the surf. It would appear that the walls were originally raised and the place was fortified on the orders of the Portuguese Governor of Jaffna, Antonio do Amaralde Menezes, a few years before the arrival of the Dutch. The historian Baldaeus, who accompanied the Dutch army to the assault on Jaffna, gives a brief description of the blockade and the attack on Hammenheil by the fleet before Jaffna capitulated two hundred and eighty-two years ago. The Portuguese only held out for a fortnight and were obliged to surrender due to a lack of water.

Capture by the Dutch

When the Dutch occupied this water fort, they found that the sandbank on which it was built had been undermined by the storms of the northeast monsoon. They remedied this by piling up a breakwater of stones. The Portuguese had built the ramparts hollow and had roofed them with beams, which supported a floor of stone and chunam, with a view to the space being utilized for storing provisions and ammunition. The Dutch considered this a mistake and replaced the roof with an entire stone vault to support the weight of the cannon.

Description of the fort

A low vaulted gateway, not more than seven feet in height, is the only entrance to this water fort. The living quarters consist of three or four rooms in the courtyard. The vaults under the ramparts were doubtless used as store rooms. The Dutch invariably maintained a garrison of thirty men under the charge of a Lieutenant or Ensign on this spot, and the early Dutch Governors make very special mention in their memoirs that Hammenheil must be carefully guarded, "none but Dutch being stationed there."

Features and Architecture of Fort Hammenheil

The architecture and features of Fort Hammenheil reflect its historical significance and strategic importance.

Octagonal shape and ramparts

The fort's octagonal shape and sturdy ramparts stand as a testament to its defensive capabilities. The design aimed to withstand attacks and ensure the security of its occupants.

Undermining and Dutch modifications

Due to the undermining of the fort's foundation by natural elements, the Dutch implemented modifications to reinforce its structure. They piled up a breakwater of stones and replaced the original roof with an entire stone vault to protect against cannon movements and decay.

Water supply and reservoir

The Dutch took special care to provide a reliable water supply within the fort. They built a large reservoir on the northern side, paved with "Dutch Bricks," to collect and preserve rainwater. Although the reservoir reached above the parapets, making it vulnerable to enemy fire, it remains standing to this day, conserving a supply of clear, fresh water.

Living quarters and garrison

The living quarters within Fort Hammenheil consist of three or four rooms in the courtyard. The vaults under the ramparts served as storage rooms for provisions and ammunition. The Dutch stationed a garrison of thirty men, under the command of a Lieutenant or Ensign, to guard the fort against potential threats.

Fort Hammenheil Today

Today, guests can experience real-time living and sleeping within an actual cell of Fort Hammenheil. The rooms have been fully renovated, preserving the fort's unique characteristics and offering guests a one-of-a-kind experience. The period architecture and flakey walls contribute to the feeling of living within a time capsule, far from the monotony of modern concrete structures. Exploring the demarcation of Fort Hammenheil allows visitors to revel in its history and purpose. The Jaffna Peninsula is home to Fort Hammenheil, which has recently been discovered as one of the most sought-after touristic pleasures in the region. The end of the war presented this unique offering to the public, shedding light on a hidden gem in the hospitality parlance.

Forts in History

Forts have played a significant role throughout history, representing power, wealth, and military capability. They provide a glimpse into the past and allow us to imagine what it was like to live in times of swords, cannons, muskets, and bows. In the Middle Ages, leaders constructed massive fortifications to protect their people, and military tacticians designed forts to withstand any attack. Fort Hammenheil, although unable to fulfill its intended purpose as a bastion of repute, holds its place in history as a captured fort, renamed and repurposed by successive forces ruling Sri Lanka.


Q1: What is the history of Fort Hammenheil? Fort Hammenheil was originally built by the Portuguese as Fortaleza Real (Fort Royal) and later captured by the Dutch, who renamed it Hammenheil. Its purpose was to guard the passage by water to the Castle Fort at Jaffna. Over the years, it underwent modifications and served as a garrison for the Dutch.

Q2: Can guests stay overnight in the fort? Yes, guests can experience staying overnight in Fort Hammenheil. The rooms have been fully renovated and provide a unique and historically immersive experience.

Q3: How is the fort preserved? Fort Hammenheil has been preserved with utmost care to retain its unique characteristics and historical value. The renovations and upkeep ensure that guests can explore and experience the fort's authentic atmosphere.

Q4: What is the significance of forts in history? Forts have played a significant role in history, representing power, wealth, and military capability. They were constructed to protect people and withstand attacks during times of conflict. Forts provide insights into the past and evoke a sense of awe and wonder.

Q5: What makes Fort Hammenheil a unique touristic destination? Fort Hammenheil offers a distinctive experience for tourists, allowing them to step into history and immerse themselves in a well-preserved fort. Its location on a small rocky island, surrounded by the sea, adds to its allure. The opportunity to stay within the fort's renovated rooms and explore its historical significance make it a sought-after destination for history enthusiasts and travelers seeking unique experiences.



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