Matara’s main Fort lies on the narrow spit of land south of the river, its eastern side bounded by a long line of stumpy ramparts, built by the Dutch in the eighteenth century and topped by the inevitable ugly white British clocktower of 1883. At the north end of the ramparts, a dilapidated gateway (dated 1780) marks the original entrance to the Fort, while a short walk brings you to the restored Dutch Reformed Church, one of the earliest Dutch churches in Sri Lanka – a large and rather austere gabled structure sheltered beneath a huge pitched roof. The interior is largely bare, save for a few battered old wooden pews, a clapped-out harmonium and various florid British and Dutch gravestones inserted into the floor, the oldest dating back to the very beginning of the eighteenth century.

The rest of the Fort comprises an interesting district of lush, tree-filled streets dotted with fine old colonial-era houses in various stages of picturesque disrepair: some are surprisingly palatial, with grand colonnaded facades and sweeping verandas, although heavy-handed development is beginning seriously to erode the area’s character. At the far west end of the Fort, the peninsula tapers off to a narrow spit of land at the confluence of the Nilwala Ganga and the sea, where there’s a pretty new harbour.

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