Fort Frederick: Trincomalee
The centrepiece of Trincomalee is Fort Frederick, whose buildings sprawl across the narrow peninsula which pokes out into the sea from
the middle of town, dividing Back Bay from Dutch Bay. The entire complex is enclosed by a solid set of stone walls; entrance is through the attractive main gate, its outer face carved with the date 1675 and a British coat of arms bearing the legend “Dieu et Mon Droit”. Inside, the pleasantly shady grounds are dotted with fine old trees, while a small population of deer wander around. A few colonial buildings survive, including one known variously as Wellesley Lodge or Wellington House. A popular legend describes the providential escape enjoyed by Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington who, it’s claimed, stayed in here in 1800 whilst convalescing from an illness – the ship which he was to have sailed on later sank with the loss of all hands. In fact, the Iron Duke did spend some time in Trinco, but made it as far as Bombay before being struck down with a combination of fever and the “Malabar Itch”. Fortunately for Wellington, a course of lard and sulphur failed to shift the infection and he was reluctantly forced to stay behind in Bombay while the doomed ship sailed off without him.
The main road through the fort leads up to Swami Rock, a towering cliff-top vantage point offering wonderful views back to town, along the
coast and down the sheer cliff-face to the deep-blue waters way below. At the highest point of the rock sits a Hindu shrine, the Koneswaram
(or Tirukoneswaram) Kovil, one of the five most holy Shaivite temples on the island. The original structure was destroyed by the Portuguese
in the early seventeenth century – they simply shoved it over the edge of the cliff into the waters below. Divers subsequently rescued a Shiva
lingam from the water, which is now enshrined in the rather unexciting modern temple.
Just outside the temple close to the highest point of Swami Rock, a tree clings precariously to the edge of the rock, its branches adorned
with prayer flags which supplicants have somehow managed to attach. This spot is popularly known as Lover’s Leap in commemoration of a
certain young Dutch lady, Francina van Rhede. The details are confused: some say that the heartbroken van Rhede, who had been
abandoned by her lover, leapt but survived the fall; others claim that she didn’t even jump.