Trincomalee (Tamil: திருகோணமலை Tirukōṇamalai, Sinhala: තිරිකුණාමළය Trikuṇāmalaya) is a port city in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka and lies on the east coast of the island, about 113 miles south of Jaffna. It has a population of approximately 100,000 (2007). The city is built on a peninsula, which divides the inner and outer harbours. Overlooking the Kottiyar Bay, Trincomalee is one of the main centers of Tamil speaking culture on the island. The city is home to the famous ancient Koneswaram temple alluded to in its historic Tamil name Thirukonamalai from which its anglicized name is derived, and has been a sea port that has played a major role in the maritime and international trading history of Sri Lanka. It is referred to as Gokanna in Pali or Gokarna in Sanskrit.
The Bay of Trincomalee's harbour is renowned for its large size and security; unlike every other in the Indian Sea, it is accessible to all types of craft in all weathers. The beaches are used for surfing, scuba diving, fishing and whale watching. The city also has the largest Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. It is home to major Sri Lankan naval bases and a Sri Lankan Air Force base.
Trincomalee which is a natural deep-water harbour that has attracted seafarers like Marco Polo, Ptolemy and Sea Traders from China and East Asia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is commonly called, has been a sea port since the days of the ancient Sri Lankan Kings. The earliest known reference to the port of Gokanna is found in the Mahavamsa stating that in 5th century BC, when King Vijaya who having failed to convince his brother to come to Sri Lanka as his successor, got down his youngest son Panduvasdeva, who landed at Gokanna and was subsequently enthroned at Upatissagama.
Trincomalee was used by Chola king Ilankesvarar Tevar as his eastern port in the 11th century and prospered under the Vannimai chieftancies of the Jaffna kingdom. It was often visited by Kings Singai Pararasasegaram and his successor King Cankili I. King Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan (1380-1410 CE) had the traditional history of the Koneswaram temple compiled as a chronicle in verse, entitled Dakshina Kailasa Puranam, known today as the Sthala Puranam of Koneshwaram Temple.
King Parakramabahu I used Gokanna (Trincomalee) as his eastern port, to launch a successful invasion of Burma in the 12th Century. By the late 16th century, Jaffna had given minimal logistical access to its Trincomalee and Batticaloa seaports to Kandy to secure military advantages against its enemies; this was utilized by their influential European overlords to consolidate power in the region. In 1612, D. Hieronymo de Azevedo, after great difficulties due to torrential rains arrived at Trincomalee with a Portuguese contingent from Kandy. Here de Azevedo "was keen on building a fort" to the scope he called in aid from King Ethirimana Cinkam of Jaffna, but not seeing him arrive he abandoned the enterprise and he marched towards Jaffna.
The Koneswaram Temple
Trincomalee is sacred to both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese people. Trincomalee and its environs have many Hindu sites of historical importance. These sites are sacred to the Hindus and some Buddhists worship in these Hindu sites.
Even though Mahasena demolished the Sivan Temple and built a Mahayana Buddhist temple on the hilltop the Hindus of this area maintain a good peaceful relationships with the minority Sinhala Buddhists living in the area.
Hindu historical sites
The Koṇēsvaram temple, with a recorded history from the 3rd century CE and legends attesting to classical antiquity attracted pilgrims from all parts of India. The Koṇēsvaram shrine itself was demolished in 1622 by the Portuguese (who called it the Temple of a Thousand Columns), and who fortified the heights with the materials derived from its destruction. Some of the artefacts from the demolished temple were kept in the Lisbon Museum including the stone inscription by Kulakottan (Kunakottan). It has an emblem including two fish and is engraved with a prophesy stating that, after the 16th century, westerners with different eye colours will rule the country for 500 years and, at the end of it, rule will revert back to Vadugus. The Hindu temple was also documented in several late medieval texts such as the Konesar Kalvettu and the Dakshina Kailasa Puranam.
The Dutch Fort
The entrance to the roadway leading to Koneswaram is actually the entrance to what used to be Fort Fredrick. The fort was built in 1623 by the Portuguese and captured in 1639 by the Dutch. It then went through a phase of dismantling and reconstruction and was attacked and captured by the French in 1672.
Trincomalee's strategic importance has shaped its recent history. The great European powers vied for mastery of the harbour. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English, each held it in turn, and there have been many sea battles nearby.
The harbour, the fifth largest natural harbour in the world, is overlooked by terraced highlands, its entrance is guarded by two headlands, and there is a carriage road along its northern and eastern edges.
Trincomalee's location, in a less well developed and sparsely populated area, has in the past hampered its own development. Nevertheless plans are under way to develop Trincomalee as a commercial seaport.
Trincomalee has some of the most picturesque and scenic beaches found in Sri Lanka, relatively unspoilt and clean. The area is famous for bathing and swimming, owing to the relative shallowness of the sea, allowing one to walk out over a hundred meters into the sea without the water reaching the chest. Whale watching is a common pastime in the seas off Trincomalee, and successful sightings are on the rise with the increase of tourism in the area.