Joy Be­hind Bars

Fort Ham­men­hiel, a prison built by the Por­tuguese in the mid-17th cen­tury on a small is­land in North­ern Sri Lanka, now serves as a bou­tique ho­tel.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sarah B. Haider The writer is a Karachi-based jour­nal­ist

Through­out the world, the preser­va­tion of his­tor­i­cal build­ings is given great im­por­tance. No mat­ter how de­vel­oped or un­der­de­vel­oped a coun­try, the mere pres­ence of his­tor­i­cal ed­i­fices brings a great sense of value and worth to it. While some coun­tries have un­abashedly ne­glected their his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural her­itage, oth­ers have strived to re­store such sites, pe­ti­tion­ing UNESCO to con­sider mak­ing their his­tor­i­cal land­marks World Her­itage sites. In case of re­jec­tion, they adopt a pe­cu­liar style of self-preser­va­tion by turn­ing his­tor­i­cal sites into ho­tels and re­sorts. One prime ex­am­ple of this in­no­va­tive method of preser­va­tion is Fort Ham­men­hiel in North­ern Sri Lanka, which has been turned into an ex­otic bou­tique ho­tel.

Fort Ham­men­hiel is lo­cated at an islet at the tip of Karaina­gar, guard­ing the chan­nel be­tween the is­lands of Karaitivu and Kayts in the Jaffna Penin­sula in North­ern Sri Lanka. The fort was built in the 17th cen­tury by the Por­tuguese. In 1658, how­ever, it was cap­tured by the Dutch. W.A. Silva and R.K de Silva, au­thors of ‘Dutch

Forts of Sri Lanka’, write that the fort was ini­tially called For­taleza Real (Fort Royal) and was later re­named Fort Ham­men­hiel which means ‘ Heel of Ham’. R.L. Bro­heir nar­rates in ‘Links be­tween Sri Lanka & Nether­lands’ that the fort has an odd shape and draws sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween a smoked ham and the shape of Cey­lon. The ‘Heel’ prob­a­bly refers to the lower south­ern half of the is­land. The Dutch, ad­mir­ing the aes­thetic ap­peal of Por­tuguese ma­sonry, chose to pre­serve it in its orig­i­nal form and style by mak­ing it a 17 Gun Fort shaped into an oc­tagon. In 1795, the iso­lated fort was seized by the Bri­tish, who used it to quar­an­tine ar­riv­ing marines.

After Sri Lanka’s in­de­pen­dence, Fort Ham­men­hiel was used as a high se­cu­rity prison fol­low­ing the un­suc­cess­ful in­sur­rec­tion by the JVP in 1971. Some no­table peo­ple im­pris­oned in the fort in­cluded rebel leader Ro­hana Wi­je­w­eera to­gether with other pris­on­ers such as Upatissa Ga­manayake, Lionel Bopage, Podi Athula (Vic­tor Ivan), Loku Athula (N. Jayasinghe), Prof. Jayadeva Uyan­goda and Mahinda Wi­je­sekara. Later, the fort was used as a cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The Fort Ham­men­hiel Bou­tique Ho­tel is a lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel, at par with any other fa­mous bou­tique ho­tel in the world. At Fort Ham­men­hiel, a vis­i­tor can en­joy the scenic beauty of the In­dian Ocean and bask in the grandeur of the fort’s royal at­mos­phere. The only way to reach the ho­tel is by a boat. Sur­rounded by a tran­quil sea, the fort’s sil­hou­ette re­flects a calm­ing seren­ity. Be­fore the fort was turned into a ho­tel, civil­ians and tourists were not al­lowed to visit it as it was a high se­cu­rity zone. Even now, vis­i­tors are re­quired to first sign in at the gate, which is manned by an armed guard, be­fore be­ing al­lowed to drive through the com­pound to the re­cep­tion. The en­trance com­prises a low vaulted gate­way, about 7 feet in height. Upon en­trance, the vis­i­tors are re­ceived by uni­formed guards who give them a per­fect royal wel­come.

The best thing about Fort Ham­men­hiel is that even though it has been fully ren­o­vated, it re­mains one of Jaffna’s five ar­chi­tec­turally pro­tected build­ings and the con­ver­sion to a bou­tique ho­tel has not in­flu­enced its orig­i­nal de­sign. Another unique

fea­ture of Fort Ham­men­hiel is that its prison cells have been turned into lav­ishly de­signed rooms equipped with air con­di­tion­ers and other mod­ern ne­ces­si­ties to fa­cil­i­tate trav­el­ers. How­ever, to main­tain the orig­i­nal­ity of the place, the in­scrip­tions etched by po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers on the walls of the prison cells have not been re­moved. One of the in­scrip­tions reads, ‘Beloved Ham­men­hiel, for the last time.’ Thus, stay­ing in one of th­ese rooms in­vokes a crude re­mem­brance of the past.

As for the ser­vices, a round the clock room ser­vice is pro­vided to vis­i­tors. Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a mini bar, satel­lite tele­vi­sion, hot/cold wa­ter and concierge ser­vice. Tourists can also in­dulge in a va­ri­ety of wa­ter sports such as boat trips, jet ski­ing, div­ing, snor­kel­ing, an­gling and wind surf­ing.

Apart from the ser­vices of­fered at the ho­tel, its iso­lated lo­ca­tion makes it a per­fect hol­i­day get­away for those who want to take time off their mo­not­o­nous lives and spoil them­selves. The lo­ca­tion, grandeur and ar­chi­tec­ture of the place makes it ex­clu­sive and dif­fer­ent from other con­ven­tional ho­tels and thus, it never fails to en­chant vis­i­tors by its deca­dent allure.

There has been much crit­i­cism of the trans­for­ma­tion of his­tor­i­cal build­ings into ho­tels as such changes can de­stroy the nat­u­ral an­tiq­uity of a place. How­ever, the sup­port­ers of this trend main­tain that pre­serv­ing and repo­si­tion­ing trea­sured land­marks is the per­fect way to pro­vide a unique ex­pe­ri­ence to vis­i­tors. Merely vis­it­ing a his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant place can never re­place the ex­pe­ri­ence of ac­tu­ally stay­ing and sleep­ing there. In this way, the peo­ple who love to visit such sites can spend their hol­i­days in a peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment, mak­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion with the place be­cause of the his­tor­i­cal aura that it ex­udes.

Turn­ing his­tor­i­cal build­ings or one-time prisons into lux­ury ho­tels and re­sorts is not a new phe­nom­e­non. The model has been suc­cess­fully im­ple­mented in other parts of the world. Some fa­mous ex­am­ples of his­tor­i­cal places that were turned into ho­tels in­clude the Sul­tanah­met in Turkey, a for­mer Ot­toman prison that now stands re­stored as a well-equipped lux­u­ri­ous re­sort. Sim­i­larly, the Charles Street Jail in Bos­ton has been con­verted into the lux­u­ri­ous Lib­erty Bos­ton Ho­tel. The Het Ar­resthuis in the Nether­lands and the is­land of Långhol­men in Stock­holm, which was once a pe­nal colony for women in the 1700s, have been trans­formed into chic ho­tels.

How­ever, fur­nish­ing th­ese his­tor­i­cal build­ings into re­sorts is not an easy job. To pre­serve the in­tri­cate de­tails of their con­struc­tion is a huge chal­lenge. More­over, to in­cor­po­rate mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties in th­ese build­ings while meet­ing the strict re­quire­ments of preser­va­tion is both ex­pen­sive and de­mand­ing.

In the case of Fort Ham­men­hiel, the Sri Lankan Navy has done an ex­cel­lent job in pre­serv­ing the his­toric ed­i­fice and pro­vid­ing the vis­i­tors with state-ofthe-art fa­cil­i­ties at the same time. None of the mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties in­stalled in the prison have al­tered the orig­i­nal­ity of the place.

Mod­ern fea­tures surely make Fort Ham­men­hiel a fine ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­ity for an un­for­get­table hol­i­day in Sri Lanka. By vis­it­ing the fa­mous fort tourists as well as Sri Lankans are able to wit­ness the aes­thetic and cul­tural promi­nence of Jaffna.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.