A Brief History of Dondra Lighthouse

by | Jun 4, 2023 | Asia | 0 comments

If you are looking for a scenic and historic destination in Sri Lanka, you might want to visit the Dondra Lighthouse, located on the southernmost tip of the island. This lighthouse is not only the tallest in Sri Lanka but also one of the tallest in South East Asia. It stands 49 meters (161 feet) high and has 196 steps to the top, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. But how did this lighthouse come to be? Let’s take a look at its history and significance.

The Design and Construction

The Dondra Lighthouse was designed by Sir James Nicholas Douglass, a renowned British engineer who also designed many other famous lighthouses around the world, such as the Eddystone Lighthouse in England and the Minot’s Ledge Light in Massachusetts. He was assisted by his son William Douglass, who was also an engineer and worked for the Imperial Lighthouse Service.

The construction of the lighthouse began in November 1887 and was completed in March 1890. All the building materials, including bricks and steel, were imported from England. The granite rock was supplied from quarries in Scotland and Cornwall. The lighthouse was built in an octagonal shape with a balcony and a lantern on top. It was painted white with yellow windows to contrast with the blue sky and sea.

The lighthouse cost £30,000 to build, which was paid for by dues collected at the Basses lighthouses, another pair of lighthouses located off the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. The Dondra Lighthouse was commissioned by the British government as part of their colonial administration and maritime safety.

The Lens and Light

One of the most remarkable features of the Dondra Lighthouse was its lens, which was a hyper-radiant Fresnel lens that became available at the end of the 19th century. This type of lens was very large and powerful, capable of producing a bright beam of light that could be seen from a long distance. The lens was made by Chance Brothers in England, who were famous for their glassworks and optical instruments.

The lens was mounted on a rotating mechanism that made it flash every five seconds. The light had a range of 28 nautical miles (52 km or 32 mi), making it one of the most visible lighthouses in the region. The light was powered by mains electricity, which was a rare and modern feature at that time.

The lens served its purpose for over a century until it was removed in 2020 and replaced by a static flashing LED light, which reduced the visibility range of the lighthouse considerably. The reason for this change was not clear, but some speculated that it was due to maintenance issues or security concerns.

The Location and Significance

The Dondra Lighthouse is situated on Dondra Head, which is also known as Devinuwara or City of Gods in Sinhala, or Thevanthurai or God’s Port in Tamil. This name reflects the cultural and religious importance of this place, which was once home to a magnificent temple complex dedicated to various Hindu and Buddhist deities.

The temple complex was built between the 5th and 7th centuries CE and was patronized by various Sinhalese and Tamil kings and pilgrims. It covered a vast area and had many shrines, statues, arches, and gates. It also had a central tower that was covered with gold and copper plates that reflected light and served as a landmark for sailors.

However, the temple complex was destroyed by the Portuguese invaders in the late 16th century, who also built a fort on the site. The ruins of the temple and the fort can still be seen today, along with some recovered artifacts that are displayed in a museum nearby.

The Dondra Lighthouse stands as a reminder of the rich history and heritage of this place, as well as a symbol of its resilience and beauty. It is also a popular tourist attraction that offers stunning views of the sunrise and sunset, as well as opportunities to see wildlife such as whales, dolphins, turtles, and birds.

If you are interested in visiting the Dondra Lighthouse, you can reach it by road from Matara city, which is about 6 km (3.7 mi) away. You can also take a train or bus to Matara and then hire a tuk-tuk or taxi to take you to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is open to the public from 9 am to 5 pm, and there is a small fee to enter. You can also find some hotels and guesthouses nearby if you want to stay overnight.

The Dondra Lighthouse is a must-see for anyone who loves history, culture, and nature. It is a place where you can learn about the past, enjoy the present, and hope for the future.

Love it? Share it!