Lighthouses of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is a teardrop-shaped island nation off the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Portugal and Holland had early settlements on the island, but Britain took charge in 1796 and retained control until 1948. Beginning in the early 1980s, Sri Lanka was torn in an insurrection by Tamils in the northern part of the island. The government finally extinguished the revolt in May 2009. However, many areas in the north continue to be restricted or unsafe, and some of the lighthouses in contested zones have deteriorated from years of neglect.

The island is roughly 400 km (250 mi) long from north to south and 200 km (125 mi) wide. Colombo, on the southwest coast, is the capital and major port. Trincomalee, on the east coast, has a magnificent harbor and was a major Indian Ocean base for the Royal Navy during British rule. A new port is being developed at Hambantota on the south coast.

The great tsunami of 26 December 2004 devastated low-lying areas of Sri Lanka, especially on the east coast. No lighthouses were destroyed, but many were damaged by the great waves.

Lighthouses of Sri Lanka are operated and maintained by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). In recent years SLPA has worked to restore and modernize the lighthouses in the south of the island, where the government's control has been firm. Presumably work is beginning now on restoring lights in the northern part of the country.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights. Admiralty numbers are from volume F of the Admiralty List of Lights & Fog Signals. U.S. NGA List numbers are from Publication 112.

General Sources
Sri Lanka Attractions: Lighthouses
Information and small photos posted by the tourist site AmazingLanka.com.
Luechttürme in Sri Lanka
Photos by Andreas Köhler.
Lighthouses of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1964
Photos contributed by David Meare.
Lighthouses in Sri Lanka
Photos by various photographers available from Wikimedia.
World of Lighthouses - Sri Lanka
Photos by various photographers available from Lightphotos.net.
Leuchttürme Asiens auf historischen Postkarten
Historic postcard images posted by Klaus Huelse.
Dondra Head Light
Dondra Head Light, Dondra, December 2009
photo copyright Andreas Köhler; used by permission
Northern Province Lighthouses
Mannar Island (Talaimannar)
1915. Active(?); focal plane 17 m (56 ft); white flash every 5 s authorized. 19 m (62 ft) round cylindrical tower with lantern and gallery. Lighthouse painted white. A 2007 photo and a view from the sea (second photo on the page) are available, Romesh Goonewardena has a distant view, and Bing has a satellite view. The Sri Lankan Army was clearing mines in the Talaimannar Pier area in 2003-04, but Goonewardena's photo indicates that the area is now considered to be safe. There are several Internet references to the lighthouse as being abandoned or "burnt out" during the insurrection. In J.M.S. Bandara's November 2011 photo the lighthouse appears abandoned, with several panes of glass missing from the lantern. Harsha de Silva has a photo of an old tower nearby that may have been an earlier lighthouse, but there's no evidence of this in light lists. Located near the northwestern end of Mannar Island, a short distance east of the Talaimannar Pier. Site apparently open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-015; Admiralty F0884; NGA 27364.
Pungudutivu (Punkudutivu)
Date unknown. Active(?); focal plane 11 m (36 ft); white flash every 5 s. This light is described by NGA as a "stone building"; Google's satellite view appears to show a square tower. No photo available. Located near the southeastern point of Pungudutivu, an island in Palk Bay about 25 km (15 mi) south of Kovilan Point. Site status unknown. Admiralty F0877; NGA 27216.
Kovilan (Kovilam) Point (2)
1916 (station established 1899). Status unknown; focal plane 31 m (101 ft); two white flashes every 10 s authorized. 30 m (98 ft) round masonry tower, painted white. Keeper's houses unroofed and in ruins. Anjana Gunathilake has a 2010 photo, Jeyu Thiran also has a 2010 photo, and Bing has a satellite view. In Gunathilake's photo, the lighthouse appears to be poorly maintained and probably out of service. This lighthouse marks a cape on Palk Bay, which divides northern Sri Lanka from India. The first light was shown from a mast. Located at the northwestern corner of Karaitivu Island, about 25 km (15 mi) northwest of Jaffna. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-013; Admiralty F0874; NGA 27212.
Kankesanturai (Kankesanthure)
1893. Inactive at least since the start of the insurrection. 22 m (72 ft) octagonal masonry tower with lantern and gallery. AmazingLanka.com says that the lighthouse "has faced the ravages of war with the terrorists and is in a dysfunctional state"; the site's webmaster has posted a 2013 closeup photo. A distant view is available. However, the lighthouse is missing somehow from Bing's satellite view and also from Google's satellite view. Endangered: the lighthouse has been abandoned for years and is in very poor condition. Located near the junction of the AB16 and AB21 highways on the Kankesanturai waterfront. Site and tower closed; this is reported to be a high security area. ARLHS SLI-012; ex-Admiralty F0872; ex-NGA 27224.
* Point Pedro (Point Paduru)
1916. Active; focal plane 31 m (102 ft); white flash every 5 s. 32 m (105 ft) round masonry tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai's photo appears at right, R. Lucknath has a 2010 photo, Deepal Senathilaka has a 2011 photo, Wikimedia has a 2012 photo by Anton Croos, and Bing has an indistinct satellite view. Point Pedro is the northeastern corner of Sri Lanka and the southern entrance to Palk Strait. Controlled only briefly by the Tamil rebels, the town was a base for government forces during the insurrection. The name "Pedro" appears to be a corruption of the local name, Paduru in Sinhala and Paruthi in Tamil. Located about 30 km (20 mi) east of Kankesanturai. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-017; Admiralty F0870; NGA 27228.

Point Pedro Light, Point Pedro, January 2005
Flickr Creative Commons photo for HumanityAshore.org
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Eastern Province Lighthouses
* Chapel Hill
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 111 m (364 ft); white flash every 10 s. Described by NGA as a "white structure on building." No photo available, but a Google satellite view probably shows the station. If so, there is a tall communications tower adjacent to the light. Located at Manayaveli, on the heights on the north side of the entrance to the harbor of Trincomalee. Site presumably open, tower status unknown. ARLHS SLI-004; Admiralty F0853; NGA 27248.
Round Island (Trincomalee, Kevuliya)
1863. Reported inactive by AmazingLanka.com; focal plane 31 m (102 ft); three flashes every 15 s, white or red depending on direction. 21 m (69 ft) round cylindrical masonry tower with lantern and gallery. Entire lighthouse painted white. Wikimedia has Rehman Abubakr's distant photo, and Google has a satellite view. The lighthouse appears abandoned in Abubakr's photo. Trincomalee, on Sri Lanka's northeastern coast, has a magnificent protected harbor, the finest in the Indian Ocean; for decades it was a major Royal Navy base. The lighthouse is located atop a small island in the bay; one of the white sectors marks the proper line of entrance to the harbor. Accessible only by boat. Site and tower closed. ARLHS SLI-019; Admiralty F0852; NGA 27244.
* Foul Point (Kevilea)
1863. Inactive. 32 m (105 ft) round stone tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. The Sri Lanka Navy has a 2006 photo, a 2008 photo and a view from across the bay are available, and Michel Forand has a historic postcard view. Endangered: the tsunami left the lighthouse directly on the beach, as seen in a Google satellite view. Located on the point at the southern entrance to the harbor of Trincomalee. Site open, tower status unknown. ARLHS SLI-009.
* Batticaloa (Mattuwaran)
1913. Active; focal plane 27 m (89 ft); white flash every 3 s. 28 m (92 ft) round masonry tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. A photo by Anton Croos is at right, another good photo is available, M. Thirumaran has a view from the water, and Google has a satellite view. A historic photo taken in 1970 is also available. Batticaloa, a small fishing town on the central east coast, was devastated by the tsunami. The lighthouse suffered only minor damage, but on a post-tsunami visit Preethi Burkholder found it to be neglected and in very poor condition. A big part of the problem was that the Batticaloa area had been contested for a long time between the government and Tamil forces. In early 2008 the lighthouse was restored with USAID tsunami relief funds; Markus Spring has a May 2008 photo of the results. Mattuwaran is the Tamil name of the lighthouse. Located at the end of Bar Road on the north side of the harbor entrance in Batticaloa. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-003; Admiralty F0846; NGA 27260.
Batticaloa Light
Batticaloa Light, Batticaloa, May 2010
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by Anton Croos
* Oluvil
1999. Active; focal plane 25 m (82 ft); white flash every 10 s. 24 m (79 ft) round cylindrical concrete tower with lantern and gallery, attached to a 1-story equipment building. Lighthouse painted white with gold trim. Bill Barkle's photo appears at right, and Google has a satellite view. The lighthouse was built as part of a project to open a new fisheries harbor at Oluvil, a town on the southern east coast about 12 km (7.5 mi) south of Kalmunai. The harbor, town, and lighthouse were all damaged by the tsunami, but the damage has been repaired. Located on the beachfront at Oluvil. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-026; Admiralty F0845; not listed by NGA.
* [Sangamankanda Point]
1947. Inactive since 2004. This was originally a 7.5 m (25 ft) round white concrete tower. A blog (in Sinhala) has numerous photos, and the stump of the tower is barely visible in Google's satellite view. This small light was overwhelmed by the tsunami of 26 December 2004, and it has not been repaired. Barely 4 m (13 ft) of the tower remains. Located on the beach at the easternmost point of Sri Lanka, about 35 km (22 mi) south of Oluvil. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-020; Admiralty F0844; NGA 27264.

Southern Province Lighthouses
Little Basses Reef
1878. Active; focal plane 34 m (112 ft); two very quick white flashes every 10 s. 37 m (121 ft) round granite tower with lantern and double gallery, painted white with a black horizontal band. The Sri Lankan Navy has a photo, Dive Sri Lanka has a photo, Lightphotos.net has a photo, and Bing has a satellite view. PTI helped refurbish both lighthouses in 1998-99. In December 2004 the two lighthouses withstood the force of the tsunami with only modest damage; the English lighthouse agency Trinity House agreed to repair them and the light was back in service in late 2005. The lighthouse was designed by James Douglass and built by William Douglass. Note: "basses" is a corruption of the Portuguese word baixio, meaning a shoal. Located about 10 km (6 mi) offshore from Yala and 16 km (10 mi) south of Kumana. Accessible only by boat. ARLHS SLI-014; Admiralty F0842; NGA 27268.
Great Basses Reef
1873. Active; focal plane 34 m (112 ft); white flash every 15 s. 37 m (121 ft) round granite tower with lantern and double gallery, painted white. Lightphotos.net has a photo, Sri Lankan Navy has a distant photo, and Google has a good satellite view. This lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon and Sir James Douglass. Like Little Basses Reef Light, it withstood the force of the tsunami with only modest damage; the English lighthouse agency Trinity House agreed to repair it and the light was back in service by 2007. The two Basses lighthouses are among the most famous offshore lighthouses of Asia. Located about 13 km (8 mi) offshore and 16 km (10 mi) east of Kirinda. Accessible only by boat. ARLHS SLI-010; Admiralty F0840; NGA 27272.
Oluvil Light
Oluvil Light, Oluvil, August 2005
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Bill Barkle
* Hambantota (2)
1913 (station established 1903). Inactive. 14 m (43 ft) round masonry tower with lantern and gallery. The lighthouse is unpainted, but the use of dark and light stone gives it the appearance of having black and white spiral bands. Keeper's house and other light station buildings; there is also an early 19th century Martello tower adjacent to the light station. The City of Hambantota has a photo, Lightphotos.net has a photo by Priyanjan de Silva, and Google has a somewhat distant satellite view. On a December 2009 visit, Andreas Köhler found the lighthouse to be in very poor condition. The original light was much lower, with a focal plane of only 15 m (50 ft). The present lighthouse was active at least into the 1970s. Located on a promontory at Hambantota on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. Site open, tower status unknown. ARLHS SLI-011; ex-Admiralty F0838.
** Dondra Head
1890. Active; focal plane 47 m (154 ft); white flash every 5 s. 49 m (161 ft) octagonal brick tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. Andreas Köhler's 2009 photo appears at the top of this page, Rudolf Klos has posted a particularly nice photo of this famous lighthouse, Tim Ellis has a closeup photo, and Google has a satellite view. In addition, Lighthouse Digest has a feature article on the lighthouse by Preethi Burkholder, and Huelse has a historic postcard view oddly misindentified as the Beruwala lighthouse. Designed by James Douglass and constructed by William Douglass, the lighthouse stands on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. Located on the point, near the village of Dondra. Site open, tower open daily by arrangement with the keepers. ARLHS SLI-001; Admiralty F0836; NGA 27276.
* Galle (Pointe de Galle) (2)
1939 (station established 1848). Active; focal plane 28 m (92 ft); two white flashes every 15 s. 26.5 m (87 ft) round cast iron tower with lantern and gallery, painted white; the base of the lantern is painted red. 4th order Chance Brothers Fresnel lens in use. David Trattnig's photo is at right, Pawel Makowiecki has a good photo, Sunila Galappatti has a 2008 photo, Wikimedia has a 2012 closeup, Lighthouse Digest has a feature article on the lighthouse by Preethi Burkholder, and Google has a satellite view. This is Sri Lanka's oldest light station. The British Library has a photo of the original lighthouse, which was destroyed by fire in 1936. The light station is within the walls of the ancient Galle Fort, a UNESCO world heritage site and well known tourist attraction, making this the country's most often visited lighthouse. Located at the end of a peninsula sheltering the harbor of Galle, at the southwestern corner of Sri Lanka. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-018; Admiralty F0830; NGA 27284.
Galle Light
Galle Light, Galle, January 2009
Flickr Creative Commons photo by David Trattnig

Western Province Lighthouses
** Barberyn (Beruwala)
1890. Active; focal plane 46 m (151 ft); white flash every 20 s. 34 m (112 ft) round granite tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. Lighthouse Digest has a June 2006 feature article by Preethi Burkholder on this lighthouse, including two photos, Andreas Köhler has a good 2010 photo, Asantha Illesinghe has a closeup, Ranjith Gunarathne has a distant view, and Google has a good satellite view. Located on an island near Beruwala, about 55 km (35 mi) south of Colombo. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower open daily by arrangement with the keepers. ARLHS SLI-002; Admiralty F0826; NGA 27288.
* Colombo (2) (Clock Tower)
1860 (station established 1829). Inactive since 1952. 29 m (95 ft) square cylindrical brick tower with lantern and gallery. Lighthouse painted white with unpainted stone trim; lantern is gray metallic. The tower rises from an open, arched base. Dennis Hurd's photo is at right, a 2009 photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. Huelse has a historic postcard view in which the tower has a brown horizontal band below the gallery, a band also seen in David Meare's 1964 photo. This lighthouse was built as a clock tower in 1857; the lantern was apparently added in 1860. The early history of this station is somewhat obscure. The first Colombo light, apparently mounted on a church tower, was demolished around 1838 to make way for expansion of the nearby fort. The first Colombo lighthouse was an interesting neoclassical structure, the light tower rising from a circular stone building and surrounded by an elaborate colonnade. The British Library also has an image of the first light and states that the light was moved to the clocktower in 1867; however, this conflicts with light list data, which shows the clocktower light already in use by 1865 with 1860 as the date of construction. The lighthouse was deactivated after its light became obscured by nearby buildings. Andreas Köhler, who visited in late 2009, reports he was not allowed to take photos for security reasons. Located at Chatham Street and Janadhipathi Mawatha in downtown Colombo. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-021.
* Colombo (3) (Galbokka Point)
1952 (station established 1820s?). Active; focal plane 26 m (85 ft); three white flashes every 10 s. 15 m (49 ft) round stone tower with lantern and gallery, rising from a 1-story stone building. The seaward side of the tower is painted in a black and white checkered pattern, seen in a 2012 closeup but barely visible in a distant photo and in David Meare's historic photo. Wikimedia has a closeup photo, a photo taken from the rear is available, and Google has a satellite view. Andreas Köhler, who visited in late 2009, reports he was not allowed to take photos for security reasons. Located at Galbokka Point south of the harbor on the Colombo waterfront. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS SLI-005; Admiralty F0780; NGA 27332.

Colombo Clock Tower Light
Colombo Clock Tower Light, Colombo, September 2006
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

Colombo Southwest Breakwater
1913. Active; focal plane 17 m (56 ft); green light occulting once every 5 s. 18 m (59 ft) round concrete tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. A 2006 photo and a 2012 photo are available, a photo taken from the sea also shows the Pilot Station (next entry), and Google has a satellite view. Peter Bryant has a historic photo taken in 1963, and David Meare has a 1964 photo. Located at the end of the outer breakwater of Colombo, marking the south side of the western entrance to the harbor; this is the entrance used by larger ships. Site status unknown. Admiralty F0794; NGA 27304.
Colombo Pilot Station
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 17 m (56 ft); green flash every 3 s. 19 m (62 ft) round cylindrical tower topped by a dome, centered on a circular 2-story pilot station. Building painted white. Jürgen Klinksiek has contributed the photo at right, which shows that the tower has been raised in height since Meare's 1964 photo. A 2011 photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. Located at the end of the original southwest breakwater. Site status unknown. Admiralty F0796; NGA 27312.
Colombo Island Breakwater South End
1905. Active; focal plane 13 m (43 ft); red flash every 3 s. 12 m (36 ft) round stone tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. This light is on the left in J.M.S. Bandara's panoramic view of the breakwater, and Google has a satellite view. Located at the south end of the detached breakwater protecting Colombo Harbour, marking the north side of the western entrance. Accessible only by boat. Site and tower closed. ARLHS SLI-007; Admiralty F0792; NGA 27316.
Colombo Island Breakwater North End
1907. Active; focal plane 13 m (43 ft); green flash every 3 s. 12 m (36 ft) round stone tower with lantern and gallery, painted white. This light is on the right in J.M.S. Bandara's panoramic view of the breakwater, Meare has contributed a 1964 photo, Huelse has a historic postcard view, and Google has a satellite view. Located at the north end of the detached breakwater protecting Colombo Harbour, marking the south side of the northern entrance. Accessible only by boat. Site and tower closed. ARLHS SLI-006; Admiralty F0790; NGA 27320.

Colombo Pilot Station, Colombo, April 2007
photo copyright Jürgen Klinksiek; used by permission
Colombo Northeast Breakwater
1907. Active; focal plane 13 m (43 ft); continuous red light. 10 m (33 ft) round concrete tower with lantern and gallery. No photo available, but Michel Forand has a historic postcard view. We need current information on this light: the breakwater has been replaced by a broad quay, but the Google satellite view and the Bing satellite view suggest the lighthouse may still be standing. The channel between this light and the Island Breakwater North End Light is now closed with a chain. Located at the end of the northeast breakwater, marking the north side of the northern entrance. Site status unknown. Admiralty F0782; NGA 27324.

Information available on lost lighthouses:

Notable faux lighthouses:

Adjoining page: North: Tamil Nadu and Puducherry

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Posted February 13, 2006. Checked and revised February 13, 2014. Lighthouses: 23. Site copyright 2014 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.