Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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Jaffna, one-time capital of Sri Lanka, is on flat, arid land on a peninsula at the northern-most tip of the island. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land known as Elephant’s Pass. The city was once a major trading port, trading with southern India across the Palk strait as well as with nearby islands, yet its commercial importance has declined with the political turmoil of the past two decades. The name Jaffna derives from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tamil expression for ‘port of the lyre’.


Jaffna is one of the oldest sites of habitation in lower south Asia. Before coming under Portuguese rule in 1619 and then under Dutch rule in 1658 the city was the capital of a Tamil kingdom. Links with the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are evident from this period and can be found in the city’s architecture as well as in the customs and culture of the city’s inhabitants. Under Tamil rule Jaffna existed as an autonomous region and, despite a brief...

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