The Bay of Trincomalee harbour is renowned for its size and security; unlike all others in the Indian Sea, it is easily reached by all types of crafts in all weathers. The beaches are used for surfing, scuba diving, fishing and whale watching and have the largest Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. It is home to major Sri Lankan naval bases and a Sri Lankan Air Force base. The town is situated on a hill at the end of a natural land formation that resembles an arc.
The conversion of Gokanna between 'Tirukonamalai' first appears in a Tamil inscription dated to the 10th or 11th century AD. Buddhist Vihara at Gokanna called Sri Gokanna Vihara built during the reign of King Mahasen (276-303 AD) was the earliest religious construction in Trincomalee. Being on a rock it was also called Veheragala (Temple on a rock). Gokanna Buddhist Vihara Temple was expanded by King Agbo V (718- 724 AD) and demolished by the Portuguese to build a fortress in the 16th century. Gokanna Vihara is one of the 74 Buddhist sites identified at Trincomalee district by the Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka. Swami Rock, the highest point in Fort Frederick is an ancient site where there had been a number of Buddhist shrines. The temple is built on Swami Rock, historically referred to as Kona-malai, a cliff on the peninsula that drops 400 feet directly into the sea. It is said that a large.
Buddhist temple too was built by the Sinhala kings in years before the Christian era. One of the world famed Iswarams (Temple built for God Siva) is said have been built on this rock. It's none other than the Koneswaram Kovil highly respected by Hindus and Buddhists.
In an essay entitled, Aryan Settlements and Early Kings, published in the Concise History of Ceylon by Sri Lanka's foremost historian a pre-eminent archaeologist Dr. Senarath Paranavithana writes about the king who ruled Ceylon (Sri Lanka) after the first king Vijaya "Panduwasdewa with thirty two followers, it is said, arrived in Ceylon in the guise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara River at the port of Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee according to the commentator of the chronicle.
Trincomalee natural deep-water harbour< has attracted seafarers like Marco Polo, Ptolemy and Sea Traders from China and Eastern Asia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is universally called, has been a sea port since the days of the ancient Sri Lankan pre historical kings. The earliest known recorded reference to the port of Gokanna is found in the Mahavamsa stating that in 5th century BCE, when King Vijaya who having failed to convince his brother to come to Sri Lanka as his successor, got down his youngest son Panduwasdewa, who landed at Gokanna and was subsequently enthroned at Upatissagama. Trinco is sacred to both Sinhala and Tamil people and its environs have many Buddhist and Hindu sites of historical importance. These sites are sacred to the Buddhists and Hindus who revere them. The Hindus of this area maintain peaceful relationships with the Sinhala Buddhists living in the area. Koneswaram Kovil was destroyed 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 inscriptions. The entrance leading to Koneswaram is actually the entrance to the Fort Fredrick. The fort was built in 1623 by the Portuguese and captured in 1639 by
the Dutch and went through a phase of dismantling and reconstruction and was attacked and captured by the French in 1672.
During the Second World War the British and the Allied Powers chose it as the chief naval base for the entire South East Asia and Far East Command during World War II. The Japanese attack at Trincomalee harbour in 1942 was not successful in spite of a suicide attack on the Trincomalee fuel tanks. Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, did not face a real threat of an invasion by the Japanese at any point during the war.
Trincomalee strategic importance has shaped its recent history. 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. It has some of the most charming and lovely beaches found in Sri Lanka, relatively unspoilt and clean and are famed for bathing and swimming, owing to the shallowness of the sea, allow walking 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.