Old Park is now a fancy modern park with playgrounds, fast food outlets, and well-curated jogging paths. But tucked away in a corner you’ll find the forgotten ruins of the Old Kachcheri. Vines and plants now look like integral parts of this beautiful example of Neo-Renaissance architecture, and moss adorns the Roman arches wrapping around the central yard. The crumbling roof now invites the elements to destroy the interior rooms.
A kachcheri is a district secretariat that functions as a liaison between the central Sri Lanka government and its activities at district level. Within its own district, a kachcheri also implements government projects, collects revenues, and organizes elections. Expectedly, a bureaucratic branch of the government of this magnitude requires a large facility to accommodate it. Jaffna, being the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, is also home of the local kachcheri.
Prior to delving into the Old Kachcheri buildings, it’s necessary to become familiar with Jaffna’s tumultuous colonial past. Portugal conquered the island in 1619, and the Dutch eventually took over in 1658. The final twist in the colonial saga occurred in 1796, when the British gained control of all the Dutch possessions in Sri Lanka.
It was the British Government Agent Percival Ackland Dyke that bought the 27-acre property and commissioned the building of an administrative center. The administrative center became Jaffna Kachcheri, now known as the Old Kachcheri.
History was not always kind to the Old Kachcheri, which went from being targeted by rival armies to being abandoned. The presence of a huge building tailor-made for administrative purposes didn’t escape the attention of the country’s armies. Starting in the late 1970s, the Sri Lanka Army was based at Old Park and made full use of the Old Kachcheri buildings. As the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant Tamil organization, seized Jaffna in the late 1980s, they also used Old Park and Old Kachcheri as military and police headquarters.
When Sri Lanka regained control of Jaffna in 1995, an army camp was briefly stationed at the kachcheri, but after the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War the building was evacuated and abandoned. Disintegration that began through human agency is now carried out by nature. Vegetation is taking over buildings, and the weather is slowly but surely grinding the building to oblivion.