Jaffna Public Library, with its famous public reading room and store of newspapers and journals is one of the region's most important landmarks.

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Jaffna Public Library


Tellingly, one of the first major buildings to be rebuilt after the 2002 ceasefire was Jaffna's Public Library. It had been burnt down by pro-government mobs (some say forces) in July 1981, a destruction that many Tamils deemed a cultural attack – few acts were more significant in the build-up to civil war.

In its reconstruction, architects kept true to the elegant original neo-Mughal design from 1959. Today it’s a bright spacious place that's very actively used by Jaffna's citizens.

Jaffna residents have long considered their city to be one of Asia’s finest intellectual capitals, and the library is an important Tamil cultural centre and historic institution (it was inaugurated in 1841). The original world-renowned collection destroyed in the fire included more than 90,000 volumes, including irreplaceable Tamil documents such as the one surviving copy of Yalpanam Vaipavama, a history of Jaffna.

There's a statue of Saraswati – Hinduism’s goddess of knowledge – out front. At the back there's an airy cafe.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Jaffna attractions

1. Subramaniam Park

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An elegant modern park with impressive fountains. It reopened in 2010 after war damage was repaired. It has a fun children's play area.

2. Clock Tower

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An architectural curiosity, the spindly Clock Tower has a Moorish domed top, which makes it look like it belongs somewhere in North Africa. It was erected…

3. Jaffna Fort

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Long the gatehouse of the city, the vast Jaffna fort, overlooking the Jaffna lagoon, has been fought over for centuries. Today you can wander its walls,…

5. St James' Church

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This is the grandest church in Jaffna, a classical Italianate edifice used by Anglicans that dates to 1827.

8. St Mary’s Cathedral

0.87 MILES

Built by the Dutch along classical lines in the 1790s, St Mary’s Cathedral is astonishingly large, but it’s curious to see corrugated-iron roofing held up…