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Places to go in Sri Lanka – Galle fort

galle fort

Places to go in Sri Lanka – Galle Fort

Galle is a beautiful city in the southern Sri Lanka which is 118 KM south from the Commercial capital (Colombo) of the island. Galle is been considered as an important historical city and which is declared as a UNESCO world heritage site, owing to the presence of Galle Fort. This historical city is located bordering the beautiful beaches of southern Sri Lanka. Therefore Galle is popular not only among the local travellers but also among the holidaymakers around the world. Today, Galle can be described as the single most important tourist attractions and part of almost every Sri Lanka tour itinerary.

Galle has been a popular trade emporium in the Orient since the dawn of the commerce. Galle is not only significant for the Sri Lankan commerce but also for the history of Sri Lanka. According to the old-testament, Galle harbour was the port (Tarshish), where King Solomon drew valuables such as gems. Other than the historical reasons and economical background Dutch fort is the most important single factor, which made the city a UNESCO world heritage site. Dutch fort is dating back to the 1600’s and showcases typical Old Dutch architecture and urban planning.

Galle Fort is the best preserved Dutch fort in the whole South Asian region. The high-rise wall of the fort demarcates the older part of the Galle city. The fort is built on a headland of which three sides are surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Rampart of the Galle Fort is measured to be more than 2.5 km long and attracts thousands of foreigners as well as local people. People are using the rampart for evening walks while enjoying the nice view and soothing breeze of the Indian Ocean.

The beginning of fort is attributed to the Portuguese arrival in 1505. A fleet of Portuguese fleet led by Lorenzo De Almeida, which was heading to the Maldives, was blown off by heavy wind and accidentally landed in Galle. Later in 1587, the thriving trading port of Galle was forcefully taken over by Portuguese and restricted the access of the Kandyan kings to the maritime region.  After the arrival of the Dutch colonial rulers, the fort was expanded to the present size. A large number of constructions was added to the city with a sophisticated underground sewer drainage system. Most of the old constructions are still in good condition and being used for the last several centuries.

Even though the Galle fort was occupied by English in the 1800’s, it was Dutch, who made the strongest impact on Galle town, harbour and people of the area. The town and Fort still retain the Old Dutch characteristics, Dutch architecture, names, the streets are almost not changed since they first constructed. The Leyn Baan Street (Lijnbaan meaning rope walk in Dutch), Lighthouse street (Zeeburg Street), and Great and Small Modarabaay Streets (Modderbaai) are some of the popular names of the Streets of the fort.

The Dutch fort was taken over by British in 1796. The fort was slightly changed by British and they have added the new entrance to the fort. British administration was more concentrated on Colombo than Galle; therefore the Dutch fort was largely neglected by the British administration.  Due to this reason, the city remained with typical Dutch monuments throughout the British administration. Even today it is regarded as a significant monument from Dutch Era. At present, the fort is under the purview of the archaeological department and the Galle heritage foundation.

What to see within Galle Fort

The Ramparts, National Museum of Galle and the National Maritime Museum, All Saint’s Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, Galle Natural Harbor, Old Lighthouse, the English Gate built by the British in 1873, the Dutch gate where British Court of Arms is seen carved on the outer side and the VOC monogram on the inside of the stonework, the Dutch prison, Dutch houses, the Dutch factory and hospital that have now been converted into government office.

galle fort

The best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia

According to the historical evidence; the history of the city goes back to the Pre-Christian era. The first historical event of the city is related to Ramayana. The greater part of Sri Lanka is said in the Ramayana to have been submerged in the sea, and the Great Bases Lighthouse, which stands out on a solitary rock in the south-east sea of the island, is still called Ravana’s fort. Rumassala forest, which is located southern border of the city, came to be as a result of the Rama-Rawana war. When Laxmana wounded in the war against Rawana, Rama had ordered Hanuman (Monkey God) to fetch some medicine from Himalaya. As Hanuman forgot the names of the herbs, he snatched a part of Himalaya and flew back to the island. Today Rumassala is considered to be a piece of the mountain that he fetched from India.

According to James Emerson Tennent, Galle was the ancient seaport of Tarshish, from which King Solomon drew ivory, peacocks and other valuables. Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC and the root of the word itself is Hebrew, so Galle may have been a main seaport for the spices. It had been an important trading port in the east, where a lot of merchants flocked in to exchange goods. Galle harbour had been an important foreign exchange earner for the country in early days in the form of tax. It is said kings were levied huge taxes on the merchant ships, which harboured in Galle.

When the Portuguese merchant ship led by Lorenzo de Almeida landed accidentally in 1505, they were amazed to see the thriving port and the trading activities in the city. The Galle name derived from the Portuguese word Gallus, as the story conveys, Portuguese ship was caught in a storm and drifting in the ocean before they landed in southern Sri Lanka. As the ship was nearing the land they heard a Cock from the land and one shouted “Gallus Gallus”, later on, the word Gallus became Galle as it is called today.

old houses in the fort

Galle Dutch Fort UNESCO world heritage site is the best preserved fortified city build by European colonial powers in Asia. As the Portuguese controlled the maritime region of the island they took the initiative of the Galle Fort. Initially, it had been small fortification and occupied by a small number of soldiers. As the Dutch rulers took over the control of the maritime region they expanded the Galle fort making it the biggest fort in the country. They converted the fort into a well-formed city with all the facilities. Still, most of the buildings are in the typical Dutch architecture, while the names of streets, houses and other building in the typical Dutch language. Under the British rule, no remarkable changes were done for the fort.

Today it is one of the major attractions in southern Sri Lanka with a lot of cultural and historical value. Dutch fort houses many churches, temples, as well as other religious buildings. One encounters a lot of souvenir shops, textile shops, jewellery shops, museums and street vendors in the fort. It can be busy in the fort particularly in the evening and weekend while locals are coming to enjoy the nice, calm, peaceful environment with the old charm.

Posted by

Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

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