Galle is many things to many people – an old busy trading port, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a city filled with restored hotels and chic cafes, mask and handicraft sellers by the promenade, a whole way of life filled with offices, schools, colleges and courts to the local community; and to me, it was all of this plus the prettiest town on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka.
This capital city of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province is built entirely within the fort walls. Thanks to its neat grid layout, every lane opens up a new page in time here. From the Portuguese and Dutch to the British; you can see how each of them have influenced the architecture of this place.
Galle Fort – A World Heritage Site
Galle has two gates, one that opens up to the sea and the other to land. We took the latter, as we approached the city walls.
Here’s the Clock Tower that still works to this day, maintained by the city. It was originally built in 1882; a hundred and ten years before I was born!
But let me take you back in time to the 15th century, when the Galle Fort was built out of just mud and palm trees by the Portuguese. It was only in 1663 that the Dutch took over and fortified the structure that stretches to 130 acres till this date. Then, in the 18th century the British took over the city until Galle finally became an independent island nation in 1948; one year after India did.
We walked up the slope of the fort, and saw life-sized statues of uniformed soldiers and prisoners still intact.
During the Portuguese rule, the fort was also used as a Prison Camp to punish the Sinhalese natives who dared to oppose the Portugal rulers. The pits are deep and open to sky, but there’s no chance of escaping. Imagine hearing the waves and reminiscing your childhood, but knowing that you’ll never get a chance to see it all again.
This right here, is the spot from where I could see the entire city!
And as I turned around and walked towards the edge, I could see that we were surrounded by the ocean on three sides.
Dipti paid homage to the Galle International Stadium and told us that many locals come up to this point to watch cricket matches for free! (For those who’ve read my previous articles or know Dipti personally would understand 😀 )
We walked along the edge of the fort walls, wishing for the sun to set as the scorching heat stung our skin. Yes, visiting the fort on a cloudy day or in the evening is definitely a better idea.
The fort area has a number of historic churches, mosques, commercial, and government buildings that add to the city’s old-world charm.
The houses with verandas, gables and tiled roofs boasted of their Dutch colonial heritage.
No matter where I go, I always make some feline friends.
The Captivating Galle Lighthouse
After the first lighthouse (built in 1848) was destroyed by a fire in 1934, another was constructed in 1939. Today, at a height of about 87 feet stands the Galle Lighthouse on the fort’s southeast tip. Tourists aren’t allowed to climb to the top, but I could picture myself standing there at night hearing the roaring waves.
The original lighthouse was Sri Lanka’s oldest onshore lighthouse built by the British to help sailors safely navigate their way here. Some seasoned swimmers can still probably understand what those sailors felt as back then, as they glance upon the fortified walls of the city today.
As we stood there, on the fort’s ramparts, I couldn’t help but think that beyond this deep aquamarine ocean lies a whole different continent filled with penguins, Antarctica! 😊
The National Maritime Museum, Old Dutch Hospital, and Buddhist temples are worth visiting; though we didn’t have much time during this trip.
It was sunny one second and cloudy the next.
Our guide told us that these trees were struck by lightning and luckily nobody was out that day.
But we loved Galle so much, we stopped by twice!
Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel
The second time, we visited a post-modern minimalist hotel designed by the world-famous architect Geoffrey Bawa.
This hotel is inspired by the 17th century Dutch Fort at Galle. The similarities are clear, this hotel too is atop a rocky cape that overlooks the ocean. Oh, and it tells tales of the past.” ]
The spiral staircase for me was the highlight of the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel. Designed by Laki Senanayake, a Ceylonese artist, the sculptured railing depicted the ‘Battle of Randeniwela’.
This battle was fought between the Sinhalese kings and Portuguese in 1630. And the low-lit lobby is a reminder of how the Portuguese army had to face a rain of not just arrows and bullets, but torrential rainwater too that night. After hours of getting drenched with their gunpowder and matches being rendered useless, one of the Portuguese captains is believed to have killed the Portuguese governor, thereby helping the Sinhalese kings attain victory. Ouch!” ]
The hotel was seamlessly integrated with the existing landscape; natural rocks were not broken to pave the way, instead they became an intrinsic part of the design. How I wish, we could learn something from this – not mercilessly cut trees for roads or buildings; though its been said a million times in a thousand different ways; we just choose to learn the hard way.
The water-body, courtyards, teakwood floors, colours, art gallery, handmade furniture, doors and lights; essentially come together to brighten your day, as you have breakfast overlooking the ocean.
Seeking travel information?
The cities here are well connected by trains, buses, tuk-tuks and cabs. We hired a cab for the week that we were there, because we were staying at different properties along the Southwest coast of Sri Lanka and it just seemed easier. However, the train journeys look equally appealing.
It takes a couple of hours to reach Galle from Colombo, if you’re driving down directly. You can stop by different cafes, cities and villages on the way.
What’s coming up next?
We visited Geoffrey Bawa’s country house and were left speechless, you’ll see why soon!