VOC Galle Dutch Fort, South Coast, Sri Lanka (A World Heritage Site)
The best preserved colonial sea fortress in the whole of Asia
Fort, Sea Port, Museums, Colonial Hotels, Colonial Dutch Bungalows, Colonial Dutch Church, Lighthouse, Colonial Museum, Marine Museum
Reaching GalleGalle, 116 km (74miles) located at southwest corner of the island is the largest town in the region. To arrive at Galle, we drive along the Galle road (western coastal road).
Colombo / Mount Lavinia (Colonial Mount Lavinia Hotel) / Moratuwa / and then a fine stretch of beaches - Wadduwa (beach) / Kalutara (beach) / Beruwala Bay Beach / Bentota Bay Beach Resort (prime beach resort - beach & lagoon) / Induruwa (beach & turtles) / Kosgoda (beach & turtles) / Ahungalla (beach) / Balapitiya / Ambalangoda (beach & devil dance masks) / Senigama / Hikkaduwa (beach resort & corals) / Thiranagama / Dodanduwa.
After Galle are the fine stretch of southern beaches: Unawatuna Bay Beach, Koggala Beach (beach & lagoon), Mirissa Bay Beach , Tangalla Bay Beach (beach & lagoon), Matara (Dutch fort).
The Biblicical history of GalleAccording to Sir James Emerson Tennant Galle was the "Tarshish" referred to in the Bible. It was to Galle that King Solomon sent emissaries to procure the jewel that won him the heart of Queen Sheba. Owing to its strategic position on the sea routes between Arabia, India & Southeast Asia, the natural harbour & the picturesque seaside resort area surrounding it, Galle had become the centre of trade in olden days where sailing vessels laden with merchandize from Egypt, Persia, Arabia, South India, Malaysia, Singapore and the Eastern China converged. Host of nationalities lived and traded in Galle. The traders bartered their goods with the produce of the island, i.e. spices, ivory, gems and pearls. By the term "spices", Arabs meant foodstuff including spices, all varieties of pulse & grain. In the markets of the city there were gems comprising of sapphires, rubies, cat's eye and semi precious gems as tourmaline, amethysts and moonstones. The people of Galle prospered with the sale of exquisite curios made of tortoise shell, ebony, porcupine quills and elephants' tusks. The Cripps Road inscription reveals the polyglot and poly-ethnic character of Galle. Even in early British times the earliest Embassies were situated in Galle. The first Consul from USA was resident in Galle.
GaallaThe town got its name as 'Gaalla' in the native tongue as a result of the large number of bullock carts that took shelter therein following the long slow journeys from remote areas of the island. The favorite station with greater numbers of carts and bulls were called 'Maagalla' or Magalle.
Travellers Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo & Fa HeinBesides traders & merchants, there are records of visits by legendary voyagers, such as traveler Fa Hein from China and traveler Marco Polo from the West. Perhaps the earliest recorded reference to Galle comes from the great Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, who observed Moorish vessels in the harbour in 1344.
OrientationStanding on a peninsula with a naturally sheltered anchorage on the east side, Galle has both a fine harbour & excellent natural defences. The old town, or Fort, occupies most of a south-pointing promontory. The new town with bus & train stations, shops & banks is in the mainland across the Galle road. In the peninsula link broadened by the British from reclaimed land is esplanade & Galle International Cricket Stadium.
Lorenzo De AlmeidaIn 1505 a Portuguese fleet with Lorenzo De Almeida, the son of the Viceroy of Goa at the helm, set sail to intercept Moorish vessels carrying cargoes of spice, but the fleet was blown off course & landed at what was to become the colonial gateway to the south. It is said newcomers christened the harbour Punto de Gale, after the crowing cockerels (gallo in Portuguese, gallus in Latin) that they heard. If that is a fanciful story, the symbol on a slab over the inner side of the original entrance on Queen's street is ubiquitous. The symbol is a cock. The British later called it Point de Galle. However, the city was already named "Gaalla" by the Sinhalese even prior to the Portuguese era in Lanka.
The PortugueseIn 1587 the Portuguese built a small fort, which they named Santa Cruz & followed up the construction with a series of bastions & walls. By and by the Portuguese held sway in western sea coast though on & off suffered defeats in Colombo & surroundings at the hands their arch enemies, King Mayadunne, the great warrior King Sitawake Rajasinghe at Sitawake kingdom, his rival commander, the formidable, peerless & ambidextrous Vidiya Bandara at Kotte kingdom & King Senarat & King Vimaladharmasuriya in Kandyan kingdom in the hills. The Portuguese wreaked havoc on Buddhist temples & by way of sword & fire forced the spread of Roman Catholicism on the populace in the western coastal belt. The Portuguese socio-cultural imprints are particularly strong in the language, religion, education, administration, food, dress, names, music and drama. The surnames Fernando, Perera, De Silva, Mendis, De Soysa, De Mel, Peiris & and personal names Don, Dona Peduru, Franciscu, Juvan, Singho, are some of them. Baila music was first introduced here by the Portuguese. But then in spite of the beautiful Sinhalese folk music & beautiful traditional Sinhalese music (late Sunil Shantha & with apologies to others who are not indicated herein), no music in the island makes the Sri Lankan toes tingle as Baila do.
The DutchIn 1640 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese & persecuted them until they left these shores. The Dutch constructed huge ramparts and an enchanting Fort which forms a landmark in Galle that gives splendour to the town. They planned a township occupying most of the promontory (36 hectares) inside the fort with criss-cross roads and low roofed houses with massive walls and large doors and windows. They constructed an underground system of brick paved sewers, which was flushed by the action of the tides in the sea that surrounded the walls of the fort. They built a large church, which is called The Dutch Reformed Church that stands well even up to this day. The sheer scale of the town facing bastions here is brutally impressive, if not particularly aesthetic-a fitting memorial to Dutch Governor Petrus Vuyst (1726-29), who was largely responsible for their construction & whose cruelty & abuse of power was such that he was eventually recalled to VOC (Dutch East India Company) administrative headquarters in the East in Batavia (present Jakarta) & executed. Unlike to Portuguese, the religion to the Dutch was of secondary importance. Profit was its prime objective. Voila vote religion - 'love of gain'. The charter of VOC in 1602 stated 'Nature of government is such that it cannot suffer two equally great controlling powers, any more than a body can endure two heads'. Similarly, the civil power always had full and unfettered control over the ecclesiastical. Dutch stayed for 156 years.
The BritishIn 1796, following the Dutch capitulation in the Napoleonic Wars, the British took over the Galle fort. Galle continued to serve as Ceylon's principal harbour for much of the18th century. But then the improvements to Colombo harbour commenced to erode the trade & commerce in Galle. By the early 20th century, Galle lapsed into a tranquil decline, which by providence allowed the Dutch heritage in Ceylon to survive completely intact. It's a delightfully quiet & easy going.
Recognition of GalleIn 1969, Galle fort was declared an archeological reserve by the U. N. In December 1988, UNESCO declared Galle Fortress as a World Heritage Site. A Parliament Act titled Galle Heritage Foundation Act was passed in 1994 in Sri Lanka. In the years following independence, Galle has recovered some of its lost dynamism. Today, once again Galle has become an important harbour of the Island.
The Fort todayThe Galle fort is the best preserved colonial sea fortress in the whole of Asia. The massive ramparts & bastions today protect the area from modernization as effectively as they once protected Dutch trading interests from adventurers. Its low-rise streets lined with old churches & Dutch colonial villas with original street-facing colonnaded verandas & ornate gables, giving glimpses through open doors of plant-filled courtyards. Styles of art deco from the 1930s, & earlier art nouveau, are represented too, with Sinhalese touches. There are 473 houses in the fort, everyone counted by the staff of the Archeological Department which maintains an office in a converted Dutch building opposite the Old gate, which pursues a vigorous campaign to restore & preserve the fort's architectural heritage. About 50 of the present buildings predate the British occupation with a further 104 constructed pre-1850. The recent real estate boom in Galle had converted the fort into a fashionable area. Colonial villas were bought up & renovated by foreign investors. New Oriental Hotel has been developed, branded & marketed by the name of Amangalle Hotel by Aman Resorts based in Singapore.
Two entry points: main gate & old gateThe Main Gate was built by the British in 1873 to handle the heavier traffic into the old city. This part of the wall, most heavily fortified with massive ramparts facing the landside was originally built by the Portuguese with moat & drawbridge & was substantially enlarged by the Dutch, who in 1667 split it into separate Star, Moon & Sun Bastions. The clock tower is quite modern & usually has a huge national flag flying from it.
The Old gate is on the Queen Street. The arch on the Fort side of the gate is inscribed with the coat of arms of VOC (Vereenigde Oost Indische Campagnie), showing two lions holding a crest topped by the inevitable cockerel), while the arch on the exterior, port-facing side is decorated with the British crest, "Dieu et mon droit", & the date 1669.
RampartsA continuous rampart, surrounded on three sides by the sea, encircling the city (fort) is interrupted by 14 massive bastions. The two nearest to the harbour are Sun & Zwart, followed by Aurora & Point Utrecht bastions before the lighthouse, then Triton, Neptune, Clippenberg, Aeolus, Star & Moon. The best way to see the fort is to walk the length of the walls (90 minutes), & the best time to do it is around sunset. Only once-between Aurora Bastion & the Old gate-is it necessary to leave the wall. Part of the area between the Star & Aeolus Bastions is an off-limits military compound. South of the harbour Zwart (Black) Bastion is believed to be the only surviving part of the original Portuguese fortifications. During the Dutch period the 109 cannons were mounted on the 14 bastions.
Religious toleranceIt houses eight religious institutions that include Temples, Y.M.B.A, Y.W.C.A churches, Mosques, Zaviyas and Thakkiyas etc, that have pioneered and propagated religion and upheld all cultural values, morals, traditions, customs and other activities for several centuries.
Dutch MuseumFor a peep into life in the days of the Dutch East India Company, look into this small museum at 31 Leyn Baan Street. Housed in a restored Dutch mansion of the time, it contains paintings, prints, documents, furniture & ceramics from the Dutch colonial era.
National Cultural MuseumNatural Cultural Museum is housed in an old colonial stone warehouse on Church Street as you enter the Fort. Exhibits include a model of Galle & the fort's Dutch & Portuguese inheritance.
Light HouseThe old lighthouse with the lantern at the height of 92 feet above low-water, built in 1848 was burnt down in 1936. The new light was built in 1940 at Utreeth Bastion in the same street, lighthouse street called 'Zeeburgstraat' 'Middelpuntstraat' during the Dutch period. The lantern is 92 feet above low-water level.
Flag rockFlag rock was once a Portuguese bastion. From there the Dutch signaled approaching ships to warn them of dangerous rocks-hence its name. Musket shots were fired from Pigeon Island, close to the rock, to further alert the ships to the danger.
Amangalle Hotel (formerly New Oriental Hotel)Just behind the Natural Cultural Museum is the Amangalle Hotel (One of the most luxurious & most expensive hotels in the island). Built in 1684 as the official headquarters of the Dutch Governor, this elegant building became an inn for Dutch merchants & officers in the early 18th century, making it Sri Lanka's oldest hotel. The lobby, with old maps on the wall & rattan chaises lounges on the verandah, is a time machine transporting you back to the 1860s.
Groote Kerk (Great Church) - Dutch Reformed ChurchNext door, to Amangalle Hotel is the small Groote Kerk (Great Church), the oldest Protestant church in the island-dating from 1752 although the original structure was built in 1640. It was erected in gratitude after the birth of their first child by the Dutch commander Casparus de Jong & his wife. Built on the site of an earlier Portuguese Capuchin convent, the present structure was completed & consecrated in 1755. In 1760 a second-hand organ from Colombo was installed. Inside, the floor is covered by about 20 gravestones (some heavily embossed, others engraved), which originated in older graveyards which were closed in 1710 & 1804. The British moved them into this church in 1853. The organ loft has a lovely semicircular balustrade while the pulpit with an enormous canopy was made of calamander wood from Malaysia. It holds services in English twice monthly.
The old post officeThe old post office, restored by the Galle Heritage Trust in 1992, is a long low building with a shallow red tiled roof supported by 13 columns. It is still functioning although it is much run down inside.
All Saints Church (Anglican Church)Further down the Church Street is the All Saints Church. This was built in 1868 & consecrated in 1871 after much pressure from the English population who had previously worshipped at the Dutch Reform Church. The bell was gifted to the church by chief officer of the 'Ocean Liberty' of Clan Shipping Company. There is a particularly good view of the church with its red tin roof surmounted by a cockerel & four strange little turrets, from Cross Church Street.
Royal Dutch House HotelThe Old Dutch Government House, opposite the All Saints Church, is now a hotel with enormous rooms under colonial timber ceilings. The massive door in four sections at the Queens Street entrance, so built for entry on horseback. There are loads of period features, including grand staircase & high ceilings.
Meeran Jumma MasjidAt the end of Church Street lies the old Arab Quarter with a distinct Moorish atmosphere. Here you will find the Meeran Jumma Masjid in a tall white building which resembles a Portuguese Baroque church in spite of minarets & domes. The mosque was rebuilt in 1904 where the original stood from 1750s. The Muslim Cultural Association & Arabic College which were established in 1892, are located herein. This is an active mosque with a sizable community of Muslims. In the Portuguese Period no Mosque was permitted in Galle.
Clossenberg HotelOn the promontory on the east side of the harbour is Closenberg Hotel, with rattan easy chairs on its verandahs. This is another fine place from which to view the sunset. A P & O liner called at Galle in 1842 marking the start of a regular service to Europe. In 1859, Captain Baily, an agent for shipping company, took a fancy to the spot where a small disused Dutch fort had stood in a commanding position, 3 km across the harbour. The villa he built, set in a tropical garden was named 'Marina' after his wife. P & O Rising sun emblem can still be spotted on some old furniture. After Captain Baily relinquished the villa, it was bought by local businessman and planter, Simon Perera Abeywardena, son in law of the greatest Philanthropist of Sri Lanka Charles Henry de Soysa of Moratuwa. The present owner is his grand son who runs the place as a popular Guest House. The locals still call this place 'Baly Kanda'.
The hotel consists of spacious rooms with large doors and windows where the lintels are in the shape of half moon, and with low roof covered with local tiles. The old-fashioned rooms in the main part of the house have massive colonial teak furniture. New rooms with balconies overlooking the beach provide more privacy. In front of this house is a large garden lined with coconut and palmyrah trees and elegantly laid out seats and resting places. Clossenberg faces the open sea and Bouna Vista on the East. From here could be seen the Galle Fort with the towering Light House and Clock Tower and the spire of the Anglican Church.
Historical Manson MuseumA couple of minutes' walk down Leyn Bann Street (Old Rope-Walk Street, named "Oude Lijnbaanstraat" during the Dutch period), in a well-restored Dutch house is a collection of colonial artifacts, antique typewriters, VOC china, spectacles & jewellery. In spite of the rare items stored herein, the main aim of the museum comes to light when we are led to the gems for sale in the adjoining shop.
National Maritime MuseumA side door inside the Old Gate leads us into what was originally the Great Warehouse & now the National Maritime Museum, the fruit of the efforts of a certain Mr. Gaffar, who over the past 35 years has laboriously accumulated an enormous collection of antiques, bric-a brac & curiosities: smashed plates, glassware, alarm clocks, accordions, knuckledusters, stethoscopes, cigarette lighters, spices, sea products (a pickled cuttlefish), fiber glass whales, models of different styles of catamarans, antique typewriters, VOC china, spectacles & jewellery. There is also a collection of traditional masks, the lace-making process & religious items, including a relic casket. It seems Mr. Gaffar has been of the belief that if you horde enough stuff for long enough, the individual items seen within the context of the collection would help reveal a larger subject in a new persespective.
Kottawa Conservation ForestThe road heading north out of Galle passes the Kottawa Conservation Forest, a 14-hectare wet evergreen forest. Trees are identified with their botanical names, making this a good opportunity to get to know Sri Lankan flora. On the other side of the road, near the forest entrance, is a swimming spot fed by a waterfall. There is a couple of tea factories tucked away in this area. Tallangaha & Kottawa are open to visitors.
KadurugalaAbout 10km east of Kottawa, the 10m-high seated Buddha at Kaduruduwa Temple rises above the surrounding paddy fields.
Unawatuna Bay BeachAbout five kilometers southeast of Galle is one of the finest beaches of the world. Unawatuna Bay Beach is a wide curving bay with a picturesque sweep of golden beach.
Yatagala Raja Maha ViharayaJust 4km from Unawatuna Bay Beach, the Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya is a quiet rock temple with a 9m-long reclining Buddha. The mural-covered walls are painted in the style typical during the Kandyan period. There are several secluded meditation spots among the huge boulders.