After a few days in Unawatuna, we decided to strike out a little and go into Galle (pronounced ‘gawl’ in English), it was only 6km away, north along the coast. We had passed it on the way down, but didn’t have a good look at the old Dutch fort and wanted to explore inside the walls. The promontory sticking along the coast was largely ignored by the fishermen, until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. A ship sailing for the Maldives was blown off course and the harbour provided a safe refuge.
It wasn’t until more than 80 years later that a small fort was built here when the Portuguese felt they needed to defend themselves from the kingdom in Kandy, with whom they squabbled with now and then. There were few buildings but the bastions and walls were extended at a later date. Eventually, the Dutch ousted the Portuguese in 1640 and removed all traces of their existence. The Dutch filled the promontory with colonial style buildings and several churches.
For the next 200 years, Galle was the main stopping off point for ships travelling from Europe to Asia and was Sri Lanka’s main port as well. Galle was taken over by the British in 1796, but not before it lost its position to Colombo’s port. There is still a little shipping activity and yachting, but otherwise it’s a sleepy backwater, much to the delight of the tourists. What makes Galle Fort fascinating is that it is still a functioning community with export companies, administrative offices, and court houses, as well as boutique hotels, gem shops and art galleries.
The tsumani in 2004 hit the new town of Galle very hard and many lost their lives. However, the solid walls of the fort limited the damage inside and there were no deaths. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off near one of three bastions; poetically named ‘Sun’, ‘Moon’ and ‘Star’. We walked in along Church Street admiring the old colonial buildings and headed for lunch at Mama’s Galle Fort Roof Café where we could have great views as a side order with our Sri Lankan lunch.
We enjoyed sitting under a leafy arbor during our meal watching the comings and goings along the fort’s wide green walls. I remember thinking I hadn’t see fortress walls like these before. The walls are constructed of stone but buttressed with earth where green grass grows in abundance.