Sri Lanka is a charming island settled amidst the rolling blue waves of the Indian Ocean. Among its splendid coastal areas, the majestic city of Galle is indeed a highlight. In fact, Galle has become a tourism hotspot not only owing to its delightful sandy shores but also owing to the amazing opportunities that it offers the visitors to enjoy. Besides, it is also a cultural hub due to the rich and diverse history that it holds. However, when considering the ancient grandeur of this charming town, Galle Fort cannot be ignored. Thus, we thought of focusing this read on this significant, and marvelous creation. Continue reading!
What is Galle Fort?
This is one of the most highlighting ancient fortifications with high black walls located towards the central part of Galle city. It stands tall and proud with a history of over 400 years. Initially built by the Dutch, it spreads across 52 hectares. The Dutch built the Fort in such a way that it covers the entire Peninsula.
Strategic Importance of the Galle Fort
History of Galle city traces back to 125 – 150 CE when Ptolemy marked Galle on his world map as a “busy port”. King Solomon, Persians, as well as Egyptians, has had trade ties with the city of Galle. It is also where the Portuguese led by Lorenzo de Almeida made their landing on the island after an accident.
History of the Galle Fort
The Portuguese, the first European nation to set foot on the island, initially built the Fort with mud and palm trees. It resembled “huts” rather than a Fort. After the Portuguese started trade relations with the Sinhalese Kings, they forsook Galle and established in Colombo. The Portuguese had to retreat to the South once again when the Sinhalese King, Rajasinghe I of Seethhawka defeated them. Then, they built a small Fort called Santa Cruz, along with a watch tower and three bastions. Later, they named these three bastions as Sun Bastian, Moon Bastian, and the Zwart bastion.
In 1640, the Fort fell into the hands of the Dutch, the second European nation to enter the country. However, the Fort, Fort walls, and the three bastions were in ruins owing to the war that took place between the Portuguese and the Dutch to claim Sri Lanka under their wing.
Dutch chose Galle as their administrative center and started rebuilding the Fort on par with Dutch Architecture. Public administration buildings that they added to the Fort, remained there until recently. Moreover, the Fort has been renovated a few times during Dutch rule. A protestant church built according to the Baroque architecture, the residence of the Commandment, arsenal, and the gun house were among the major elements that were present in the Fort during the Dutch era.
When the maritime provinces of the island came under the British in 1796, the Galle Fort slipped through the hands of the Dutch. The British too, realizing the importance of the Fort, chose Galle as their Southern capital. In addition, they added the present Galle lighthouse, a clock tower to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria, and a gate between the Moon bastion and the Sun Bastion.
How to Reach Galle Fort?
- A normal bus that runs from Colombo to Galle on the coastal A2 road
- Trains that run from Colombo Fort to Matara and Beliatta via Galle
- A luxury bus that runs from Colombo to Galle on the Southern Expressway (Highway)
A normal bus that runs from Colombo to Galle on the coastal A2 road will reach Galle via Mt. Lavinia, Kalutara, and Hikkaduwa. It will take nearly 3 hours.
However, the cheapest mode of transportation to Galle Fort is by catching a train that runs from Colombo Fort to Matara and Beliatta via Galle. A number of express trains begin from the Colombo Fort railway station at the following time schedules. These trains will take you to Galle within 2 hours of time.
|Name of the Train||Departure from Colombo Fort Railway Station|
|8050 ( Express Train )||6:55:00 Hours|
|Express Train from Kandy||8:35:00 Hours|
|Rajarata Rajini ( Express Train )||10:30:00 Hours|
|Galu Kumari ( Colombo Commuter )||14:25:00 Hours|
|Dakshina Intercity Express ( Intercity )||15:10:00 Hours|
|Ruhunu Kumari ( Express Train )||15:50:00 Hours|
|Sagarika ( Long Distance )||16:45:00 Hours|
|Samudra Devi ( Long Distance )||17:25:00 Hours|
|8766 ( Express Train )||18:17:00 Hours|
|Night Mail ( Night Mail Train )||19:30:00 Hours|
If someone needs to reach Galle within 1 hour of time, catching a luxury highway bus that runs from Colombo to Galle on the Southern Expressway (Highway) would be the best. These buses are available at Kadawatha, Kaduwela, and Makumbura (near Maharagama) bus stations. However, this will cost a bit more than the normal bus and the train.
Fortifications of Galle Fort
When the Portuguese first built the Galle Fort, it was a flat structure along with 3 bastions. Once the Dutch took over, they encircled the entire coastal area and built fortifications along with another 13 bastions. Moreover, the Galle Fort consists of two entrances, the old gate built by the Dutch in 1668 and the new gate built by the English in 1873. The old gate can be accessed via the southern end of the Baladaksha Road. However, today the only entrance to the Galle Fort is from the main gate which is only a few minutes’ walk from the main bus station or the central train station of the city.
Renovations of the Galle Fort
During the Second World War, the Fort underwent many other modifications. After the tsunami disaster that took place in 2004, the Fort yet again saw extensive renovations. Yet, the constructors conserved the originality of the Fort resembling Dutch architecture well. Thus, Galle is identified as the best-preserved colonial monument in South Asia.
UNESCO has recognized the Galle Fort as a UNESCO world heritage site because of its unique interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions. However, the damage that the tsunami caused to the Fort was limited because of its walls. The Sri Lankan Government with the funding of the Government of the Netherlands carried on restoration work of this great monument after the tsunami.
Later, in January 2019, the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing started another renovation project in Galle Fort. The Galle Heritage Foundation and the Department of Archaeology assisted in this project which constructed and rehabilitated the Fort with a walking path. In addition, this renovation program beautified nearly 40,000 square meters of land. Sri Lankans believe that this was the most comprehensive renovation program that took place for the first time in 433 years of history since the creation of the Fort.
In December 2021 the project came to its end at a cost of Rs. 210 million. However, the amazing thing about this project is that all the renovation work took place while preserving the antiquities and heritage of Galle Fort.
What are the Places of Attraction Inside the Galle Fort?
Built as a defense from both the sea and the land, fortifications are not the only thing about the Galle Fort. It has inherited a variety of other monuments with rich European architecture.
Mentioned below are a few of them.
- Groote Kerk
- New Orient Hotel
- Old Dutch Hospital
- All Saints Church
- Oldest Breadfruit Tree
- Galle Lighthouse
- Galle Fort Library
- Galle Clock Tower
Scroll down to know more about these places!
1. Groote Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church)
Dutch laid the foundation for the present Groote Kerk in 1682, but they couldn’t complete it until 1755. The church is built in Doric style and is located on the highest point of the Galle Fort, 12 meters above sea level. The Boxing day Tsunami did not do any damage to the church as it had good protection because of its altitude and the Fort walls.
2. New Orient Hotel
This building served as the headquarters of the Dutch governor and his staff. It was converted into the new Orient Hotel in 1865, and later Aman Resorts refurbished it into a five-star franchise and named it Amangalle.
3. All Saints Church
English built an Anglican church with Victorian Gothic revival architecture in 1868. James George Smither, who later designed the National Museum of Colombo designed the All Saints Church in Galle.
4. National Maritime Museum
This building used to serve as a spices storage under the Dutch. Later, the Sri Lankan government converted it into the National Maritime Museum and opened it to the public in 1992.
Several units of the museum suffered heavy losses from the tsunami in 2004 and have since been revived and renovated with the patronage of the Government of the Netherlands. Furthermore, the museum owns maritime artifacts which were uncovered during deep-sea explorations. As the sea near the Galle is full of rocks and high tides, there are many shipwreck sites in the sea nearby. Artifacts collected from these sites include maps, naval crafts, beer mugs, and sailor shoes. Some of these are more than 800 years of age.
5. Oldest Breadfruit Tree
Dutch introduced the Breadfruit tree to Sri Lanka. The first and the oldest breadfruit tree can be found near the Akersloot Bastion in Galle Fort.
According to folklore, Dutch introduced the breadfruit tree in the hope that it would kill the Sinhalese or make athletes sick. But, Sri Lankans combined breadfruit with coconut milk and prepared a delicious curry. However, today the breadfruit trees are mainly found in the Central part of Sri Lanka.
6. Galle Lighthouse
The oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka, that is Galle lighthouse was built by the British in 1848. They built this on the Point Utrecht Bastion. Further, it stands at a height of 87 feet giving a full view of any ships entering the Galle harbor.
7. The Galle Fort Library
The library at Galle Fort brings fame to the Fort as the oldest public library in Sri Lanka. The British built this in 1832 next to the Dutch Reformed Church on Church Street.
The library of Velsen city in the Netherlands has shipped many English-language books to this library since Velsen is considered a sister city to Galle. In addition, they have supported the development and renovation projects like repairing the library’s roof in 1988, renovating the rooms and bookcases of the library in 2006, and donating a photocopier, two computers, and a printer.
8. Galle Clock Tower
The clock tower in the Fort is one of the popular landmarks in Galle. People call this Anthonisz Memorial Clock Tower or the Galle Clock Tower. John Henry Guess Landon designed this and constructed it in 1883. The tower is nearly 25.3 m (83 ft) high which is roughly four stories.
What to Do in Galle Fort?
The busy town of Galle, with European – South Asian blending provides an array of unique recreational activities mainly involving beaches. But, that’s not all to it. The city has a history of more than 400 years old and exploring the European traces in Sri Lankan culture would be fascinating all the same. Moreover, there are a handful of Instagram locations exclusively in the Galle Fort alone. Thus, there are several things for you to do in this charming city. Some of them are as follows.
- Take a Walk
- Go Shopping
- Watch the Sunset at the Fort Wall
- Visit the Monuments
- Watch a Cricket Match
- Bath in the Sea
- Enjoy Lunch of High Tea
- Visit Dutch Hospital
Continue reading to know about the delight of these activities!
1. Take a Walk
A walk around the Fort along the ocean is around 2.5 kilometers. Starting at the main gate of the Galle Fort, one can walk towards the lighthouse. Exploring the wonderful shops by the roads, posing for some amazing photographs, and tasting some of the street food will surely magnify the delight of your walk. And why not? Don’t forget to have a chat with the Sri Lankans while you enjoy the best of Galle as well!
2. Go Shopping
Many of the old buildings in the Galle Fort are now converted into stylish shops from where you can collect some souvenirs to bring home to remind you of Galle. Thus, Galle is indeed one of the best places to go shopping, specifically for souvenir shopping. The interior of these shops is modern and aesthetically pleasing, so it will be irresistible to pass them by without hopping in. Barefoot shop, Exotic Roots, Orchid House, and Koccorico are among some shops worth dropping by.
3. Watch the Sunset at Fort Wall
Evenings bring quite a traffic to the Galle Fort. Not only the visitors but also the residents of the town gather around the walls of the Fort to see how the sun dips in the ocean after a long day. Watching the evening sky stained with pastels once the sun disappears is one of the top things to do in Galle. Indeed, enjoying the sunset at Fort Wall will surely offer you some wonderful memories to reminiscence for a lifetime.
4. Visit the Monuments
Within the Fort, several monuments are a fusion of European – Sri Lankan cultures. Dutch Reformed Church, All Saints Church, and the clock tower are among the prominent. So, visiting them, and observing their ancient grandeur would be one of the best things for you to do within this city of charms.
5. Watch a Cricket Match
Sri Lankans love Cricket! The Fort is located just opposite the main entrance of the Galle International Cricket Stadium. If you fancy a game and you are at the correct place at the correct time, you will be able to watch a Cricket match here. Besides, if you visit Galle just to watch a cricket match, you can try one or two of the activities mentioned here since the Fort is nearby.
6. Bath in the Sea
There is a bathing spot near the lighthouse where you can dip in the seawater if you prefer. Indeed, this place is perfectly safe for baths. So, never miss this fun, if you visit this wonderful city.
7. Enjoy Lunch or High-tea
There are several restaurants and grand cafes inside the Galle fort. Thus, you can sip a decent cup of tea or coffee if you head on to one of those. And why not? A lunch or dinner at a restaurant here won’t even be a bad idea! The wide array of dishes that they would offer you, mainly focusing on Sri Lankan food, and seafood will surely amuse you without a doubt.
8. Visit Dutch Hospital
This is popular as one of the oldest buildings in Galle Fort. During the Dutch rule, this was a hospital to take care of the sick Dutch officials and salesmen. Few government offices were in this place until 2014 when it was extensively modified and turned into a shopping complex. Visiting it would certainly reveal to you the unique shades of Dutch architecture.
The Bottom Line
After all, if you visit Sri Lanka, the exotic city of Galle is definitely not something you should miss. As you already know, this majestic, and delightful city is a travel hotspot with its alluring beaches, impressive inland landscapes, and turbulent history. Besides, the Galle Dutch Fort, which is in the heart of the town, carries both Sri Lankan and Dutch historical elements and therefore is unmissable for a complete tour of the South. So, visit them yourself, and experience their majesty. Happy and safe traveling!