UNESCO describes Galle Fort as one of the best examples of a European-built fortified city in the whole of south and Southeast Asia. As Sri Lanka’s best-preserved colonial township it is unlike anywhere else on the island; low-rise streets lined with Dutch and British colonial villas, warehouses and churches brandish red-tiled sloping roofs and charming facades. Far from being an ageing backwater, the last decade has seen the fort transform into Sri Lanka’s most cosmopolitan enclave without detracting from its olde-world charm.
Thanks to its fine natural harbour and strategic marine location, Galle came to prominence long before the arrival of the European colonialists, and even attracted the likes of King Solomon who is thought to have obtained gold, spices, ivory, apes and peacocks from this Biblical Tarshish. The Portuguese arrived in 1589 and built a small fort called Santa Cruz, but when ousted by the Dutch in 1640 they expanded their European neighbour’s efforts by enclosing the whole of Galle’s sea-facing promontory with thick walls. They also constructed many of the fort’s striking villas and designed the orderly street plan that exist to this day.
The British took Sri Lanka peacefully in 1796 following an island wide transfer of power, and the impenetrable fort, rather ironically, was handed over without a shot being fired. They added their own flourishes to the aesthetic of the fort, including a clock tower, a lighthouse and a race course just outside (it’s now the town’s international test cricket ground), and tourists travelling on P&O steam cruisers flooded in, taking home souvenirs of ivory, gemstones and cinnamon. By 1880, Colombo’s growing port forced Galle’s into decline and as the Brits moved north, Muslim traders settled in the fort, adding to its rich cultural tapestry.
Benefit from our experience. Having lived and worked amongst the Fort for 10+ years, we have a unique insight into its hidden ‘nooks and cranny’s’. Hire a guide for the day, take a specially prepared picnic up to our favourite spot on the wall and enjoy watching the fort jumpers or the gorgeous sunsets and then retreat back to the Fort Bazaar for dinner to share your stories…
Where : Surrounding the Fort Bazaar, rooms from $130 USD ++