“Galle – The walled city”
The seaside town of Galle is 116 Km., from Colombo by road or rail, down the southwest coast. Both routes are picturesque, following the coastline closely for much of the way.
Today’s town has grown greatly and spreads into the hinterland but the Fort is the slow-beating heart of Galle’s history.
The walled city has stood since the early sixteenth century, through the Colonial periods of the Portuguese, Dutch and British and in our present times is proclaimed as an Archaeological Reserve and been identified as a World Heritage site.
The Portuguese took Galle from the Sinhala kings in 1587 and erected the first fortifications, a single wall fronted by a moat which extended from the sea to the harbour.
The Dutch landed in 1640 with 12 ships and 2,000 men under the command of Wilhelm Jacobsz Coster who defeated the Portuguese after severe fighting and a four-day siege. Akersloot Bastion is named after the birthplace of Coster, the Dutch commander who captured Galle.
The Dutch later converted the Portuguese fortaleza into a single bastion which they named Zwart Bastion and built a formidable line of defence, ringing the walled town by ten bastions, which endure to this day.
Through the rolling streams of time and change, Galle still retains as few other towns in Sri Lanka; an atmosphere of the past. The town was graced with considerable civic amenities and military features.
Despite recent face-lifts and new facades to many of the houses and the introduction of modern civic amenities like electricity, telephone systems, water and drainage services, the streets remain narrow and many are known by their original names such as Leyn-Baan street, Zeeberg street and Moderabaay street. A peep into the old houses reveal them to be spacious and airy, with large, ornamental doors and windows, pillared verandahs and cool inner courtyards and gardens.
Nothing bespeaks the town’s prosperity in British times as the splendid mansions – with the names Closenburg, Eddystone, Barthfield, Armitage Hill or Nooit-Gedacht- a few of which, though wrought with time’s changes, still exist.
The best preserved is Closenburg, the gracious and spacious bungalow built by the agent of the British shipping company, P & O: its roof trusses still display the P & O sunburst. Armitage Hill bungalow occupied a site rustically lovely- out of Galle town.
The drive to Baddegama is a delightful experience and leads out to the fine church consecrated in 1825, by Bishop Heber – Bishop of Calcutta. The church today is decorated in a purely indigenous style and at mass the Ceylon Liturgy is said in Sinhalese, sung to Sinhalese music. The fine pillars of the nave, each a single piece of ironwood timber should be noted and the view from the tower is worth the climb.
Around the city of Galle
Drive back through Dodanduwa, visiting, if permission can be arranged, the Buddhist island hermitage in the Ratgama Lake, a retreat of infinite peace and beauty.
Unawatuna bay provides safe swimming and snorkeling, protected as it is by a reef. Rhumassala Kanda is associated with the legend of the traditional Ramayana story. When the warrior Lakshman was wounded, a Himalayan herb was required for his cure and Rama des patched the Monkey-god Hanuman to fetch it. But Hanuman forgot the name of the herb, so to be on the safe side he tore off a hunk of the Himalayas, carried it on his back and dumped it, where it now lies!
Galle is the sort of place from which one must take away a souvenir. You may make a pick of Galle lace, -handmade, like the Brussels or the Honiton types. Where but in Galle may you plunge your hands into a bucketful of limpid moonstones or the more precious and rarer of gems, the blue sapphire or the ruby! These can be beautifully set according to your whim or wish!