Galle – Sri Lanka

Galle is the fifth largest city in Sri Lanka, situated on the southwestern tip, 119 km from Colombo. The Galle fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Colombo you can take the train or bus. Both travel right next to the beach coast and have beautiful views. Depending on traffic, or how many stops the train makes, traveling from Colombo city can be anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. A Sri Lankan Railway ride is a must, and was the best thing about getting to Galle.

Galle Fort is very small and could easily be done in a few hours. Walking the fort walls at sunset is best, as the winds and waves crash and the night sky dims in colour, if you get the right conditions.  The town itself looks rather new, streets are paved and lacks old world charm. It all looks rather modern. I expected cobbled roads. Few buildings resembled anything from history, I was less than impressed. After dusk there is nothing to do as shops, bars, restaurants all shut, bed by 10pm I was, one night was enough.

Galle was known as Gimhathiththa before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. It is believed that the town got its name as Gaalla in the native tongue, “Gaala” in Sinhala, means the place where cattle are herded together and hence the Sinhalese name for Galle, ගාල්ල is a development from ‘Gaala’. Another theory is that the word Galle is derived from the Dutch word ‘Gallus’ which means rooster. The Dutch have also used the rooster as a symbol of Galle.

Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period. Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by the Portuguese in South and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between Portuguese architectural styles and native traditions. The city was extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 on-wards. The Galle fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers.

Galle had been a prominent seaport long before western rule in the country. Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians, and Chinese were doing business through Galle port. In 1411, the Galle Trilingual Inscription, a stone tablet inscription in three languages, Chinese, Tamil and Persian, was erected in Galle to commemorate the second visit to Sri Lanka by the Chinese admiral Zheng He.

The “modern” history of Galle starts in 1502, when a small fleet of Portuguese ships, under the command of Lourenço de Almeida, on their way to the Maldives, were blown off course by a storm.

In 1640, the Portuguese had to surrender to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch built the present fort in the year 1663. They built a fortified wall, using solid granite, and built three bastions, known as “Sun”, “Moon” and “Star”.

After the British took over the country from the Dutch in the year 1796, they preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of the district.

Other prominent landmarks in Galle include the city’s natural harbor, the National Maritime Museum, St. Mary’s Cathedral founded by Jesuit priests, one of the main Shiva temples on the island.

On 26 December 2004 the city was devastated by the massive Tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that occurred a thousand miles away, off the coast of Indonesia. Thousands were killed in the city alone.