Persians and Arabs, Chinese and Malays, South Indians, Portuguese and Dutch, English and even Romans appear to have visited Galle in the dim past. In 1344, Ibn Batuta found Moorish vessels in the harbour. The Portuguese came in 1505, blown ashore on their way to the Maldives. In 1640 Galle was taken by the Dutch at such a heavy cost to life that it also came to be known as “Gold in Malacca, lead in Galle.”
The harbour gate has over it on the inside, the “Cock of Galle” and on the outside, the British Lion. The Portuguese and Dutch in fact once mistook the name Galle for Latin “Gallus” or “Cock.” The Galle Fort today is the best preserved Dutch Fort on the island with many colonial homes and a few hotels but strangely not a single restaurant inside the Fort area.
Still, this unique old settlement has a quiet charm of its own with minimal traffic and most of its daytime residents mainly government workers leaving the Fort in the evenings. This leaves the Fort to its own after 6 pm.
There are ramparts with solid bastions and “pepper-pot” towers, and old baronial-like gateways, narrow streets and gabled houses with Dutch ‘stoeps’ or verandahs, lofty ceilings and massive pillars. The Dutch ramparts entirely surround the Fort with the exception of the Zwart or Black Fort overlooking the harbour. This Fort was called the Santa Cruz and was completed by the Portuguese in 1625.
The Dutch ramparts were built mainly with grey granite rock that came to Galle as ballast in ships. The three main bastions are the Sun, the Moon and the Star bastions facing the land approach to the Fort. Locals say the Star bastion was the scene of many early duels. The last one ended on November 17, 1810 when a Captain James Brown shot dead Captain John Parker. The case was later taken to court!
The Fort is a quiet habitat today – the old frenzy lost. But the old floors paved with square red tiles exist as reminders of the olde world. It was in fact the Dutch who also introduced brick making to Ceylon. Or, reminders like Leyn Baan Cross Street, literally “Rope-Walk ” Cross Street where bales of coir rope were once packed and shipped out.
I recommend staying at the Weltevreden or “Well Satisfied” in Dutch at 104, Pedlar Street a few metres away from the Fort’s West rampart and suggest talking to its owner D.G. Piyasena for a total recall. Also recommend the New Oriental Hotel on 10, Church Street, inside a 300 year old Dutch building steeped in history and the island’s oldest hotel. Remember the beach area for Galle is Unawatuna, 4 km away.