The Galle Fort, a town within a town in the Bay of Galle, Sri Lanka has always been one of my favourite places to visit. As a native of the country, I have been here many times; however I can say with confidence that there are parts of the fort I have yet to explore. It’s one of those places where no matter how often you visit, or how thoroughly you explore, you’re bound to find something you haven’t seen before. Hence for me, the Fort holds a sense of adventure and mystery, bound together by an incredible mix of cultures.
Built in 1588 by the Portuguese, and extensively fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, the Fort is now a historical, archaeological and architectural monument of Sri Lanka and a World Heritage site. 427 years down the line, and the fort still maintains a polished appearance thanks to the reconstruction and maintenance carried out by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. Today, the fort consists of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, living within the ramparts of the fort, almost as if in a world of their own.
Walking in through the tunnel that serves as one of the entrances to the fort (primarily for vehicles) it’s almost as if one is walking through the Wardrobe into the land of Narnia. While the town outside reflects life that is the norm in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, the atmosphere inside the fort is incomparably different. For one, the architecture, bearing heavy influences of both the Portuguese and the Dutch gives the small town a rather foreign feel. The cobbled streets flagged by old houses, churches and inns on either side transport the traveller to a different time, where one can almost imagine life as it was 400 years ago. However, modern changes are now visible as well. On the infamous ‘Pedlar’s street’ intersection, you can see a Barista coffeeshop and a Spa Ceylon ‘heritage spa’, both adding new twists to the old town. Most new shops and restaurants have however kept the original structure of the buildings they occupy, thus preserving the culture and feel of the place.
What I find most interesting though, are the little threads of authentic Sri Lankan culture that have woven themselves into the town through out the years. Near the entrance to the fort is a small tae kaday (tea shop) run by a wonderfully friendly old couple. It resembles any authentic old Sri Lankan tea shop you would find all over the country. They sell freshly brewed tea, buns, a few odd groceries, and I believe, lunch. They also rent bikes for Rs 100 an hour. Upon visiting the shop, my friends and I inquired about the bikes, and the old lady obliged immediately, calling to her husband. She spoke English very well, which was a pleasant surprise. Her husband, a smiling old chap with a head full of white hair and a moustache to match, was one of the sweetest people we’ve encountered in the Fort. He unlocked our bikes and then hurried away into the shop to bring us some bubblegum (coincidentally the same brand I used to spend all my pocket money on when I was a ten-year-old) that he pressed into our hands free of charge. If you visit the fort, do visit their shop- it’s one of the first shops down Lighthouse street.
If you’re looking for a place to have lunch, many of the premises have been converted into boutique style restaurants that serve an array of cuisines. My personal favourite however would have to be Crepe-ology. Located on the roof-top of Carrousel de Galle on 53 Leyn Baan Street, this place serves just about any kind of crepe you can imagine. Whether you’re with a group of friends, alone, or with your significant other, this place is the perfect setting. They’ve even got a shisha lounge if you’re looking for some relaxation after a wonderful meal. And what’s more, their staff are super friendly and accommodating.
Another must do is a walk on the ramparts. You may want to avoid doing this in the afternoon during the Summer months as the heat is almost unbearable, but the view is not to be missed. The water closest to the walls is so clear that you can see the rocky seabed underneath; and further out it is the most beautiful shade of blue. At one end of the ramparts, you will see a Lighthouse, also known as Pointe de Galle Light. This is Sri Lanka’s oldest light station dating back to 1848, but the original lighthouse constructed by the British was destroyed by a fire in 1934, and the lighthouse we see today was built (100 ft away from the original) in 1939.
Finally, if you’re a history or archaeology enthusiast (like myself), you should also check out the Dutch Reform Church (Groote Kerk), the National Maritime Museum, the Clock Tower, and the Galle National Museum.
Being just over two hours away from Colombo via the Southern Expressway, the Galle Fort is the perfect place for a day-trip. If you’re looking to stay a few days, I would suggest finding accommodation outside the fort as the rest-houses inside can be quite pricey. There’s lots to do and see, and this post does not cover all of it, but I sure hope it convinced you to add Galle to your bucketlist of places to see!
Safe Travels, friend!