Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Galle is a port on the south west point of Sri Lanka, reached by a sweaty three hour train journey from the capital Colombo (where I’d spent a couple of nights on arrival, in a guesthouse conveniently located behind an excellent ice-cream parlour). The old part of town, the only part not devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, lies on a small rocky peninsular sticking out into the bay.

Galle - fortifications

Galle – fortifications

The Dutch built the strong fortifications around this spit of land in the seventeenth century, replacing flimsier Portuguese defences, and it was these that protected the old town from the worst of the tsunami. The original purpose of course was to protect the harbour and the Dutch East India Company’s trade interests.

Galle

Galle

Within the walls, they laid out a grid of streets which are still full of old houses with pillared verandas at the front, very similar to houses I’ve seen in Latin America.

Galle - colonial house

Galle – colonial house

The small area manages to contain a mosque (in a building looking remarkably like a Victorian church), a Buddhist temple, an Anglican church and a lovely eighteenth century Dutch Reformed church where I spent a very happy time looking at the tombstones.

Galle - Dutch tombstone

Galle – Dutch tombstone

There is also a maritime museum in a huge stone Dutch-built warehouse. My guidebook declared it the “worst museum in Sri Lanka, and quite possibly the whole of South Asia”. With billing like that I was almost tempted, but balked the price. Instead I visited something that calls itself a museum but is actually an old house full of random stuff, it was as fascinating as a really good junk shop.

Galle - Dutch warehouse

Galle – Dutch warehouse

The British took over as the colonial power in the late eighteenth century and they beefed up the fortifications on the landward side, but overall, little else seems to have been changed. The old town is, as UNESCO put it “the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia”.

Galle - fortifications

Galle – fortifications

The town is very pleasant and popular with tourists, which means it has a good range of places to stay and eat, some of them rather swanky. Most people who come down here go further along the coast to some good beaches – not me of course, I’m too pale and ginger. I did see this delightful sign warning against “unblushing behavior  on the small beach just beyond the fortifications though.

Galle - sign on the beach

Galle – sign on the beach

For the Lego model, it was either going to have to be the fortifications or an old house (the warehouse is too big and the Dutch church too dull outside), and since  the former are not massively fascinating to look at, you get the latter, albeit with too many columns. Sorry it’s such an uninspiring model to kick of this trip.

Lego Galle

Lego Galle

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2 Responses to Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

  1. drsnyc says:

    Bit ashamed of myself – talk about insular! It never occurred to me that Dutch colonial influences might be traceable in other parts of the world than southern africa: not only the vernacular architecture (echoes of streets in the shabbier parts of Cape Town) but also the eaves on the warehouse (somewhat similar to wine farms in the Western Cape). And trying to get my head around a Dutch Reformed Church that probably doesn’t have an exclusively pinky-white congregation. Will be interested to see if you agree with me when you finally get to that continent.

  2. The Dutch church looked lovely after the Dutch Govt helped spruce it up. The ceiling was a lovely blue with gold stars and of course we are intrigued since even my English ancestors are memorialised there. I hope the massive memorials on the floor are not worn away by the feet of many visitors. For those of us interested in Lanka’s history it is a treat.But then I’m biased . I lived nor too far away and was at the Convent. Sunsets are marvellous too when seen
    from a local restaurant. Galle Fort is a little Gem and with a little touch of paint would be even more fascinating.Have you seen how thick the walls of some houses are?

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