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Galle fort was built first by the Portuguese, then modified by the Dutch during the 17th century.Even today, after 400 years of existence, it looks new and polished with reconstruction work done by Archaeological Department of Sri Lankamarker.Today Sri Lankan government and many Dutch people who still own some of the properties inside the fort are looking at making this one of the modern wonders of the world.

Today, the citizens of Dutch fort in Galle are trying to make this a free port and a free trade zone. If successful no taxes are levied on the companies and individuals who reside inside the city.

The Dutch fort also known as Ramparts of Galle withstood the mighty Boxing Day tsunamimarker which destroyed the Galle town. There are many Moor families who live inside this fort along with Sinhalese,Dutch, English, Portuguese and Germans. More details regarding the history of the fort can be found at the visitors centre and at the Dutch period museum inside the Fort.

The tax system proposed inside the fort says there is no withholding tax, no tax on capital gains, no corporate tax for ten years from the start of the business, no VAT, and no profit tax.

Some of the not famous Moor families who live inside the fort are Noordeen Cassim's family and Fatima Koppen Adams family who run a story telling center for the tourists and children who visit these places every day.

Museum

There is a museum inside the Dutch fort which is in a Dutch Colonial building in Church Street is the Cultural Museum adjoining the AmanGalla Hotel. The artifacts reflect the art and culture of the Southern Province,

The National Maritime Museum, Galle

Located within the Fort of Galle in a colonial Dutch ware-house with imposing pillars, this museum displays the fauna and flora of the sea. Artifacts consist of preserved material and scaled down models of whales and fishes. Generally, all the resources of the sea are displayed in this Museum.

It also shows in diorama form with life sized models, the traditional methods of fishing. Some artifacts of underwater archaeology are also on display. An interesting experiment is the 'walk-into-the sea' diorama, showing the natural coral beds, sea grass beds and deep sea fishes.Finally, one leaves the museum seeing the causes of sea pollution, coast erosion and methods used to combat these problems.Dutch Museum Colombo This particular museum is in the heart of Colombo at the prince street.(Colombo-11)

Inside the fort



You need one hour to see the fort by walking , . You will see the Star, Moon and Sun bastions glower forbiddingly over the neck of the peninsula. The ramparts south of the harbour are pierced by the Old Gate, above which is a British Coat of Arms (on the inner side, the gate is crowned by the initials of the Dutch East India Company, VOC, and its coat of arms), and south of the harbour the Zwart (Black) Bastion is believed to be the only surviving part of the original Portuguese fortifications. The circuit of the walls continues via the Akersloot and Aurora bastions to the Point Utrecht bastion, topped by a modern lighthouse, then to Flag Rock, the southernmost point of the walls, before looping back north through the Triton, Neptune, Clippenberg and Aeolus bastions. The final section between the Aeolus and Star bastions is closed, as it is part of a military base. While some of the bastions retain their original Dutch names, the Triton, Aeolus, Neptune and Aurora bastions were renamed by the British in honour of the Royal Navy ships of the line which took part in the British seizure of Sri Lanka from the Dutch during the Napoleonic Wars.

Galle

Galle is located at the extreme southwest corner of the island, where the shoreline turns east towards Matara and Tangalle. The Fort, like most of the forts in Sri Lanka, is built on a small peninsula, belonging to the sea as much as to the land. There are treacherous rocks in the water near the fort, and a treacherous current, so a pilot was needed to approach it. The seafloor here is littered with shipwrecks. The only way to attempt a conquest was to attack it from the landside, where the Zon, Maan and Ster bastions are impenetrable.

Galle has something special about it. It is a blend of both the past and the present, the native and the colonial. It was here that the first Portuguese fleet led by Laurenco De Almeida sailed into the country nearly five centuries ago. It was here that the Dutch more than three centuries ago built their famous fort which still retains its old world charm with its high ramparts and ornate pepperpot towers. It was here that cottage industries such as turtle-shell ware, ebony ornaments and beeralu lace flourished about a century or so ago before gradually declining or passing into oblivion. Galle was no doubt once a leading centre of the native arts and crafts.

Church Street

The rampart between the Zon and Maan bastions has been broken through in the British time to create a big entrance gate, to replace the old, smaller one near the harbour. On the inside of this older gate is the coat of arms of the VOC, where the British have put it, after putting up their own on the outside. The road leading up to the old gate used to be a causeway, with on the left the water of the bay and on the right a swampy area. Along the wall of the ramparts connecting the Zon, Maan and Ster bastions was a large moat. Everything on the right is now dry land on which cricket is played. On the left is a small beach where fishermen bring their catch ashore in the evenings. There is no longer a harbour to speak of.

UNESCO heritage site

Before the Dutch took Colombo from the Portuguese, Galle was their headquarters. Contrary to the Colombo Fort, the one in Galle was not only not demolished, but is one of the best preserved examples of 17th century colonial fortifications in the world, and is on the UNESCO list of World Monuments. The reason for its remarkable state of preservation is that this once busy trading town, visited by the East-India fleets and many regional traders, fell upon slack times after the Dutch had left. The development that did take place focussed on the new town of Galle, outside the Fort. The Fort is really a walled city, with a rectangular pattern of streets full of the low houses with gables and verandas in the Dutch colonial style. An irony of history is that most of the inhabitants of old Galle, occupying the houses of the Dutch, are the descendants of the Muslim traders that the Dutch despised so much for their petty trade that violated their monopoly. The Muslims have adapted many of the houses to their own likings, closing up the verandas with woodwork to prevent their women from being seen from outside. Recently it is no longer allowed to alter any of these houses, some renovation is taking place, and private museums with handicraft shops have even been established.

There are also several interesting buildings from early British times, and an early 20th century lighttower. The fort was started by the Portuguese in 1588, but there is nothing recognizably Portuguese left. Probably parts of the thick walls, that you can walk on almost all around the town, in the sunshine and the cool breeze, with the red-tiled roofs of the houses on the one hand, and the blue ocean on the other.

The Dutch, with a force of some 2,500 men under Koster, captured the fort from the Portuguese in 1640. Fortification went on until the early 18th century. They also built an elaborate system of sewers that were flooded at high tide, taking the sewage away to sea.

What to see inside the Fort

On the other side of the bay is a hill with a great view of Galle in the distance. On top of the hill is the Closenberg Hotel, one of the most beautiful colonial houses in Sri Lanka. A sleek, low building with a red-tiled roof and a wood interior, it has covered verandas with antique furniture, and a rose garden overlooking the bay. Across the water are the walls of Galle, and behind them one can clearly see all the important buildings of the Fort. The hotel is in ongoing danger of destruction to make place for industrial development on the shoreline beneath it, but it has managed to hold out for now.

The new town of Galle, like most Sri Lankan coastal towns, is an ugly conglomeration of nondescript paintless buildings and dusty roads choked with noisy traffic under a hot sun. Everything is decrepit and unkempt due to a general lack of public services.

Ramparts

A canon mount on the ramparts


The fort ramparts are there, tall, massive and well preserved, black and awesome against the serpent green of the grass, thick walls of enormous granite dotted with little holes for the cannons to peep through. Lovers walk here, on the rampart top, holding hands and talking sweet nothings oblivious to the spray of the sea which dashes its waves against the western wall. The north side of the fort is the newly renovated Galle Cricket ground where they play international cricket matches including Test matches. The entire locality dazzles in picture postcard perfection. The evenings here are beautiful, especially if you were to sit on the old Dutch ramparts and watch the sunsets on fire in the midst of a marmalade Paul McCartney sky. You can imagine that a Dutch soldier from Rotterdam may have stood guard on the same rampart where you stand, eyes alert and long musket in hand, watching the same sun go down five centuries ago.

The ancient port city of Galle is Sri Lanka's fourth largest town, with a population of around 80,000 people and a history that stretches back hundreds of years. Some historians have suggested that Galle might even be the Biblical Tarshish, where King Solomon's ships called to take on gemstones, spices and scented woods. There's nothing to establish the truth of this rather fanciful tale, but it is at least certain that Galle is Sri Lanka's oldest living city, contrasting with the more ancient--but deserted--capitals of Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Located on the south-western shore of the island, about 115 km south of Colombo and just 18 km south of the popular beach resort of Hikkaduwa, Galle was for centuries Sri Lanka's main port, a position which strengthened during the periods of Portuguese and Dutch colonial rule. Galle only lost its primacy in the late 19th century, when the British expanded and developed the harbour at Colombo to become the island's major port. Today Galle Harbour still handles fishing vessels, a certain amount of container traffic, as well as a few luxury yachts. It's a shadow of its former self, though, and this adds to the mellow, laid-back atmosphere of the place.

Although there is plenty of good accommodation available in Galle, as well as some very passable places to eat, many visitors will prefer to stay at one of the nearby beach resorts of Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna or Weligama. A visit to Galle makes an excellent and enjoyable day trip when it seems time to take a break from beach life and indulge in a little history and culture.

History

Galle was clearly chosen as a port for excellent strategic reasons. It has a fine natural harbour protected, to the west, by a south-pointing promontory--the next piece of land, literally, is the frozen waste of the Antarctic, over five thousand miles distant.

Perhaps the earliest recorded reference to Galle comes from the great Arab traveller Ibn Battuta, who visited the port--which he calls Qali--in the mid-14th century. The Portuguese first arrived in 1505, when a fleet commanded by Lorenzo de Almeida took shelter from a storm in the lee of the town. Clearly the strategic significance of the harbour impressed the Portuguese, for 82 years later, in 1587, they seized control of the town from the Sinhala kings and began the construction of Galle Fort. This event marked the beginning of almost four centuries of European domination of the city, resulting in the fascinating hybrid--architecturally, culturally and ethnically--which Galle is today.

The Dutch captured the city from the Portuguese in 1640, and immediately began strengthening the fortifications. They remained for almost 150 years, until the city was in turn taken by the British in 1796. Not until 1947, when Ceylon gained its independence from the British, did Galle become, once again, an independent city--and by this time the long years of association with European colonialism had left an indelible stamp on the city which makes it unique in today's Sri Lanka. In recognition of this fact, the Old City of Galle--essentially the fort and its surroundings--was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.

History of Galle Fort and Galle

Galle is really a tale of two cities. Inland, to the north of the Colombo-Matara Road, is the modern commercial town characterised by a jumble of bustling stores, warehouses and small restaurants. Here, by the banks of the old Dutch Canal, may be found the railway station, bus station and main bazaar. It's a place to arrive, leave, eat, shop for necessities or change money (though there are also two money-changing facilities within the fort itself). The only building worthy of note is St Mary's Cathedral, built by the British in 1874, and of more interest for the views its provides over the Old Town than for any intrinsic architectural merit. Nevertheless, "New Galle" is the beating commercial heart of the city without which the Old Town would have difficulty surviving, and would lose much of its bucolic charm.

Immediately south of the Colombo-Matara Road, and dividing the commercial sector from the old fort, lies an area of open land which, since 1998, has acquired increasing international fame. Once known simply as The Esplanade, it is now graced with the title Galle International Stadium, an international test cricket venue which continues to grow in stature and reputation alongside the remarkable successes of the Sri Lankan national team [see box below].

Just to the south of the stadium Old Galle begins. Its barriers are unmistakable, as three massive bastions rise up behind the playing field, cutting off the fortified peninsular from the hustle and bustle of commerce -- almost, it might seem, from the 21st century.

Galle Fort covers an area of 36 hectares and encloses several museums, a clock tower, churches, mosques, a lighthouse and several hundred private dwellings. Tellingly, there are no major Buddhist temples within the walls -- the Dutch may have been gone for more than two centuries, but their cultural influence, best represented by the crumbling Groote Kerk, local seat of the Dutch Reformed Church, remains palpable.

It takes a full day to explore Galle Fort properly, but given this length of time the exploration can be carried out in a leisurely and relaxing manner by foot. The ancient walls, dating in large part from the Dutch establishment of the fort in 1663, are largely intact and make a wonderfully evocative circuitous walk around the fort, especially at dusk when the setting sun illumines the historic western ramparts.

The City Ramparts: Galle's Dutch defenders feared—mistakenly, as it turned out—assault by land from the Sinhala kings more than the threat by sea from their British cousins. Accordingly, three great ramparts were built at tremendous cost in both labour and treasure to isolate the peninsula from "the mainland". Stretching across the peninsula from west to east, these are the Star Bastion, the Moon Bastion and the Sun Bastion. Rising high above the present-day esplanade, these deep, crenellated fortifications must once have appeared all-but-impregnable to the armies of Kandy and Colombo. Today, however--and let the visitor be forewarned--their angular crevices provide privacy for courting couples rather than security for archers and musketeers. Quite seriously, one should approach these outer battlements with discretion for fear of giving offence. Towards dusk there is hardly a recess in the battlements without its pair of cuddling teenagers, often shielded from prying eyes behind a large umbrella!

It takes about two hours for a leisurely stroll around the walls of the Old City. Only once, between the Aurora Bastion and the Main Gate, is it necessary to descend into the fort itself. Yet this is no great hardship, for nearby is the distinguished New Oriental Hotel, built by the Dutch in 1684 as a governorial mansion, where cold beer, lime soda and other more substantial sustenance are readily available.

It's best to make a circuit of the walls clockwise, starting at the New Oriental Hotel. From here it's just a short stroll, beneath great, shady rain trees, to the Aurora Bastion. Continue southwards, with fine views over old Galle Harbour to the east, to reach the 20m-high lighthouse, built by the British in 1934, which dominates Point Utrecht Bastion at the fort's south-eastern corner. The walk continues due west, skirting the Indian Ocean past Triton, Neptune and Clippenburg Bastions -- all, more likely than not, with a few courting couples gazing into the setting sunset.

Beyond Clippenburg, as the fortifications turn due north towards Star Bastion and the main northern defences, there is a Sri Lankan Army camp at Aeolus Bastion .

Inside Galle Fort

The real charm of Old Galle lies in the quiet back streets and alleyways of the historic fort, which have changed little--if at all -- since colonial times. There are two entries into the fort, the Main Gate, built by the British in 1873 which pierces the main ramparts between the Sun and Moon Bastions, and the more venerable Old Gate, further to the east on Baladaksha Maw (or Customs Road). The latter is distinguished by the British coat of arms carved into its outer stone lintel, while on the inside the initials VOC, flanked by two lions and surmounted by a cock are deeply etched on the inner lintel. This latter inscription is dated 1669, and VOC stands for the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or United East India Company. The cockerel has become a symbol of Galle, and it is even suggested that the name of the city derives from galo, which is "rooster" in Portuguese. Just beyond the Old Gate stands the Zwart Bastion, or Black Fort--the oldest fortification surviving in Galle, and thought to be of Portuguese origin.

With the exception of Zwart Bastion, the interior of Galle Fort is strongly redolent of the Dutch period. Several of the narrow streets still bear Dutch names such as Leyn Baan or "Rope Lane" and Mohrische Kramer Straat or "Street of the Moorish Traders". Beneath the streets an efficient, Dutch-built sewerage system is still flushed out twice daily by the rising tides of the Indian Ocean. Many of the streets are lined with formerly opulent buildings characterised by large rooms, arched verandas and windows protected by heavy, wooden-louvered shutters.

The northern part of the fort is dominated by the British-built Clock Tower and a small roundabout located immediately within the Main Gate. From here Church Street curves away south past the National Cultural Museum (Tue-Sat 9am-5pm; Rs35) with rather poorly displayed exhibits of the city's colonial heritage. The National Maritime Museum on nearby Queen Street (Sun-Thu 9am-5pm; Rs55) is similarly dilapidated, but of more interest than the various fishing and other maritime artefacts is the massively fortified Dutch warehouse in which they are displayed. Old Galle is of much more interest as a "living museum" than for the museums it houses, but it's worth making a quick visit to the Dutch Period Museum on Leyn Baan (daily 8.30am-5.30pm; admission free). This privately-owned establishment houses an astonishing array of Dutch-period artefacts ranging from rare porcelain to obscure bric-a-brac.

Of far more interest than the museums is the dilapidated Groot Kerk or Dutch Reformed Church, located--appropriately enough--on Church Street just south of the New Oriental Hotel. Founded in 1754 by the then Dutch Governor of Galle, Capar de Jong, it's in urgent need of restoration but well worth visiting for the ancient Dutch gravestones, both in the churchyard and within the nave. These are generally distinguished by skulls and skeletons, grim reminders of the tenuous nature of life in 18th century Galle, as well as characteristic of the dour nature of contemporary Dutch Protestantism.

Opposite the Groot Kerk stands the old Dutch Government House, a fine old colonial building bearing the date 1683 and the cockerel crest of Galle over the main entrance. The original Dutch ovens still survive within the building, which is currently used as a commercial office but slated for redevelopment as a luxury hotel; whether this venture will succeed remains to be seen, as the house is generally believed to be haunted.

Further south along Church Street stands the Anglican All Saints Church, built by the British in 1868 and consecrated in 1871. Beyond this, at the southernmost point of the peninsula, a small Moorish community still prospers, with a madrassa or Islamic college and two mosques, the most impressive of which is the Meera Masjid. It's fine to enter, but as with similar Christian, Buddhist and Hindu institutions you should be appropriately dressed and respectful of worshippers.

Practicalities

The best way of getting to Galle from Colombo is by either train or bus. Regular CTB and private buses ply the coastal A2 (Galle Road) highway. Air-conditioned express buses cost Rs175 or US$ 1.75 (3 hours) and leave every 15 minutes from Colombo's Bastian Mawatha station. The express buses are preferable to the ordinary buses (Rs87 or US$ 0.87) which can get awfully crowded. All buses pull in at Galle's busy bus station opposite the cricket ground. Ten trains leave either Colombo's Fort or Maradana stations daily for Galle. The journey takes around 2 1/2 hours and both 1st and 2nd class seats are available on most trains. From Galle there's a daily train to Kandy (6–7 hours). Galle railway station is slightly to the west of the bus station on the Colombo Road. Taxis at more than RS 6000 or US$ 60 a trip between Colombo and Galle are an expensive option.

Dutch Money

The flow of the Dutch money into fort is changing the economic impact of the Fort Residents. [Fatima Koppenf Adam] is the chief financier to bring back the old glory to the fort. Fatima is the niece of Malik Jahn, a former field Hockey star who plays a pivotal role in bringing sports to the Fort residents.

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