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This place is one of the most visited sites in Sri Lanka and has an amazing and important story in the history of the country. Have you ever heard about this place?
It is also known as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of it’s “unique exposition of an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries” as said on the official site. This truly is an interesting place with a lot of different religions and ethnicity’s along with some pretty non-Asian architecture, and next, you are going to find out why!
The fort stands today next to the city of Galle which is on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. The earliest recorded history of Galle is from the 2nd century AD and it’s said that it has been a busy port from the beginning.
This was when Sri Lanka was called Ceylon. We are not going into that any further so we jump straight to 1505 when the Portuguese landed here. They had an alliance with the king at the time so they started making some changes around the area, including the initial fort construction called “Santa Cruz” which was built of mud and palm trees. Later it was extended with some watchtowers and bastions.
The Portuguese also moved to Colombo but they had to return to Galle in 1588 after the King (Raja Singha I 1581-1593) attacked them. The story of the Portuguese ended in 1640 when 2500 Dutchmen attacked the fort and captured it, this was made in an agreement with the King (Raja Singha II).
When the Dutch settled down they started to improve the fort and also build a lot of the buildings that still are there today. This included a Protestant church, the Commander’s residence, public administration buildings, a gun house and arsenal, residential quarters, warehouses and buildings for trade and defense.
The British invaded Colombo in 1796 and a week later they conquered The Galle fort also. They used Colombo as their main base and did not pay much attention to the importance of the fort. It was used as the Southern headquarters and they did build some landmarks that are there still today. The lighthouse that is on the southern tip and probably the most recognizable of all builds by the British. They also made a lot of reinforcements to the fort during the Second World War.
THE FORT TODAY
Galle Fort is today in very good condition and it is a peaceful place to spend a day, or a few. There are two main gates from where you can enter the fort and once inside you are free to explore and investigate the place as much as you like. All the old Dutch and British architecture is still in place and it kind of feels like entering an old European town when you get in.
There are some museums and a lot of cafe’s to spend your time in. Quite a lot of art is also found when walking the streets. An interesting thing is that some of the street names are still in the original Colonial Era names; such as Lighthouse street, Hospital street and more like this.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE
The best way to explore the site is by walking, it is fairly small and one day will be enough to see most of it. When you enter the fort you will right away get the feeling of what it’s like with the small narrow streets and the European vibe around it.
One of the best views open up on the west side, the coast side where you can walk on top of the wall and hang out on the grass and enjoy the views. This is also where the lighthouse is. Another interesting spot is the north part of the fort whit massive stone walls and a clock tower rising to the sky.
When you enter the streets you can find the National Maritime Museum which is built in the old Great Warehouse where the Dutch stored spices and ship equipment. Then there is the Dutch Reformed church, Meera Mosque, The Buddhist temple that is built on the site of the old Portuguese Roman Catholic Church and The Old Dutch hospital.
There are also more government buildings to see but most interesting is the fusion of the Asian and European way of living. Go visit the art shops and small galleries and cafe’s, it is also possible to take a Sri Lankan cooking class!
There are several nice restaurants also varying from Dutch, Portuguese, Indian and Sri Lankan food. And if you are interested in staying for the night that is also possible. The sunset from the fort is very amazing and might be a reason you want to stay.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are interested in sleeping inside the fort it is possible. The fort gets quiet during the evening when most of the tourists are gone and you get to feel the real Galle fort magic.
Here are some places you might want to consider:
*Beatrice House is located right next to the ocean wall so it’s easy to get to the best views.
*Samaya Fort Hotel – every room is equipped with a balcony, private bathroom, and bath!
*Millennium Rest & Gems are one of the cheapest in the area and all rooms have air conditioning and private bathroom.
In between stay:
*Parawa House built in a European style with some artistic features.
*Deco On 44 has a swimming pool and is an Art Deco building restored in the 1930s.
*LE JARDIN DU FORT is set on the south side right next to the beach. All rooms have a patio with garden view.
*The Bartizan Galle Fort is one of the only places to stay with a Seaview and the hotel is built in a Dutch colonial building.
*Taru Villas – Rampart Street – this is the world-class standard hotel with celebrity treatment.
*Fort Square Boutique Villa* is another “superstar” stay. This is luxury!
HOW TO GET THERE
All you have to do is get to Galle and from there you can walk for 5 minutes or take a tuk-tuk. The best and cheapest way to get to Galle is by train or bus. All the trains going south from Colombo stops at Galle. And if you come from the south you can hop on the train in Matara. There are several different routes of buses also going to Galle many times a day and this is for sure the cheapest way.
You can also rent a scooter and drive there yourself, but remember to be careful because the Sri Lankan traffic can be very hectic (watch out for buses driving fast). The other easy way to get there is by tuk-tuk, you can rent the tuk-tuk for the whole day and the driver may even be willing to show you around the place.