Galle was on our wishlist ever since its ramparts started appearing in the Instagram feeds of our friends. We have always been enamoured with colonial style of architecture, and hence our fascination with places like Pondicherry, Goa and Cochin, and was excited to see what was in store for us here. We got much more than what we had expected!
Galle over Centuries
Galle has been known to the seafaring world since the days of King Solomon, finding a mention in Ptolemy’s maps and records of the Greeks, Arabs and the Chinese. However, the Galle as we know today owes its identity mainly to the Dutch. In 1663 AD, the Dutch East India Company wrestled this important port from the Portuguese and started replacing the original mud and palisade fortress with stone bastions and fortifications. What followed was a building spree and most of what we see today were constructed during this period. New structures were added till the early 18th Century and final strokes were drawn on this beautiful canvas.
Pointe de Galles. View of the port of Galle in Ceylon in 1754. Image from the “Travelogues of René Augustin Constantin Renneville”. Published in Amsterdam.
When the British took over in 1796, they left the fort practically unchanged and even tried to preserve it in its original form. As the focus shifted to Colombo, the Galle fort declined in commercial importance and evolved as a reminder of the rich colonial heritage of Sri Lanka.
We took the expressway from the Colombo Airport to Galle and the quality of the road was astonishing. This expressway is world class and added with the amazing driving etiquette of the Sri Lankans, makes a very pleasant 2.5 hours ride. Our wondrous eyes ogled at the beautiful streets of Galle fort as we navigated through the alleys to our guesthouse. This place seems straight out of a totally different era, beautifully built and impeccably maintained.
Our accommodation was at Peddler 62, a cosy boutique hotel on the Peddler Street managed by a wonderful family. Since our room was not ready yet, we just dumped our backpacks there, asked Loxley to go and relax and went about doing some preliminary explorations.
Akersloot Bastion & Dutch Hospital
On impulse, we starting walking along the Peddler Street in the direction of the sea. This alley seemed magical, a time machine of sorts. The shops and buildings lining up the street seem to be from a different era altogether, a five out of five on aesthetics, charm and maintenance! We walked until the end of the street, crossed the Hospital Street and climbed upon the Akersloot bastion. While it gives a fantastic view of the Galle harbour and bay on the left and the front, on the right we could get a glimpse of a beautiful white sand beach and more bastions beyond it. This bastion is one of the 14 at the fort and as many as seven canons were once installed to provide cover to the harbour.
Just beside the Akersloot bastion is the Old Dutch Hospital. Built in the 17th century, the hospital has also served as barracks and government officials, finally settling down to become on the most well-known museums of Galle. The design is of the typical Dutch colonial style, two stories whitewashed building with a sloping roof and has colonnaded verandahs on both sides. The courtyard of this building serves as a café. It was afternoon and the staff of the café were busy in a game of cricket, a passion that India and Sri Lanka share with similar intensity.
Red tuk-tuks and other vehicles lined up at the pretty Pedlar Street.
Above: The beautiful Dutch Hospital right by the sea. This photograph was taken from the ramp of the Akersloot bastion when a game was not going on. The restaurant is in the courtyard.
Below: A friendly peddler at the Pedlar Street. Our friend is a polyglot and can speak up to 16 languages, his Hindi was impressive!
On the right of the bastion is the Lighthouse, which dates back to 1848. Built by the British, it was devastated in a fire in 1934 and rebuilt in 1939, and has been welcoming seafarers to Galle since then. The light was just perfect at this time, with just the right amount of clouds over the milky white tower and we spent some time taking photographs before getting on the ramparts again.
The Galle Light House
We walked to the Aurora bastion, named after a Roman goddess. Apparently, this bastion was named so because it gives the best view during sunrise. The view was great even then, turquoise blue water reflecting an equally blue sky and the rocky formations in off the coast added to the drama in the frame. We decided to return to the hotel at this point, to check in and freshen up before foraging for food.
Aurora Bastion. The skies were perfect and so was the turquoise green sea. Lots of photo-shoots were going on.
A Walk Around the Fort
Monsoons in Sri Lanka are characterised by mercurial weather. The skies that were clear and beautiful blue became overcast within a couple of hours and these conditions prevailed till late in the evening.
So, it was already drizzling by the time we came out of the hotel. After a heavy (and expensive) lunch at the Fort Printers Hotel, we turned to the Church Street and started walking. There are some very beautiful buildings on this street, like the Chambers and the Galle Fort Hotel. We crossed the Fort Bazaar, past the All Saint’s Church and came to the Dutch Reformed Church just next to the derlecit old library and postoffice .
All Saint’s Church (Estd 1871), Church Street. Galle Fort.
Built in 1755, the Groote Kerk or Dutch Reformed Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Sri Lanka. It is built on the highest point on the Galle Island. An elegant white structure in the Doric style, it reminded us of some churches that we have seen in Goa and Kerala. It has beautiful stained-glass windows and a hexagonal pulpit. There are many graves within the campus, of people who have long passed. In all, an elegant and sombre place.
The belfry of the church is detached from the main structure and is curiously placed on the other side of the street. It precedes the church and is from 1701, probably part of the Portuguese convent that existed there earlier.
The front facade of Groote Kerk, Church Street, Galle Fort.
The Cobbled Streets of Galle
Galle is a Time Machine, and there is no better way to know that than shedding the laziness and taking a stroll around the town. Time stood still as well walked on the cobbled stones of its streets. All those beautiful houses, quirky shops, fancy restaurants and smiling people filled our heart with happiness!
The paved streets of Galle, Church Street.
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist. Hospital Street.
Vintage. Pedlar Street.
Lets call this place the Town Square. All roads led to this place.
On The Ramparts
A walk on the ramparts of the Galle Fort is a romantic experience. The views are great, beautiful clear skies, waves of the turquoise sea hitting the walls and a gorgeous town from another century. So we walked along the moss-covered walls that have defied enemies and elements for centuries and completed almost one round of the fort.
The main gate of the fort is heavily fortified with three bastions, namely the Star, Moon and Sun bastion. The moon bastion has a clock tower built by the British in 1882. Remnants of a moat can still be found in front of the walls and the famed Galle Stadium is just a stone’s throw away from the main gate.
The front gate with Clock Tower and Moon Bastion
Cricket is a way of life in Galle, with the famous Galle statium just outside the fort. Kids at the fort were no less enthusiastic about the sport.
Galle Harbour, as seen from the Moon bastion.
After The Sunset
The light started fading as the sun started setting in the horizon. We proceeded towards the sea facing side. The skies turned a dramatic orange with clouds creating interesting patterns. It was a serene evening and we felt completely at peace with this beautiful place which had bestowed its bounties on us. We always wanted to see Galle, and the wish was granted in ways more than we had thought of.
The sea off Galle, after the sunset…
There was slight drizzle and Ekta had her polka dot umbrella on.
So this was the end of our stay in Galle. The town sleeps early so we found a good place to have the dinner and walked back to our hotel. We had plans to wake up early the next morning for Chasing Whales in Mirissa so called it a day soon.
Given a chance, I would like to visit Galle again and spend a few days there. For anyone interested in history, culture, architecture and arts, it is such a fulfilling place…
Galle streets at night, one of the last glimpses of this place that we carried back with us.