Historic Galle

Historical scholars link Galle to the Old Testament city of Tarshish to which King Solomon sent his merchant ships to "procure gold, silver, apes and peacocks" and to where Jonah fled from the Lord. However Galle as it is seen today is inextricably linked to the great maritime powers of the 16th and 17th centuries, Portugal, Holland and England. Local folklore attributes the name of Galle to the Portuguese word "galo" or cock, in 1505, when, upon hearing a cock crow whilst on their first landing in Galle. It is more likely that the city received its name from the sinhalese word "gal" meaning rock of which there are many in the harbour and upon which many a ship has floundered. Whatever the case the city coat of arms carries both the cock and a rock as its emblem. It was not until 1589 that the Portuguese built a permanent settlement which was called Santa Cruz (identified today as the site of the Zwart or black bastion). In 1640 after a very bloody four-day battle, the Dutch took control of Galle and in 1663 started building the 90-acre ( 36 hectare) site with the help of negro slaves and the granite ballast from its merchant ships arriving from europe. It is this fort that is largely intact today and which is one of the best preserved Dutch forts in Asia, and the reason it was named a UN World Heritage site in 1988.

In 1796 Galle was ceded to the British under whom it rapidly became the gateway to the orient owing to its central position in what was then and still is the world's busiest shipping route. Sadly for Galle though, its importance went into decline with the building of the breakwater in Colombo in 1875.

The history of colonial Galle is well documented in guide books, though perhaps the most informative and interesting account is by Norah Roberts.

A walk around the ramparts of Galle at dawn or at sunset is a must. The massive ramparts built primarily by negro slaves using the ballast from dutch ships arriving from europe comprise 11 bastions. The area between the present army garrison and Neptune bastion now serving as a multiple and impromptu cricket ground. The ramparts between Neptune and Point Eutrecht serving as a promenade for the community.

A walk around the inside streets of the fort reveal a myriad of old streets and houses, many with their original names and facades, a true time warp to the past.

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