According to Sir James Emerson Tennant Galle was the “Tarshish” referred to in the Bible as the port where ships trading with King Soloman obtained their Elephants, Peacocks and Gemstones. Most certainly the place where the Galle Fort now stands as well as other areas in Galle like Unawatuna, Magalle, Kaluwella and even the China Gardens (which held a colony of Chinese traders several years ago) were all areas with historic connections which go back long before the Portuguese Era. International traders, Persians, Moor traders from the Persian Gulf, South Indian traders, Malays and a host of other nationalities lived and traded in Galle. The Cripps Road inscription reveals the polyglot and poly-ethnic character of Galle. Even in early British times the earliest Embassies were situated in Galle. For example the first Consul from USA was resident in Galle.
The Galle dutch fortress was built by the Dutch during their reign of rule between 1656 to 1796. It is the largest and the most secured fortress in Sri Lanka.
It was declared an archeological reserve by the U. N. since 1969.
In December 1988, UNESCO declared Galle Fortress as a World Heritage Site and their 38th Monument. A Parliament Act titled Galle Heritage Foundation Act was passed in 1994 in Sri Lanka.
In addition to all these declarations, Galle Fort is unique, very special and charming as there are no other sites, areas, fortress or location when compared with Galle Fort walled city of 38 hectares (90 acres) in the whole country.
Symbol of history
The Fort of Galle is the living symbol of all this history unless the Sri Lanka Government becomes conscious of its responsibility to protect and preserve the tangible remains of our history, not only in Galle, but all over Sri Lanka all will be lost. Let the world heritage site of Galle remain symbolic of its heritage and not become a centre of palatial dwellings of foreigners, night clubs and all that go with them.
It is the only place in Sri Lanka that still retains a unique old world atmosphere and its unique place in the history of VOC. It houses eight religious institutions that include Temples, Y.M.B.A, Y.W.C.A churches, Mosques, Zaviyas and Thakkiyas etc, that have pioneered and propagated religion and upheld all cultural values, morals, traditions, customs and other activities for several centuries.
Galle is also home to educational institutions such as Southlands Maha Balika Vidyalaya established, in 1885 for girls, All Saints Maha Vidyalaya established in 1876 for boys, Al Bahjathul Ibrahimiya Arabic College established in 1892 for boys from all over Sri Lanka and three other montessori schools in operation.
Eighty per cent of Galle Fort has remained valued residential location. It has around 375 dwelling houses of Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils, Burghers and other denominations living for years in total harmony without any communal differences.
Galle Fort remains an esteemed and respected residential location for centuries, with its rich religious, educational and cultural values.
It has also produced and is producing eminent scholars, educationists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, professionals and reputed businessmen. In addition, there are some 25 small business premises and about 16 government offices.
During the communal riots and curfews, this Fortress was the rescue location. The Police and the Government authorities located 100 of families inside the Fortress and gave them the necessary protection which saved many lives. They were kept in several institutions in Galle Fort for weeks and months providing adequate protection.
The Fort apart from having one of the oldest libraries established in 1832, also houses lawyers complexes and courts and three commercial banks and two small museums.
The natural harbour though undeveloped and not maintained for several years, still remains unique. Historically this harbour has the distinction of being the gateway to several Sri Lankan exports such as cinnamon, coir, copra, rubber etc.
The sea beaches and the beautiful ramparts surrounding the Fortress have become natures inspiration which has been frequently featured in numerous magazines both here and abroad. The tranquil and serenity of this environment is gradually deteriorating due to houses being converted into liquor bars and vice dens.
The history of Galle Fort reveals that it has maintained an impeccable reputation, devoid of criminal records at all time resulting in all communities within the Fort living in peace and amity upholding all human values.
The combination of historical, archaelogical, architectural institutional and residential, buildings and the fortress has inspired and influenced UNESCO to declare Galle Fortress as a world heritage which should last for many centuries to come than being modified and converted into varied types of liquor bars and vice dens.
Galle is one of 213 places of great historical value in the world that should be conserved and protected for posterity.
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.