Galle Fort – ගාල්ල කොටුව

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Old entrance of the Galle Fort dated 1668 seen from inside the fort

Old entrance of the Galle Fort dated 1669 seen from inside the fort

The pride of a nation and the country in the eyes of the world is enhanced by its civilization, its culture and its natural beauties. Endowed with these qualifications with a 2500 year old history supported by ancient archaeological treasures, Sri Lanka is rated as a bio diversity hot-spot of the world.

The historical importance of the Galle Fort is unchallenged. The origins of Galle though lost in antiquity still survive through artifacts which confirm its existence in pre Christian and Roman eras. Through medieval ages, the Galle Fort emerged as Ceylon’s major southern international port attracting Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Persian, Roman and Arab traders.

The Galle Dutch Fort is a rare historical jewel protected by dark, thick stone walls – with the endless ocean on one side. The roads inside the Galle Fort have hardly changed, like the squares on a chess board crisscrossing in regular patches. Straight and narrow lanes branch in and out inviting the visitor to a delightful walk into the 17th century.

Today’s Peddler Street was called “Moorse Kramerstraat” by the Dutch, Lighthouse Street was “Zeeburgstraat and Middelpuntstraat”, Hospital Street as `Nieuwe Lijnbaanstraat and Lijnbaanstraat (New Ropewalk Street), Old Ropewalk Street as Oude Lijnbaanstraat (Old Rope-Walk Street), Church Street as Kerkstraat, Parrawa Street as “Parruasstraat” and Chiando Street as “Chiandostraat”. Through this memory walk one would however miss the 17th century familiar vendors who traded in cinnamon, lace, elephants, tortoise and turtle shell ornaments besides the famous down south sweetmeats like “bondi aluwa” hanging in garlands from the shoulders of vendors.

In 1505 a group of Portuguese sailors led by Don Lorenzo de Almeida arrived in the island and they built the first fortification in Galle on a cliff, jutting out into the sea. It was called the Swart Bastion or the Black Fort in 1520.  Later it was fortified and enlarged by the Dutch in 1667.

14 bastions has been identified on the fort today.

Positions of the bastions in Galle Fort

Positions of the bastions in Galle Fort

Sun Bastion

It is recorded that by about 1620 this deference bastion was very strongly built by the Portuguese. It was named by them as Sao Iago.

On 4 th August 1667 it was renamed by the Dutch as the Zon (Sun) Bastion. On this occasion the first canon shots fired as a guard of honour from this bastion was in honour of the fiancé of the Dutch Governor Hester D. Solomin Razikloff Van Govassas.

In 1697 the base of the bastion was further strengthened. By about 1760, there were about 15 canons installed on this bastion.

Moon Bastion

The Portuguese had named this bastion as Conceycao, which meant “the pure conception.” The Dutch originally identified as the Middle Point. In 1667 it was officially named as Mark or the Moon Bastion.

By 1760 there were 19 canons installed on this bastion. The main entrance to the fort lies between the Sun Bastion and the Moon Bastion.  This entrance was made by the British by carving out the rampart.

Star Bastion

This bastion was named by the Portuguese as Sao Antonio (St. Anthony’s). The Dutch first named it the Zee Punt (Sea Bastion). In 1667 it was officially named by them as the Star Bastion. After it was renamed, the first canon shot was fired by the daughter of the then Dutch Commander of Galle Adrian Ruthas.

There were about 6 canons installed on this bastion.

Aeolus Bastion

To defend the western approaches to Galle Fort the Dutch built a long rampart wall linked by four gun platform bastions between the Sun Bastion in the north west corner of the fort and Flag rock in the south west corner. All these bastions are open to public and ideal locations for enjoy the sunset over the sea.

Aeolus means the sea breeze. It is believed that it was so named because the Dutch Naval Commander’s official residence was located here and due to the importance of wind for ships.

Clippenburg Bastion

Clippen means jutting into the sea and burg means village. It has obviously been named due to its setting. During the British period a naval signal station had been located here called the Lloyd Signal Station owned by the Lloyd Company. There are still remnants of the equipment which was installed here.

Neptune Bastion

This is a minor bastion on the western ramparts on the fort. During the Dutch period it had been named Neptune’s Bastion. In British period maps it is marked as Neptune Bastion. This bastion was occupied by flag staff and a signalling station during world war II.

Triton Bastion

Another minor bastion is seen on the exploratory map of Galle Fort which was drawn by chief engineer Reimer in 1790. It is recorded that there was a windmill erected here to draw water which filled tanks with sea water to supply carts which went through the roads of the fort spraying sea water to keep the town dust free and cool.

Flagrock Bastion

This bastion lies at the southernmost end of the fort and has also been known as Visser’s Hoek and Viaggeklip Bastion in the past. According to J.W. Heide, the Dutch flag had been hoisted here by 1733.

In Gems Cordine’s book Description of Ceylon, it is stated that in 1796 the British flag was hoisted here.

In 1848 the first lighthouse in the island of Sri Lanka had been constructed here. The light had been powered by kerosene oil and gas. It had been destroyed by fire around 1930.

Today this is one of the most popular places for tourists to catch the sun sinking beneath the sea over the horizon and during day time you can find a group of local daredevil group jumping off the bastion in the rocky waters below for entertainment of the tourists.

Point Utrecht Bastion

It has been named after the hometown of the first clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church who arrived in Galle in 1641, namely, the Rev.Anhenrio Husaivers. By 1760, it had 6 canons installed.

After the first lighthouse on the Flagrock Bastion was destroyed by fire, the new lighthouse which is 92 feet high was erected here in 1939. Bunkers had been built around the lighthouse during the Second World War. They have been removed sometimes ago.

Near the lighthouse there is a flight of steps leading to the beach where there is a bathing spot. During the British period, it was used as the Ladies Bathing Place.

There is a gunpowder magazine close to this bastion which bears a Dutch inscription from 1782, facing the road.

Aurora Bastion

This bastion is named after the Roman God Aurora. It is believed that it was so named because it is the point in Galle Fort from which one could get the best view of sunrise.

By 1760, 6 canons had been installed here.

Akersloot Bastion

This bastion has been named after the hometown of Commander Wilhelm Jacobs Coster who led the Dutch conquest of Galle Fort. This is located next to the old Dutch hospital building.  It is said  that it was once used during the Dutch period for postmortem examinations. It has a inscription “Akersloot 1759” although infact it was erected earlier.

It is an excellent vantage point for the observation of the Galle harbor and bay. From the British period onwards, it has been used as the official residence of the Harbour Master. It is believed that there were 7 canons installed here to protect the bay from invading vessels.

Another interesting feature of this bastion is the old breadfruit (Artucarpus incisisus) tree found here which is believed to the first bread fruit tree planted by the Dutch on the island of Sri Lanka.

Zwart Bastion (Black Fort)

The Black Fort of Galle, Sri Lanka also called Santa Cruz or Zwart Fort (Zwart Bastian)

The Black Fort of Galle, Sri Lanka also called Santa Cruz or Zwart Fort (Zwart Bastian)

This is believed to be the the original fort of the Portuguese thus the oldest section of the fort. This has been restored and is open to the public.

See here for details of the Black Fort.

Commandment Bastion

This is marked in Reimer’s map of Galle Fort (1790).  It is believed that was named due to its close proximity to the Dutch Commander’s official residence

Fishmark Bastion

his is also found in Reimer’s map of Galle Fort (1790). It is believed that it was named Fishmark because fishing craft could be well observed from here.

Ancient monuments within this historical complex included the Lighthouse, the clock tower, the first Dutch Reformed and Anglican churches, the Meera Mosque, the Buddhist Temple, and the Commander’s Residence. Worthy of mention is the Dutch Reformed Church with its baroque facade and the usual double scroll mouldings on its gables which testify to indigenous influence. The military architecture of the Fort is European in design. The unique Galle Fort is still the best preserved fortified city in South Asia.

 

The fortification of the Galle Fort as a seat of administration was seen during the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods. The neglect of the Fort began after 1948 with vandalism being prevalent.

Considering its importance as an outstanding architectural and archaeological monument in Asia during the colonial period and to prevent its further degradation the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (COSMOS) registered Galle Fort as a World Heritage Site. Subsequently, the Government of Sri Lanka enacted legislation under the Galle Heritage Foundation Act No. 7 of 1991 for the conservation and management of the Galle Fort and environs.

Since then the Galle Public Awareness Programme was launched with assistance from the Netherlands Government in association with the Departments of Archaeology and Museums, the Ceylon Tourist Board and the Amsterdam and the Netherlands Departments of Conservation. A Maritime Museum was opened on March 28 1999.

After government the withdraw restrictions on land ownership by non citizen a large number of heritage buildings within the Galle Fort has been grabbed by foreigners and has been converted in to eateries, pubs and hotels.  Some have blamed that these overseas owners have carried out changes to buildings within this world heritage city violating provisions of the Antiquities Act and of bribery to government officials to look away.

The Galle Fort World Heritage Protection Society (GFWHPS) too has appealed to the made an appeal to the Government urging their immediate attention to protect our World Heritage Sites. They allege that foreigners who purchase sites within the Galle Fort have contravened the Antiquities Act which is a non-bailable offense.

 

Primary Sources :
More protective measures needed for historic Galle Fort. by Florence Wickramage
Galle Heritage Foundation

Also See

Map of  Galle Fort

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.


Driving Directions to Galle Fort

Travel time from Colombo to Galle is approx 1.5 to 2 hours if the new Southern highway is used. For a picturesque drive you can take the A2 route along the coast line. This trip would take 2.5-3 hours from Colombo. The best time to visit the fort is in the evening.

Route from Colombo

distance :126 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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