As we travelled through Sri Lanka, we slowly realized that the country has a number of well-preserved forts that are visiting. The first fort that we visited was the Galle Fort located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in a city called Galle. The last part as rather obvious wasn’t it? Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have headed to Galle if it wasn’t on our way to the southern coast. If it wasn’t for the Galle fort we probably wouldn’t have stopped there on our way. Luckily, a friend who stays in Colombo emphasized that it is a must see even if it is to spend just a couple of hours in the fort, so we added it to our list of things to do while backpacking through the country.
THE HISTORY OF GALLE FORT
You would be surprised to know that although a lot of people say that Galle fort is a Dutch fort, it was originally built by the Portuguese and taken over by the Dutch somewhere in the 17th century. This means that the entire fort has a very European look to it. As you walk around the fort, you will find it hard to believe that the fort has been standing for 400+ years especially since it is so well maintained. Due to its historical and archaeological significance, the Galle fort has been recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. I’m so glad that it has attained the title largely because I hope it will keep the site preserved. From what I’ve read, the Galle fort also withstood the tsunami that battered the coast of Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. While it was damaged, the Sri Lankan government has ensured that the damage was repaired.
A quick note that I found fascinating was that while we kept pronouncing Galle as we Galle like ‘Gale’ or ‘Gail’, the people in Sri Lanka pronounce it as ‘Gaul’. We got a couple of weird looks at first and it took us a while to change the way we pronounced it.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GALLE FORT
At first, I wrongly assumed that Galle Fort was small. I was wrong. The fort walls enclose a city and it can take a while to move around. Walking around is a pleasant experience no matter what time you arrive. The shaded streets provide refuge from the scorching afternoon sun and the laid-back atmosphere is pleasant to indulge in. I personally believe that the best tome to visit is in the evening because you can finish your exploration with watching the sun set on the coast. I will get to that in a bit.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN GALLE FORT
I was rightly told that you can see everything in Galle fort in just two hours. You can do a quick look around and walk away. You can also spend hours walking around and soaking in the ambiance of the place which is an experience. Since we had time, we decided to do the latter. I’m just going to list a number of things that we saw and enjoyed. I’m sure that there were a number of other things that one can do but we got a bit lost in the dimming light in the end.
THE FORT GATES
One of the photographs I clicked next to the fort gates.
The fort has two large gates and they are the first impression that you will get of Galle fort as you enter. The impressive thickness of the fort walls can only truly be understood when you pass through the gates or stand on top of it. One of the things that I loved about the gates was how it feels as if you pass back into time. The chaos of Galle city gets left behind and the quietness of the fort prevails.
One of the most famous landmarks in the fort is the Galle lighthouse. While you can’t climb up to the top of the lighthouse, it does provide a gorgeous backdrop for photographs. The interesting part about the light house is that it has been standing since 1939 which makes it close to a 100 years old. The structure is so well maintained that it looks relatively new.
THE OLD DUTCH HOSPITAL
The old Dutch hospital was one of the first things that we stumbled across. Only, we did not know that we were looking at a hospital. Sure, we did not expect to find medical equipment in it (read sarcasm!) but the government has introduced a new initiative to use the old Dutch hospital as a shopping complex. Okay, that may have made it sound bad. The Dutch hospital is rather tastefully done up. The upper floor has a restaurant with a view of the coast line and the lower floor has a mix of restaurants and boutiques. If you walk around the hospital, you will find a path that will take you up on to the fort wall and give you a view of the sea battering away at the rocky coast below.
One of the many religious structures in Galle fort.
We were surprised at the number an variety of religious structures within Galle fort. While we were walking around the perimeter we saw a Mosque, a Hindu Temple, a Buddhist temple and a steeple of a church in the distance. While each of these sights were beautiful in their own way, the Mosque caught our attention the most. The Meera Mosque is housed within an old church so from a distance you think that it is a church. As you near closer you notice that the top of the building has little semi-circular moons at the top. It struck us as odd. When we walked up to it we heard a man explaining to some tourists that it was a mosque. I have to admit that it warmed my heart in a way that I can’t explain.
WALKING THROUGH THE ALLEYWAYS
Taking a walk shows these gorgeous streets.
One of the nicest things to do in Galle fort is to walk through narrow streets. We found that the streets always had a surprise to offer at every bend. Whether it is a religious structure, a place to eat or the gorgeous façade of the buildings around, you will definitely find something that will capture your attention. You can also catch a bite to eat at some of the restaurants on situated on these roads.
EXPLORE THE FORT WALL
I think that the Galle fort wall offers some of the most amazing views of the both the fort and the sea. You can watch people going about their life, tourists exploring the fort and at the sae time walk on enormous wall exploring a world that has long past by. If you are in Galle fort close to sunset head towards the gates and then move westward to the corner. That is where you will find a perfect view of the sunset. There aren’t too many people milling around and it is rather romantic.
After bustling Colombo, visiting Galle fort was exactly what we needed. It was our first stop towards destressing and in a way, it emphasised just how much we longed for the peace that many parts of Sri Lanka had to offer.