It’s late on a Friday afternoon in historic Galle, and there’s hundreds of school children out in their tidy, white uniforms. Teachers keep a watchful eye on the youngsters as they walk hand-in-hand along the fort walls and play on the beaches. Their youth is an irresistible foil to this exotic old trading port in southern Sri Lanka. We are captivated by Galle’s ambiance. Come along as we a stroll atop the 17th century, Dutch-built fortification and explore the atmospheric walled town.
The Indian Ocean gently laps against the 400-year-old walls, the lighthouse stands elegantly under a darkening sky, palm trees sway, and whitewashed mosques, temples and churches dot the low-slung townscape. There are few things more romantic than a sunset walk on the Galle ramparts.
What is it about a walled town that takes the imagination back to times gone by? Persians, Arabs, Malays, Chinese…they all passed through this seaport long before the Europeans arrived. The Portuguese, who ruled Sri Lanka from 1505 to 1658, first put Galle on the map and built a rudimentary fort. Only small portions of the Portuguese structure survived after the Dutch took Galle in 1640 and constructed the large fortification that stands today. When Galle passed to British rule in 1796, the city’s prominence soon declined as Colombo was established as the capital and main port. But the British too, left their mark with, among other things, the construction of a lighthouse and expansion of the main gate leading into the fortified city. They’ve all contributed to the allure and multi-ethnic, multi-religious mix of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sunset at Galle Fort is a vibrant scene. School kids, courting couples, local families, and tourists fill the benches, lookouts, and beaches. It’s a delightful display and we find ourselves taking far more photos of people (mostly the kids) than the actual sunset.
While sunset is the quintessential Galle experience, the fort walls bring unexpected pleasures at other hours. I’m not usually an early bird, but jetlag has my wide awake for sunrise. I take advantage of the situation and quietly slip out of our quaint guesthouse.
The ramparts are deserted excepted for the occasional jogger. The lookouts are gloriously peaceful, so unlike the sunset frenzy.
By the time I’ve circumnavigated the approximately 3 km of walls and perimeter of the old town, the Muslim dawn prayers have finished. The men have gathered outside, under the soft glow of the early morning sun. I find this unhurried scene so soothing.
Later in the day, I venture out again with Mike. We wonder why there are so many young men gathered on the walls by the giant clocktower. It’s Saturday and there’s a big cricket match at the Galle stadium. It turns out that the fort walls provide the perfect perch to watch the action in the stadium below.
Inside the fort walls, the rambling lanes are home to boutique hotels, bohemian shops, spas, cafes, and restaurants. It’s touristy, but not in a bad way. I admire how many of the Colonial building have been lovingly restored. I like that tourist infrastructure, local homes, businesses, and places of worship sit side-by-side. I’m intrigued to find Dutch-period churches, Buddhist temples, and mosques standing mere blocks apart.
When the sun sets, twinkle lights span the main tourist streets inside the walled town.
Wandering through old Galle, we are charmed by many pretty artistic displays.
The locals running this spice shop have their priorities straight.
We see lots of laid back police officers riding through town on their bikes and chatting with residents.
The Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1752, is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest Protestant churches still in use.
Right next to the Dutch Reformed Church is the Galle Library, originally built by the Dutch and established as a library in 1832. It houses many historical books and documents.
Just down the road, the imposing All Saints Anglican Church was built in 1868 under British rule.
We can’t resist peering into Meeran Mosque, the centre of Galle Fort’s large Muslim population, during evening prayers.
Just a few hundred meters from the churches and mosque, we find Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple with its exquisitely painted walls and statues.
There are plenty of quirky reminders of the British influence.
Galle is a gem and like no other place in Sri Lanka. Its historic sites are impressive, but it’s Galle’s ambiance—the seamless blend of old and new, chic and shabby, tourist spot and resident community— that I find most endearing.
What have I been up to? You may have noticed, I’ve had an even longer than usual blogging hiatus. We’ve just spent an amazing month cycling and touring in France’s Normandy and Brittany. I will eventually get to writing about this experience, but I’m determined to do more posts about Sri Lanka first and catch up on what new with you.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our 3 1/2 weeks in Sri Lanka, check out my highlights and links to previous posts. My next post will likely be about Ella.