Galle (pronounced gawl in English, and gaar-le in Sinhala) is a living time capsule. It has a vibrant commercial district that’s also shambolic and often charmless, but pass through one of the Fort gates and you are transported back to the Dutch colonial era.
Built by the Dutch beginning in 1663, the 36-hectare Fort occupies most of the promontory that forms the older part of Galle. Described by the notoriously hard-to-please Paul Theroux as being ‘garlanded with red hibiscus and smelling of the palm-scented ocean, ’ the Fort is an amazing collection of structures and culture dating back through the centuries. Just wandering the streets at random yields one architectural surprise after another. And be sure to take in the dramatic views of town and ocean from the encircling walls. Unesco has recognised Fort as a World Heritage Site.
A key part of the Fort’s allure, however, is that it isn’t just a pretty place. Rather, it remains a working community: there are administrative offices, courts, export companies and lots of regular folks populating the streets. There’s a definite energy in the air, and tourism takes a back seat. However, this may not be the case for long. Some excellent boutique hotels have opened and locals are busily selling their often amazing unrestored vintage buildings to foreigners and speculators. The Fort is definitely one of those places that in a few years will have people saying: ‘Oh you should have seen it before.’ So hurry up and visit before ‘before’ is past.
Galle is easily reached as a day trip from Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. But an increasing number of travellers are staying within the atmospheric walls of the Fort, instead choosing to make day trips to the beach towns.
Galle destination guides
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