Old town of Galle and the Fort
The antiquity of Galle is traced by the Hindu Epic, Ramayana, to a site near the harbour where magical herbs were found to heal wounded Rama. galle, it is also believed, was the Tarshish of the Hebrews from which kings Solomon obtained gold and silver, ivory, elephants and peacocks through his navy.
The Arabian traveler and navigator, Ibn Batuta had visited Galle in 1344 and referred to Galle as ‘Qali’. The Arabian stone anchor found within the Galle harbor and place name such as ‘Ja Kotuwa’ (Malay Fort) point to the existence of a settlement of Arabian traders as does the large Muslim community living in Galle.
In 1411, the Chinese admiral Cheng-Ho, who had three hundred ships in his command, reached the ancient sea port of Galle before proceeding to the east coast of Africa. He commemorated his visit by leaving a trilingular inscriptionin three languages, Chinese, Tamil and Persian, implying a cosmopolitan trading community in Galle even then.
In 1505, the chance arrival of Captain Lourenco de Almeida and his men in Galle harbor trigged by an unexpected storm in the seas off the Maldives was not capitalized on by the Portuguese until 1588 when Rajasinha I laid siege to the Portuguese colonists in Colombo; they managed to withdraw along the south coast to Galle where they built a fort to guard the entrance to the harbor.
The Dutch, after they defeated the Portuguese at Galle strengthened and expanded the fort in 1663, and it was strengthened again during the administration of the Dutch Governor Petrus Vuyst (1726-1729). The ramparts and bastions, as seen today in the 36-hectare fort, are as they existed in Dutch times.
With the exception of Zwart Bastion, the interior of Galle fort is strongly reminiscent of the Dutch period. Several of than narrow streets still bear Dutch names such as Leyn Baan or ‘Rope Lane’ and Mohrische Kramer Straat or ‘Street of the Moor Traders’. Most of the older buildings with the Fort date from the Dutch period. Solidly built, they are spacious with deep verandahs and sloping tiled roof supported by slender wooden or big rounded brick pillars.
In the 17th century, because of the lack of a suitable natural harbor at Colombo, Galle acted as important port for transshipment. Galle remained the major port in Sri Lanka even after the arrival of the British in 1796. For more than 200 years Galle harbor was an important stop for boats and ships travelling between Europe and Asia. It was only in 1873 that the present port of Colombo was constructed, leading to the decline of Galle as a fort.