History of the Galle Dutch Fort:

Colonial history whilst exploring the stunning 17th and 19th century architecture.



Galle has a very long history.It was also marked as an island in Ptolemy’s map (125-150 AD). During that time Galle was a busy port. Foreign traders such as Greeks, Arabs and Chinese have been visiting Galle for trade.

Portuguese first arrived in Sri Lanka from Galle harbour. Their arrival completely changed the course of Sri Lankan history. Their arrival, however, was not a planned one. As their ship was caught in a storm and it was the winds that brought their ship to Galle.

After their arrival in Sri Lanka, they befriended DharmaparakramaBahu, the then King of Kotte. He permitted them to build a fort and church inside. Even though The Fort was initially meant to be for the security of the Sinhalese, later that Fort became the prison to keep Sinhalese who opposed them.

The Portuguese had moved to Colombo from Galle as they preferred that place. In 1588, , they were attacked by the Sinhalese King Rajasinghe I (1581-93) of Sitawaka, which forced the Portuguese to go back to Galle. At Galle, they initially built a small fort out of palm trees and mud. They called it the Santa Cruz, and later extended it with a watch tower and three bastions and a “fortalice” to guard the harbour.

In 1640, the events took a turn with the Dutch entering the fray joining hands with King Rajasinhe II to capture the Galle Fort. The Dutch, with a force of some 2,500 men under Koster, captured the fort from the Portuguese in 1640 itself. Although not an ideal situation for the Sinhalese, they were instrumental in building the Fort as seen in its present form in the Dutch architectural style. Fortifications continued to be built until the early 18th century. Since Dutch were not better than the Portuguese. This gave rise to the Sinhala proverb which means ‘Like taking Chillies by giving ginger’  (Inguru deela Miris gaththa vagey).

The Galle Dutch Fort consisted of public administration buildings, warehouses, business houses and residential quarters. A Protestant church (planned by Abraham Anthonisz) was also built in baroque style in 1775 to cater to the colonists and the local people who were converted to Christianity.

The most prominent buildings in the Fort complex were the Commandant’s residence, the arsenal and the gun house. Other buildings erected in the fort catered to trade and defense requirements such as workshops for forgings, carpentry, smithy, rope making and so forth. They also built an elaborate system of sewers that were flooded at high tide, taking the sewage away to sea.

The Aurora Bastion, Tremon Bastion, Kleipenberg Bastion, Emaloon Bastion and the Light House enhance the beauty of the Fort. Some of the street names in the Fort still bear Dutch words. The Oriental Hotel inside Fort which was built in 1694 , was a building constructed for the use of Dutch Governor and his officials. The Dutch Museum consists of a large collection of items used during the Dutch Period. The museum is near the Oriental Hotel while the first Marine Museum of Sri Lanka is housed near the Old Gate.

The walls of the Fort at entrance were built by the Dutch according to their style of architecture. The building inside the Fort are also of Dutch architecture. The Dutch were also responsible for introducing a system of roads and canals for transportation. They devised a sewage system to carry all the waste in the Fort to the sea by gravity, using the high tide.

There are two main gates in Galle Fort. The walls in front of the Fort were built by the Portuguese . The Dutch have reinforced them by building several bastions. – Star Bastion, Moon Bastion and Sun Bastion. In the gate from where you enter towards the harbour, outer walls contain the logo of the British while you see VOC, the logo of the Dutch East India Company on the inside walls.

The breadfruit tree in the Fort is believed to be the oldest breadfruit tree in Sri Lanka. Popular belief is that the Dutch introduced breadfruit to Sri Lanka thinking that the highly ‘heaty’ nature of breadfruit would either kill them or make them sick. But Sri Lankans ate breadfruit with coconut which neutralised the adverse effects of breadfruit. Ultimately, it became a delicacy among the population. It is now considered to be very tasty and nourishing. It is so popular now that there is no part of Sri Lanka where you cannot find a breadfruit tree if it could be grown there.

One week after Colombo was captured ,The British took over the Fort on February 23, 1796. Sri Lanka remained a British colony from 1815 till it became an independent island nation in 1948. In 1865, part of the fort was converted into the New Oriental Hotel, becoming the Amangalla in 2005.

The importance of Galle also declined after the British developed Colombo as their capital and main port in the mid nineteenth century.

The 2004 tsunami had a devastating effect on the Galle Fort. Most of the buildings were either completely destroyed or were damaged to a large extent. Those completely destroyed are being rebuilt again and those which were damaged are being renovated under the supervision of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs so that the new buildings and the renovations retain the old appearance which was there prior to tsunami.

Galle, therefore, is a place which is of historical, archaeological and architectural significance. Galle has a multi ethnic and multi-religious population. All these communities live in peace and harmony.

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