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Galle in Sri Lanka south coast UNESCO heritage tourist destination !

Galle is your “must go” place if you opt for a tour to the south of the island. The town remains an outstanding example of five centuries of interaction between European architecture and Asian tradition.

 

The most salient feature of the city is the fortification built in coral and granite that surrounds the old town. The old town that juts into the sea in a fabulous geometrical fashion and its fortification encompassing Dutch mansions remind you of Malta. The Northern Gate, protected by a drawbridge and a ditch that you can still see, dates back to 1669. No wonder Galle is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. This fortified city has withstood time over the centuries.

 

The bay of Galle, sheltered by a rocky peninsula, has been a seafarer’s destination or port of call since time immemorial. It was here that the Ibn Battuta landed in 1344 on his journey to Ceylon. It was again in Galle that the first Portuguese navigators settled in 1505 and built their first bastions two years ahead of their establishment in Colombo.

 

When the Dutch wrested the place from the Portuguese in 1640, they consolidated the town’s defences by erecting a bastioned stone wall that encircled the whole of the peninsula. Galle was thus impregnable, albeit attempts by the English, the French, the Danish, the Spanish and the Portuguese vying for the supremacy of the seas in South and South-East Asia.

 

When Galle was handed over to the British in 1796, one week after Colombo surrendered, it became a protectorate and the administrative centre of the south of Ceylon. During the British period, a number of additions were carried out to the town, a few of which remain controversial: the ditches were filled in, new blockhouses were added, a gate was made between the Moon bastion and the Sun bastion, a lighthouse was installed on the Utrecht bastion, and a tower was erected for the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1883. A few other modifications were carried out during the Second World War to reinforce the defensive function of the fortifications.

 

In the 19th century, Galle was a busy port and many major liners from prominent British companies called here. It was only in the 20th century that Galle declined slowly until the 1970s partly due to the economical dominance of Colombo. In recent years, the development of the tourism industry has helped draw attention to this town. Since 1992, the Old Town of Galle and its fortifications are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. The UNESCO classification has greatly contributed to the authorities’ efforts to restore the town to its former splendour. The UNESCO classification comes along with a set of stringent rules: houses cannot be more than two storeys, the rooftops need to be covered with red tiles and the walls painted in pastel or brick red, the original verandas cannot be removed and no swimming-pools are allowed.

 

Galle organises several events during the year, including a book festival in January and a music festival in March.

 

Galle is easily reachable from Colombo by either road or rail

 

By road

If you opt for a bus journey, both private and public transport companies ply from the Bus stand on Main Street and leave at frequent intervals to all major destinations. Colombo is just over three hours from here.

 

By rail

If you prefer the train, there are many trains from the Galle Railway Station just outside the Fort, to all other major destinations in Sri Lanka. Colombo, for example, is reachable in two and a half hours.

 

As for transportation within Galle, tuk-tuks are everywhere to take you to any place of your choice. As in other places on the island, if you do not have a prior booking, your driver is sure to take you to a hotel where his commission will be highest.

 

Accommodation

If you are travelling on a very tight budget, it is quite difficult to have a great choice of quality accommodation within the precincts of the Fort. You may still try your luck with the ones in our Accommodation section.

 

 

Top tourist attractions in Galle

 

The Fort

The Fort remains the main feature of Galle. There are only three streets running parallel to each other (Leyn Baan Street, Church Street and Light House Street) and lying within the two streets that form a ring road (Hospital Street and Rampart Street). The fort holds several interesting museums, a few guesthouses and mansions that still bear the initials V.O.C for Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company.

 

Fortifications

The Galle fortifications are best visited before sunset. A 90-minute stroll will allow the visitor to admire its 14 massive bastions. Starting from the East (to your left when facing the Fort entrance) are the Sun Bastion and the Zwart Bastion. Between them lie The Fishmark Bastion and the Commandment Bastion. Further to the South lie the Akerslooot, Aurora and Point Utrecht Bastion. The Flagrock Bastion is the southern-most tip of the fortification. From there, as you walk northwards, Triton, Neptune, Clippenberg and Aeolus Bastions lie to the west and finally, the Star and Moon Bastions. The fortifications bore 109 canons during the Dutch period.

 

Dutch Reformed Church

This is the oldest Protestant church in the country. It stands on the highest point in the Galle (12 m above sea level) at the exact spot where there used to be a Portuguese-built Capuchin convent. You can still admire the floor paved with gravestones from the Old Dutch cemetery, the organ that dates back to 1760 and the pulpit made from calamander wood. Renovated in 2004 with the help of the Dutch government, the building was spared by the tsunami.

Galle Lighthouse

Located on the south eastern tip of the fort, the Galle Lighthouse towers over the surrounding coconut trees. The original lighthouse, built in 1848 was the oldest in the country. It was however destroyed in a fire in 1934. The present one was rebuilt in 1938 and is maintained by the Sri Lanka Port Authority.

 

All Saints' Church

This Anglican Church was built in 1868 and consecrated in 1871. It is easily recognised by its basilica plan and its Victorian Gothic style. The red-tiled roof, the stained-glass windows and a graveyard replete with headstones offer enough interest to the visitor.

 

National Maritime Archaeology Museum

After the devastation by the tsunami in 2004, the museum received a facelift in 2010 and is now housed in the Old Dutch Warehouse. The museology experts have divided the museum in two sections. The first one is dedicated to the means of maritime transport in Sri Lanka, traditional fishing techniques and lifestyle of fishing communities in the country. The second part presents the different marine ecosystems in Sri Lanka, their flora and fauna. The documentary shown before visiting the exhibits is quite interesting. Quite a few items from shipwrecks can also to be seen.

 

Meeran Jumma Masjid Mosque

Located opposite close to the lighthouse, this beautiful white mosque can easily pass off for a church, the reason being that it was initially a Dutch church before being converted to a mosque in 1904. The mosque is however not open to non-Muslims.

 

Galle National Museum

Housed in what used to be the officers' quarters of the Dutch garrison, this museum inaugurated in 1986 holds a collection of traditional masks, weapons, furniture and porcelain objects. A sizeable portion of the exhibits is related to the Galle lace industry. There are quite many other objects in the permanent collection of the museum but the main drawback lies in the absence of a long overdue overhaul.

 

New Town

There is almost nothing to see here to see except if you wish to shop for something local that you cannot find inside the fort. If you have to venture here, take a walk across Butterfly Bridge and cut through the Dharmapala Park. Do visit the Shiva Temple situated on Colombo Road just after the Galle prison (not a place to be!) and St. Mary's Cathedral very close to it off Prison Road. Take a stroll around the local market and you are sure to buy a few spices from the many stalls over there.

 

 

Tourist spots around Galle

 

Rumassala

The view from Rumassala of the southern coast of Galle is so breath-taking that it used to be known as “Buena Vista” during the colonial era.

 

During that period, colonial seafarers docked at Rumassala to fill their vessels with fresh water.

 

The Rumassala jungle is home to a great variety of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. The coral reef of Rumassala hosts some of the best-preserved coral in Sri Lankan seas.  It serves as a major spot for snorkelling and diving expeditions from nearby Unawatuna.

 

Rumassala is mentioned in the Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’. The legend goes that the monkey god, Hanuman, was sent to bring Himalayan herbs to cure Rama's wounded soldiers during the battle that opposed Rama and Ravana. Instead of wasting time in spotting the exact herbs, Hanuman brought a whole chunk of the Himalayan mountains. Once Hanuman arrived in Sri Lanka, he picked the exact herbs and laid the mountains on the Southeast coast of Sri Lanka that was to become Rumassala.

 

The quiet and secluded Jungle Beach in Rumassala is popular among locals as picnic spot and recreation area but most of the time, there are very few people around. The Peace Pagoda, gifted by Japanese monks in 2004, and the giant Hanuman statue are both interesting places to see if you have time to stop over.

 

To reach Rumassala, a tuk-tuk from Galle can take you there for around Rs.400. If you are on your own, take the first right after the Katugoda Railway station and follow the signboard “Rumassala Sama Ceitya”.

 

Kogalla

Koggala offers a pleasant stretch of beach with a sizeable and picturesque lake close to the shores. The topography of the area is interesting as it offers a subtle combination of coconut-stringed pathways, mangroves and gardens. A small number of cosy hotels situated between the sea and the Koggala are very popular with tourists.

If you are staying for a long period, the other option is to rent luxury lake-view villas. If you are interested in spotting wildlife like monkeys, monitors, squirrels, birds, snakes, etc. ask your hotel to arrange for a catamaran or a boat ride on the lake.

 

 

Kataluva Purvarama Mahavihara

About 5km from Koggala lies the Kataluwa Purvarama Mahavihara, a temple built in the 13th century. It was later elaborately renovated in the 19th century with Kandyan-style paintings in the main shrine. Some of the scenes form the Jataka tales (episodes from the Buddha's series of 550 previous lives) are more than 200 years old. The paintings have additions during the British era such as those representing Queen Victoria & the Queen Mother, believed to have been added to thank Queen Victoria's role in ensuring the free practice of Buddhism.

 

Although the temple lies in a sorry state of neglect, it is worth a visit for art loves.

 

 

Beaches in Galle are very pleasant to relax

 

Lady Sea Baths is a beach for locals. You will find fully clothed women wading in the water. The Lighthouse Beach also offers a good spot to sunbathe. The best beaches are however to be found in other places such as Unawatuna. If you are planning for a trip to Rumassala, you can grab your swimsuit and sun cream to spend some time at Jungle Beach, a favourite picnic spot among locals.

Whale watching in Galle can be a lot of fun

 

Whale watching

If you have time to indulge in a cruise to spot whales and dolphins, the coast off Galle offers beautiful opportunities to watch sea-mammals such as blue whales, humpbacks and spinner dolphins. The Sri Lankan Navy organises whale-watching trips from the Galle Harbour depending on the period of the year. We recommend you check on their website where online booking can be done.

 

As the waters of the Indian Ocean are quite choppy, we recommend you take some motion sickness tablets (locals will also recommend ginger nut biscuits).

 

A typical whale-watching tour costs around Rs.6000 per person with reduced rates for children. As you need to go far off from the coast, trips normally last four to five hours.  It is better to enquire the size of the boats before you reserve as some tour operators try to make a fast buck by carrying too many people in one boat.

 

Also, be sure to carry sunblock, water and a hat.

 

Hiyare Sanctuary

Hiyare is a convenient place to go if you plan to spend a lot of time in Galle.

 

The forest is to be explored on foot or by boat, as there are practically no tracks. As soon as you enter it, you sense the fact that you tread on an undisturbed part of the world. The reservoir is a natural lake and provides drinking water to the city of Galle.

 

Over a hundred varieties of birds are to be seen here including endemic ones like the Two-spotted Threadtail and the Black Ruby Barb. Mammals in the forest include Mongoose, Porcupine, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and Hog Deer, an extremely wary and nocturnal animal that is rarely seen in the wild by naturalists. Butterflies and dragonflies of different species and reptiles such as the Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper make up for the ecosystem of the forest.

 

 

Kottawa Forest Reserve

Northeast of Galle lies Kottawa Forest Reserve, a lush lowland rainforest of around 15 hectares. It is home to more than 150 varieties of trees species, some of them centuries old.  Kottawa is also an ideal place for bird lovers. Here is a list of birds you cans spot in Sri Lanka.

 

 

 

Galle Fort is a safe place for children to roam around and discover things

 

Koggala Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery

Just north of the Kogalla Air Force Camp in Habaraduwa is the Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery, an organisation dedicated to the survival of sea turtles.

 

There are five varieties of Sea Turtles found in Sri Lanka: Olive Ridley Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Leatherhead Turtle. Their major nesting habitats are located in Galle District (Bentota, Induruwa, Kosgoda, Thibbattawa, Ahungalla, Balapitiya and Unawatuna) and Hambantota District (Rekawa, Wellodaya, Kahanda modara, Walawemodara and Yala).

 

The farm, that was entirely destroyed during the tsunami, has been put up again. It offers a great opportunity to adults and children alike to see newly hatched baby turtles before they are released back to the ocean.

 

 

Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum

Martin Wickramasinghe, one of Sri Lanka's famous writers, wrote about the culture and life of the people of Sri Lanka. This house, where Martin Wickramasinghe was born, has been converted by the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust to establish a Folk Museum Complex, surrounded by hundreds of indigenous trees and shrubs. The house and the surroundings remind the places around Koggala that are ever present in Wickramasinghe’s writings.

 

The museum houses a collection of artefacts, masks, varied inventions in agriculture, fishing utensils, pottery, metal works and various objects used in folk dances and religious ceremonies.

 

The museum is open everyday from 9 am to 5 pm.

 

+94 912283427

www.martinwickramasinghe.org

museum@martinwickramasinghe.info

 

A game of cricket 

In the fort area in Galle, there are kids playing cricket everywhere. Even if your children may not master the intricacies of the game, local kids always like to have one or two join them in their game.

Turtle watching 

Join the locals who love to spot turtles bobbing up and down their heads from the ramparts of Galle.

 

Cooking and painting classes

Enquire for the timings of cooking and painting classes at Serendipity Arts Café situated on 100 Pedlar Street.

 

 

 

 

Shopping is one great activity when in Galle

 

Shopping

Galle is a good place to shop leisurely for personal stuff, antiques, gifts for your family and friends as well as things to decorate your home.

 

The colourful street market with fruits and vegetables is worth a visit. If you need to carry some spices back home as gifts, this is a nice place to wander around.

 

When it comes to expensive souvenirs, take your time to carefully choose what you want and never feel obliged to shop at your first stop. Galle is also reputed for its jewellery shops that offer quality gems that can be mounted on to a jewel of your choice. Some of the reputable jewellery outlets are located on Church Street and Rampart Street.

 

For gifts, try the shops on Pedlar Street and on Sea Street. Laksala is one of the very few exceptions to our rule of not mentioning any particular shop in Sri Lanka. This government-authorised shop is situated outside the fort, after the football stadium if you come from the fort. The shop sells a variety of “All in Sri Lanka” products that have been carefully selected to tourists' tastes (batiks, tea, handicraft, etc.).

 

 

 

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