After leaving Yala we were on our way home, but had time for one more stop – Galle.
Before you ask, it is pronounced “Gawl” almost like “goal” and the place is gorgeous because, you see, Galle is a fort. A 400-year-old Dutch citadel, a fortress. A well restored old town sitting at the very top of the peninsula and protected on all sides by massive walls built to withstand and unleash cannon bombardment from sea and land. Walls might even be an understatement, as they’re as thick as a 4-lane road. The place has bastions! It is the largest remaining European fortification in Asia (or at least so they claim) and walking atop the wall by the sea, you can just imagine what it must have looked like here during the time of East India Companies: the traffic of big sailing ships coming into port or sailing out, the guards patrolling the walls, the merchants going about their hustle on the streets, the small shops peddling their wars etc etc. It almost feels like being on the set of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
These images might not be far from the truth. Galle is a natural harbor and it was the main port of Sri Lanka when the Portugese arrived. It was a major international seaport long before the age of colonization, sending business to China, Malaysia, Persia and as far as Rome. It was here that for centuries the majority of world’s cinnamon (Sri Lanka being the original source of the spice) was traded and shipped. Hence it is no surprise that once Westerners arrived they wanted in on the action. The Portugese took over the port and established a fort – Santa Cruz de Gale. When the Dutch-Portugese war began, the Dutch found allies in Sri Lanka in the Kingdom of Kandy and with their help proceeded to drive out the Portugese. Galle was sieged by the Dutch navy in 1640 and after several days of bombardment and assaults, building conquered at great loss of life. Hence the saying “Malacca for Gold, Galle for lead”. The Dutch, tall people as they are, needed a bigger fort and proceeded to construct the fortress and old town of Galle seen today.
Today the old town of Galle is a wonderful place to visit. We found a cozy guesthouse right in the center, with arched windows and doors, a tiny balcony and bright flowers adorning the windows. Much of the atmosphere of the colonial era has been preserved in Galle – there are numerous old churches, mosques, temples and museums to visit and even new shops and restaurants carry appropriate names, such as The Royal Dutch Cafe or The Pedler’s Inn or The Rampart.
We wound up staying two nights in Galle and spent the time strolling around the town enjoying the place, browsing small stores, peeking into handicraft shops and visiting museums. Our last evening in Sri Lanka we finished with a romantic stroll on the city wall by the lighthouse, marveling the vibrant colors of a beautiful beautiful sunset. It was a wonderful relaxing end to a fantastic trip around this thoroughly fascinating country. A country rich in both history and nature, with something for everyone to enjoy and discover.