As part of my new resolution to leave the house on my days off, and not just surf, eat and go home to watch Netflix, I decided to show a friend around Galle Fort.
Founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has since been in the hands of the Dutch, British and now Sri Lankan. As a result, it is a peculiar mix of all of them.
My friend Sarah and I went to have a mooch around yesterday, and I had a proper look this time. I have been to Galle Fort many, many times. I hardly even walk around with my eyes open there anymore, to be honest – Adam and I make the sketchy, dusty drive to the Fort when we crave decent Western food and coffee, and know exactly where to go. In and out. Eyes down.
Which is a shame, because it’s a pretty interesting place.
So going with Sarah and seeing it through her fresh eyes was a bit of a treat. It’s very hot in the Fort, it being in Sri Lanka and surrounded by large walls. So I usually get what I need, no dithering or looking at stuff. This is not possible with Sarah, as she gets excited by things, like a positive person, stopping and taking photos.
Anyway, I wanted to take her to my favourite little Moroccan place and know a short cut down a residential street. Practical. What I did not factor in was that Sarah would NOTICE the houses on the street and make me stop so she could point said houses out to me. Hm, yes, thanks, what lovely houses, etc etc.
But then I did actually look. They really are lovely! What sort of philistine am I that I have not noticed their loveliness before! Why, I even snapped a few pictures of these houses. Look, here’s one:
Now of course I realise that Galle Fort is picturesque, and I do enjoy going there, mainly because I think it reminds me of Europe. But it is interesting that it sometimes takes someone else to make you stop and take proper notice of things.
Not only is there a crazy mixture of architectural heritage, currently there are mosques, churches, temples (Buddhist and Hindi) all within this tiny little place. Living in (I presume) harmony with one another. That doesn’t happen very often. Well done, Galle Fort.
As well as the happy co-existence of the religious buildings, Galle Fort has HISTORY.
And I like history. There is a lighthouse, and a maritime museum. I haven’t been inside the maritime museum, which is strange, because usually I get pretty excited about museums. Anyway, I digress.
The Fort was built by the Portuguese, but then captured by the Dutch in 1640, who added fortifications and the city walls that still stand today. Many of the houses are in a Dutch colonial style and there is the Dutch Hospital (originally the house of the surgeon and the Medical Garden,) which has been restored and converted into bars, shops and restaurants, but still keeps its original colonnades and gables. And if you weren’t confused enough then you can go to an All Saints Church, British in style.
Many of the street names are a legacy from colonial times, including Pedlar Street or ‘Moorse Kramerstraat’, Lighthouse Street or ‘Zeeburgstraat’, Leyn Baan Street or ‘Leyenbahnstraat’ – then you will find Church Street, named after a church which was demolished in the 17th century, Parawa Street, named after the Parawa migrants from India who were fishermen and traders; and Chando Street named after the toddy tappers and Dutch Burghers who owned coconut gardens. So a bit of a mixed bag, really.
The British did their thing, took over, fortified it even more and made some pretty gardens:
You’ll be relieved to know that Galle Fort is not all post-European nostalgia and overpriced lattes, but that locals still manage to add their certain Sri Lankan quirks into the mix.
You will not want for a hat, for example:
Fun ‘Fact’ about Galle Fort
There is a beautiful breadfruit tree inside the Fort, which is believed to be the oldest breadfruit tree in Sri Lanka. Popular belief has it that the Dutch introduced this fruit to Sri Lankans thinking that its purgative and toxic nature would make them sick. But the clever Sri Lankans neutralised breadfruit with coconut, ultimately creating a delicacy among the population of Galle. Up yours, invaders.
But if you don’t fancy the sound of that for dinner…
Then eat at Chambers (the Moroccan place I mentioned above.) It’s really good, and the owner is a dude. Have hummus, the chicken and prune tagine, moussaka and the tabbouleh. And then get coconut gelato from Peddlar Street. And then churros from Sugar…..
Disclaimer: I went for a surf in the morning, so am allowed to eat all that stuff in one afternoon. If you surf, it is not gluttony.