Galle is 116 Km away from Colombo by road or rail, down the south coast of Sri Lanka. Both routes are picturesque, following the coastline closely for much of the way. You can also take the Southern Expressway if you need to reach the city by half the time but there is not much scenery to admire.
Galle was known as "Gimhathiththa" (although Ibn Batuta in the 14th century refers to it as Qali) before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. The major river is Gin Ganga (Gin River) which starts from Gongala Kanda and passing villages such as Neluwa, Nagoda, Baddegama, Thelikada, Wakwella and kisses the sea at Ginthota. In Wakwella over the river there is Wakwella Bridge which was the longest bridge in Sri Lanka at that time.
Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in south and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and south Asian traditions. The Galle fort is a world heritage site and the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. Other prominent landmarks in Galle include St. Mary’s Cathedral founded by Jesuit Priests and one of the main Shiva temples on the island. Galle is the main town in the most southerly part of the island, and is connected by rail to Colombo and Matara. It is a home to a cricket ground, the Galle International Stadium, rebuilt after the 2004 Tsunami.
Rumassala Kanda is large mound-like hill, which forms the eastern protective barrier to the Galle harbour. Local tradition associates this hill with some events of the Ramayana.
Galle Lighthouse is Sri Lanka’s oldest light station dating back to 1838; it is within the walls of the ancient Galle fort and well-known tourist attraction. Galle owes its glory to its harbour – the country’s first – since the 14th century. It became the island’s chief port of call due to its strategic position in relation to the sea routes. Traders from many parts of the world landed in Galle with their merchandise and it became a trading centre.
HISTORY OF GALLE
In 1505, Lorenzo De Almeida, the son of the Viceroy of Goa, set foot in Galle accidentally when his fleet of ships on the way to the Maldives islands caught in a great storm at sea was compelled to take refuge in this harbour. Thereafter they wrested the Galle harbour from the Sinhalese and were the first Europeans to set foot on the island and make extensive contact with the Sri Lankans. They constructed a barricade enclosing the projection of the land towards the sea and fortified it with a moat to avoid attack from the mainland. However, by and by the conquered the whole of the sea coast border and finally established their government except in the Hill Country. They forced their religion, Catholicism on the innocent natives and ruled with an iron hand until the Dutch defeated them in 1640 and took over reins of government. The long conquest of the island by the Portuguese and intervention between them and the Sri Lankans has left several sociocultural imprints on this country. The Portuguese stamp is particularly strong in the language, religion, education, administration, food, dress, names, music and drama. The surnames Perera, Silva and Peiris and personal names Peduru, Franciscu, Juvan, Singho, Don and Dona are some of them. Baila music was first introduced here by the Portuguese.
The Dutch drew away the Portuguese and persecuted them until they left these shores. The Dutch constructed huge ramparts and an enchanting Fort which forms a landmark in Galle that gives splendour to the town. They planned a township inside the fort with Criss Cross roads and low roofed houses with massive walls and large doors and windows. They constructed an underground system of brick paved sewers, which was flushed by the action of the tides in the sea that surrounded the walls of the fort. They built a large church, which is called The Dutch Reformed Church that stands well even up to this day. It was after 140 years of rule that the Dutch ceded the country to the British in 1876. The British inaugurated a pipe borne water service from Hiyare with a reservoir at Beke to supply the town with water. But electricity was introduced to the town only in 1926 with a power station at Talbot Town in China Garden. The Law Courts and the Kachcheri are situated within the fort while the Civil Hospital is at Mahamodera. A modern Hospital was constructed by Sri Lanka government at Karapitiya to supplement the Mahamodera Hospital as it was difficult to maintain the equipment and the Theatres in good use due to the effect of the sea opposite.
Galle is fortunate that nature has gifted it with enchanting natural features in the form of a safe harbour, the mountain of Rumassala, called Buouna Vista by the British and the promontory called Clossenberg jutting out into the sea at Magalle. Buouna Vista affords a magnificent view of the Galle harbour, the Fort and the surrounding area. According to legend Rumassala is a chunk of the Himalayan Mountain brought by Hanuman, the monkey General of Rama. When Rama was at war with Rawana, the Raksha king of Lanka after the latter’s abduction of Sita Devi, wife of Rama, introduced a poisonous gas to the battle field which caused Rama to faint and fall down. When Rama fell unconscious, Hanuman remembered that on the Himalayan Mountain there grew an herb which was an efficacious remedy to revive the stricken.
Thither he forthwith flew but unable to locate the herb in his impatient hurry tore off a large slice of ground from the Himalayas, which he was sure contained the herb and flew with it post haste to Lanka. After locating the herb, it was quickly administered to the sufferer who was immediately revived. Thereafter the chunk of mountain was thrown away which ultimately fell off Galle harbour and this promontory is now known as Rumassala, where a variety of medicinal plant is still believed to be in extant.
Clossenberg is an area of high ground projecting into the sea at Magalle. A British sea faring officer called Captain Bailey in taking a fancy for this delightful promontory bought it from the government in 1859. He built a beautiful house there with spacious rooms and large doors and windows where the lintels are in the shape of half-moon, and with low roof covered with local tiles.
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