Galle Fort (Sinhala: ගාලු කොටුව Galu Kotuwa; Tamil: காலிக் கோட்டை, romanized: Kālik Kōṭṭai), in the Bay of Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. It is a historical, archaeological and architectural heritage monument, which even after more than 423 years maintains a polished appearance, due to extensive reconstruction work done by Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.
The fort has a colourful history, and today has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population.the Sri Lankan government and many Dutch people who still own some of the properties inside the fort are looking at making this one of the modern wonders of the world. The heritage value of the fort has been recognized by the UNESCO and the site has been inscribed as a cultural heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site under criteria iv, for its unique exposition of “an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries.”
The Galle Fort, also known as the Dutch Fort or the “Ramparts of Galle”, withstood the Boxing Day tsunami which damaged part of coastal area Galle town. It has been since restored.
There are many versions of the word ‘Galle’ that is suffixed to the fort. One version is that it is a derivative of ‘Gallus’ from the Dutch language, meaning “chicken”. The other version is that it was a “galaa”, in Sinhala meaning a “cattle herd” or place where cattle was herded.
Galle’s earliest historical existence is traced to Ptolemy’s world map of 125–150 AD when it was a busy port, trading with Greece, Arab countries, China and others. Its mention as a “port of call of the Levant” is made in the cosmography of Cosmas Indicopleustes. This is the harbour where the Portuguese, under the leadership of Lourenço de Almeida, made their first landing in 1505 on the island and caused a notable change in developments on the island with their close friendship with Dharmaparakrama Bahu (1484–1514), the then king of the country. Before the Portuguese arrived here, Ibn Batuta had touched base at this port. This was the beginning of the fort’s history, which was built by the Portuguese, along with a Franciscan chapel (now mostly in ruins) inside the fort in 1541. The fort also, in later years, served as prison camp to incarcerate Sinhalese natives who opposed the Portuguese. The Portuguese had moved to Colombo from Galle as they preferred the latter. In 1588, however, they were attacked by the Sinhalese King Raja Singha I (1581–93) of Sitawaka, which forced the Portuguese to return 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 were added up to the early 18th century. The establishment consisted of public administration buildings, warehouses and 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 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 British took over the fort on 23 February 1796, one week after Colombo was captured. Sri Lanka remained a British colony formally from 1815 till it became an independent island nation in 1948.The importance of Galle also declined after the British developed Colombo as their capital and main port in the mid nineteenth century.
Galle Fort is in Galle, which is located at the extreme southwest corner of the island, in the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, where the shoreline turns east towards Matara and Tangalle. The fort, like most of the forts in Sri Lanka, is built on a small rocky peninsula, belonging to the sea as much as to the land. As it exists today, it covers an area of 52 hectares (130 acres).
Highway A2 provides road links to Galle from Colombo (a distance of 113 kilometres (70 mi)) and the rest of the country along the west coast or from the east along the south coast. Since 2012 an expressway has linked Galle to Colombo. Rail links are also available to Colombo and Matara. Sea route is through the Galle Port at the Galle Harbour.