Galle (pronounced Gaul* in English) has a romantic history that captures your attention the moment you see the city. While the Portuguese first colonised the city in the 16th century, it was the Dutch who built the fortified city, that we see today.
Ibn Batuta apparently visited Galle in the 14th century and mentions it in his records. This is the largest fortified city built by the Europeans in South and Southeast Asia and the main port on the island of Sril Lanka. The original light house, the oldest in Sri Lanka, was built in 1848 and rebuilt in 1934 after it was destroyed by fire.
Galle was hit very hard by the Tsunami on 26th December 2004, and the inhabitants have struggled to rebuild and restart their lives. We saw where the sea swept away the train as it travelled south and I could almost hear the terrified screams and the roaring of the water. Today, looking at the little idyllic city it is difficult to imagine the widespread devastation that must have been wrought on it.
Compared to our first day of activity, we spent the second day at this world heritage site swimming in a salt water pool (my first experience) and having another leisurely lunch at Nico’s (V refused to dine any where else). We heard the local’s stories of how Rama, the Hindu God, travelled through these parts on his epic journey to rescue Sita. My brother compared the feeling of the place to Bali, thought visually the two places have a different kind of beauty.
Galle has it’s share of modern development and the sweet hostess at Nico’s told us about the Lighthouse and the Fortress, two large and very popular 5-star hotels that have sprung up at different ends of the city. We chose to dine that night at the Lighthouse Hotel (not to be confused with actual Galle light house). While hotel is a bit dark and eerie inside, with a spiral stairway the depicts the Battle of Randeniya, it is built on a magnificent piece of land. The hotel was designed and built by Geoffrey Bawa, an icon in Sri Lankan architectural circles. As you dine on the terrace, which is open to the elements and right on the cliff, you can watch the sea crashing against the reef. A view that is magnificent and a little terrifying if you are dining with an energetic three year-old on a rainy night.
The next morning we rose early for a sunrise walk on the ramparts and were rewarded for our efforts with an unbelievable experience.
Galle’s ancient name was Tarshish and it supplied King Solomon himself with peacocks, ivory and cinnamon, among other luxuries. Walking down the cobble-stoned streets, and watching the sea and lighthouse from the ramparts of the fort, you can almost see the scene as it must have been. Ships of all origins filling the natural harbour and dockers running around loading and unloading goods. Indians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans, Chinese and the Malay shouting and bargaining in their mother tongues as they engaged in brisk sea trade. I was tempted to just sit myself down on a grassy verge and sketch the scene as it formed in my mind.
The spell was broken a certain 3 year-old announcing that she needed to go potty and have her breakfast. Just as we started back the heavens opened-up and we rushed to find a tuk-tuk while ghosts from the past watched us in amusement.
*It did remind me a bit of Gaul from the Asterix Comic book series.